Airlines try for more edible food options

Let’s not even bother with the jokes – we all know airplane food is awful. But these days, with most carriers looking for new sources of revenue, several of the major airlines have been stepping up the quality and taste factor of their on-board food offerings.

The days of free (and terrible) airplane meals are coming to an end. With Continental, the last carrier to offer complimentary in-flight meals, discontinuing its free service this fall, the in-flight meal industry is ramping up to better serve customer demand. Airlines ranging from Air Canada to United and American are shuffling their food offerings, realizing that if customers have to pay for it, it better bear some resemblance to something edible. Air Canada is introducing healthier food options like veggie sandwiches and yogurt, American Airlines is partnering with Boston Market and United Airlines will be letting customers pre-order in-flight meals before the end of 2010.

So will customers find these new in-flight food options more enticing? Not necessarily. Many frequent travelers have given up finding food on board, opting instead for the array of food options in the terminal like Cibo Express, Wolfgang Puck Express and the ever-popular fast food vendors. But for those looking for tasty, quality food to go with their air travel, keep looking. A top-notch meal on the plane or even at the airport remains a fantasy.

Daily Pampering: The quintessential Upper West Side brunch

I try to get to Compass by 11:30, when the restaurant opens. Brunch on the Upper West Side can get crowded quickly, and I enjoy that brief moment when the meal is its most peaceful. This Manhattan neighborhood is popular among brunchers and offers no shortage of choices. Yet, the most interesting by far can be found at Compass, on W. 70th Street, just west of Amsterdam Avenue. Be sure to make a reservation, because you won’t be the only person in the neighborhood to have this idea.

The brunch menu is not expensive: you’ll enjoy an incredible meal for $28. So, why feature it in the Daily Pampering column, which is committed to the decadent? Well, you don’t have to spend a fortune to live the life luxurious, and any local or visitor to Manhattan would be nuts not to sit for a meal here.

The Compass brunch menu is short on choice but not on variety. The first course to be presented to you includes salmon, bread, pastry and sausage. Bite-sized portions of all are presented for the table, obviating the need for difficult decisions. The flavors are incredibly well balanced, and the presentation is meticulous. Dessert is served the same way – small portions of everything. You won’t need to worry about leaving the table with the concern that you missed something delightful.You do have to select an entrée, and it’s a painful experience. You may be able to narrow it down to three or so that turn you on, but finding your way to one is brutal. If you live in the city, you can just go back a few times. I don’t envy tourists, however who don’t have easy access to this restaurant. On my most recent visit (last weekend), I ate the Lobster BLT, the first time I’ve tried it, and I’m glad I did. There are no good choices on the menu – they’re all beyond that.

The service at Compass is flawless. The staff is quiet, efficient and attentive. Dishes are brought at ideal temperatures, and water and coffee flow before you need to ask. I’d suggest a waiter, but that’s unnecessary – they are all fantastic.

You need a dose of pampering? Head out to Compass for a meal. This is among the most enjoyable culinary experiences in Manhattan, the price is downright shocking. Compass has a full menu for dinner, as well, which is not to be missed.

Want more? Get your daily dose of pampering right here.

Undiscovered New York: Top 5 breakfasts

To truly experience New York during your next visit, you need to start your day with a good breakfast. No meal better epitomizes the different attitudes and moods of the city’s residents then this first (and sometimes last) meal of the day. Whether we’re talking about the quintessential lazy weekend brunch, a bacon egg & cheese from a deli or a strong cup of joe from the street cart, New Yorkers’ breakfast choices are about as diverse as the city itself.

You’re probably already familiar with the old standbys – New York bagels are legendary the world over. And New York’s iconic paper coffee cup never seems to go out of style. But for everything you think you already know about what New York likes to eat for breakfast, there’s plenty of surprises. Breakfast here includes everything from your standard omelette to Chinese Dim Sum to Dominican Mangu and Italian breakfast panini.

