Mile High Dining Club: Air France

Welcome to the first installment of the Mile High Dining Club where I’ll be exploring and reviewing all things delicious (and perhaps not so) in the air, on the tracks, and on the ground.

As airlines continue to cut more services, the bygone Pan American days of bottomless champagne, caviar and carving stations of roast beef have unfortunately fallen to the wayside as more travelers now find themselves packing cold cheese pizza, cinna-buns and bagel sandwiches into their carry-on’s in an attempt to avoid spending more money while on board. Some food experts even argue that “complimentary” first and business class meals no longer offer anything edible of note other than, “the dreadful food in the sky”. Certainly, the culinary times are-a-changin’ due to economic woes, so is it still possible to enjoy a decent meal while in the air?

Let’s take a look at one of the more respected airlines for foodies– Air France.

It’s well known that the French have it going on when it comes to cooking, and my experience while dining on-board an Air France flight mostly held its ground to this effect. Recently, I booked an overnight flight from Washington to Paris in the airline’s Affaires (business class) cabin where the uber-spacious seats convert to semi-flat beds and little extra’s such as mini Clarins moisturizers, feather pillows, and drawstring bags for your shoes, make red-eye travel a lot less painful.

Dinner started off with an aperitif of salted cashews and a glass of Ayala Brut Majeur champagne, which like all of Air France’s wine selections, was chosen by sommelier, Olivier Poussier. After being presented with the Affaires in-flight menu, which typically offers a four-course option including an hors d’oeuvre, main course, cheese course and dessert, I moved on to a glass of white Bordeaux (Chalonnais Rully Rodet, 2006). Note: Air France’s economy class also offers aperitif, Champagne, and Olivier Poussier chosen wines along with a choice of two hot meals as part of their on-board service.
First course was a classic cold duck foie gras accented with onion compote and served over butter lettuce. Simple, yet delicious. A nice addition were the mini bottles of extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic for drizzling, yet the accompanying baguette was disappointing. Hard, crumbly and dry, even smothering it in French butter couldn’t save it. After sampling some seriously tasty, crusty baguettes while jaunting throughout France, I’ve just got to call out a French airline for serving crappy bread. Non bon, people.

Second course was a platter of beef tenderloin in a mushroom cream sauce served with broccoletti and mashed potatoes. While the meat appeared properly cooked on the outside (nice grill marks) the inside was substantially undercooked. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m a rare meat girl all the way down to the moo, and filet mignon is designed to be served rare to medium-rare, but this slab of beef was about as raw as it gets. Too bad I couldn’t send it back to the chef for a few more minutes on the grill, but the fact is, airlines don’t have a lot to work with, especially when you consider that many meals travel up to twenty-two hours from kitchen to plane. With this in mind, the broccoletti was outstanding–al dente and crisp, as if it had just come out of a pot of boiling water, so kudos for that success.

Cheese consisted of perfectly sweaty, room temperature Fourme d’Ambert, Cabecou and Camembert along with a few pieces of fruit, and was an excellent match for the 2005 Jean Guyon Cru Bourgeois Superieur. Dessert held its own as a raspberry mille-feuille, although it tasted ever-so-slightly freezer burned.

In all fairness, I have to add that reviewing an airline’s in-flight dining cannot be held to the same standards to that of a restaurant. For starters, airline food is often cooked, chilled and then reheated on the plane versus being prepared a la minute, and you probably won’t be seeing any celeb chefs plating up their specialties along with the flight attendants. The fact is, airlines have many things working against them when it comes to preparation, yet luckily it isn’t all bad as many airlines are changing their culinary tune when it comes to pleasing their passenger’s palates.

Sure, the meal I had on board Air France wasn’t Chez Panisse nor was it trying to be. However, for an in-flight dining experience (cue endless pours of amazing French wine) Air France was pretty darn tasty, and I’d be happy to eat and drink my way across the Atlantic with them anytime.