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Airplane food that doesn't suck

Chicken or beef?

The question alone is cringe-inducing. With its aluminum foil container, mystery meat covered in undistinguishable sauce, and that particular odor, airplane food has been the butt of the joke for decades.

Is this the fact even in business class?

You'd almost want to hear, yes, it's equally bad. But the unfair fact is, food in business or first class can be significantly more enjoyable than what's served in coach, especially if it's on a long international flight.

We had the opportunity to taste the menu in business class on a Delta flight from Minneapolis to Tokyo. Here's our impression.

First, when you arrive to your seat, a flight attendant offers you a glass of champagne or orange juice. And it's real champagne, not cava or prosecco or American sparkling. This time it was Jacquart Brut Mosaique, which went well with the warm nuts served before the meal. The nuts were mostly cashews, mixed with a good amount of almonds.

The flight offers a small but good selection of wines. There are two whites, two reds, a sparkling, and two dessert wines to go with your meal. If you are taking advantage of the wine offerings, remember to drink plenty of water.

The first course is an appetizer platter accompanied by a warm soup. On this particular day, the soup was a vegetable velouté fragrant with garden greens. The appetizer platter included pieces of pepper-crusted tuna with edamame and hijiki seaweed salad, and a slice of feta cheese with roasted peppers and olives.

Now, it's hard to taste subtle flavors on an airplane. Even if you are one of those supertasters, your senses become dull because of the altitude and air pressure.

The appetizer platter was a perfect way to overcome this disadvantage. The tuna was a bit over-salted, but the edamame and seaweed salad had a nice balance of sweetness and tang, and the grilled peppers were flavorful and succulent. A fragrant glass of chenin blanc from South Africa (Zalze 'Bush Vine,' Stellenbosch, 2010) paired nicely with the appetizers.

It's difficult to consume a significant amount of vegetables when you travel. You end up with snacks and fast foods, making your body feel even more tired than it already is. Delta helps you conquer this by offering a big salad for the second course. It's not much different from what you'd pick up at the French Meadow takeout at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. But the crisp greens are a welcoming refresher thousands of feet above ground.

For the main course, you get to choose between several items. The options this day were sautéed chicken breast with lemon caper sauce, roasted red radishes and potatoes; grilled filet of beef with bernaise sauce, redskin mashed potatoes and haricots verts; pork tenderloin with bok choy and noodles; and garlic and herb shrimp with lemon butter, asparagus, and paella rice.

So, in a way, it's still chicken or beef (or pork or shrimp).

We went with the chicken dressed with a bright citrus sauce that made a flavorful statement even in the pressurized cabin. Dryness is a frequent offense for reheated foods served in an airplane. Not here. The meat was lightly battered in flour and sautéed to protect its juiciness; and the potatoes were fluffy and perfectly fork-tender. We paired this course with a tasty Bordeaux from Chateau Beaumont, which had a flavor profile of currant and earthiness, as well as cacao.

Cheese plate, fruits (grapes and strawberries this day), ice cream sundae, and caramel tiramisu were offered for dessert. We had a scoop of French vanilla ice cream and a glass of Calem 10-year-old tawny port for a nightcap.

Bon voyage!


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