With all these choices, where exactly does a breakfast-lover get started? Breakfast is, after all, the most important meal of the day, and who can stomach such an essential daily ritual becoming something bland or boring? This week Undiscovered New York is here to get your New York morning off on the right foot. We’ve compiled a list of our top five breakfasts from across the city. Step away from that yogurt and see what we picked…
Breakfast Five – Barney Greengrass
It would be downright sacrilegious to leave the classic lox and bagel off a New York breakfast list, and Barney Greengrass is arguably one of the best places to get it. Located well off the beaten path on New York’s Upper West Side, this delightfully old-school institution has been slinging some of the city’s best cream cheese, bagels, smoked salmon and whitefish since way back in 1908. Enjoy your bagel with some schmear and the Sunday New York Times in the restaurant’s old-school wood-panelled interior.

Breakfast Four – Joe Art of Coffee
New York could not function without caffeine. The self-proclaimed “city that never sleeps” seems to be mainlining a constant IV drip of the brown stuff. The problem is most of it sucks. The scalded, bitter excuse for caffeine you’ll find at most delis simply won’t do. Instead head to Joe the Art of Coffee, one of the city’s growing range of quality coffeeshops. In addition to a zealous dedication to a quality cup, Joe also offers in-store classes to help take your appreciation and coffee brewing skills to the next level.

Breakfast Three – Chinese Dim Sum
Consider this while you’re crunching that morning bowl of Special K – breakfast around the world is as different as the people that eat it. And in many countries, the typical yogurt, fruit and cereal is not on the menu. New York’s large population of Chinese residents happen to enjoy Dim Sum for their weekend breakfast, a leisurely meal that consists of many small plates chosen from constantly moving food carts. Though there’s no one typical dish served at Dim Sum, the meal usually includes staples like dumplings, spare ribs and sweets filled with bean paste. Try Chinatown spots like Jin Fong, the Golden Unicorn or Flushing’s Ocean Jewel.

Breakfast Two – Alpha Donuts
Way out in the Sunnyside section of Queens, they take their breakfast seriously. That is to say, they don’t mess around with fancy-pants breakfast food like brioche french toast or omelettes filled with goat cheese. What they are serious about is donuts – the ultimate sugary breakfast favorite. That’s why Alpha Donuts leads the pack. In a city filled with fancy breakfasts, Alpha Donuts stands out for its simplicity and commitment to this classic American staple, which they’ve been making since World War II.

Breakfast One – Shopsins
There’s no easy way to explain what to order at Shopsins, a hilariously quirky breakfast establishment located in Manhattan’s Essex Street Market. The correct answer is probably “What do you want to eat?” Not only does Shopsins serve all the classic breakfast favorites like skillets, sausage and cereal – they’ve also got plenty of one-of-a-kind morning meals prepared by the surly owner Kenny Shopsin. How about some “Slutty Cakes” made with pumpkin, pistachio and peanut butter? You also can’t go wrong with the “Jihadboy Sandwich” topped with beef, pomegranate, olives, sheep feta and tahini.

Consumer rally keeps meals on United flights — what about other fees?

Nice work team. Late last week we reported that United Airlines was going to charge for meals on overseas flights departing from Washington Dulles. Thanks to a great deal of outcry from United’s passengers, bloggers and you readers, the embattled airline has now decided to rescind their decision.

A small victory in the face of many negative changes that have recently plagued the airline industry.

So with the price of oil sinking back to outrageous prices (down from take-a-second-mortgage-on-your-condo prices), are we going to start to see fewer ridiculous fees? Will fuel surcharges drop back down after taking a leap through the roof?

Don’t count on it. In some ways, oil prices were an excuse for the airline industry to make back some of the inflationary ground that they haven’t been pursuing over the last twenty years. At least this way some of our favorite carriers might be able to start operating consistently in the black rather than the cyclical merger-bankruptcy model that isn’t working.

I’m dedicating my next soggy chicken and spinach airplane meal to you, Gadling readers. Keep up the good work.