Late last year American Airlines announced renovations to their existing Flagship lounges, new Flagship lounges, and (excitingly) a new Flagship First Dining experience. I love a good lounge but was really intrigued by the Flagship First Dining item, which promised tableside restaurant-style service in the lounge for guests on qualifying itineraries. This is something that no other US airline does (heck, even the Amex Centurion Lounges don’t do it) so I was curious how American would be able to pull it off.
The other day I had the chance to test out the Flagship First Dining experience, which is now live in the Flagship Lounge at JFK Airport in New York City. I was a guest of American but will try my best to be unbiased (which won’t be hard because everything was wonderful). I was sure to bring my camera for the best possible pictures (and yes, these were all taken by me, please contact me before using them in other media at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Flagship First Dining is located inside the JFK Flagship Lounge. When you walk in to the Flagship section of the lounge, head to the right towards the buffet and you’ll see two glass sliding doors to your right. These are your entryway into a pretty incredible experience. There’s a bar exclusive to the Flagship First Dining room with some bar seating and then you can talk to a hostess to be seated.
There were a variety of seating options available, from booths to two-tops if you’re with a guest or a simple table for one facing the tarmac for great ramp views.
Since this was a media preview, they had full-size entrees out for display and for us to photograph. We would also have lunch to sample the full experience but we wouldn’t be served full portions of each dish (outside of the one we ordered). These represent the actual plating and portions of each dish.
Olive oil poached loch duart salmon
The salmon is nestled atop a cauliflower risotto and is topped with a mushroom ragout and spring broth
Braised beef short ribs
The beef short ribs are served with seasonal vegetables and a romesco sauce.
Spiced lentil cake (vegetarian)
The beautiful lentil cake sits in a tikka masala sauce and is topped with peppers and vegetable strands as well as goan stir fried baby corn
This incredible-looking sirloin burger is topped with a bacon and red-onion marmalade, arugula, and tomato.
Other entree choices will be a Chimichurri free range chicken dish as well as Udon noodles, but they didn’t have samples of those for us to see.
In addition to the main entrees they also had some starters for us to see.
The arancini are stuffed with smoked mozzarella cheese and sit in a very light tomato sauce
Smoked duck breast
Thin slices of duck breast served over a toasted hominy succotash, edamame, and corn
Other appetizers will be a tomato bisque, basil-infused compressed watermelon, and a caesar salad.
Of course, they had dessert as well, a medley of chocolate bread pudding, chocolate tart, whipped cream (one topped with sea salt), and a white chocolate and raspberry bowl meant to drink.
All of these sat atop a beautifully-decorated bar with really unique orb-shaped decorations above it.
They also have custom cocktails for Flagship First Dining, a few of which were premade for our cameras.
A gin basil lemonade and a spiced tequila were two of the options and they looked excellent.
The drink I was most excited about, however, was the pisco sour, one of my favorite drinks in the world. It’s native to Chile and Peru and I honestly have never had a good one outside of those two countries so I was excited to see if American could pull it off when I had lunch.
Ok, enough of the preview, it was time for lunch!
I was seated at a two-top table and received a drink menu and food menu from my waiter.
Another waiter quickly appeared with my choice of still or sparkling water. I chose sparkling.
We were set to have a sampling of many of the items along with one full-size entree. Being a Big Dude from Texas I had to go with the burger to see if it passed muster.
But first, champagne, Taittinger in Flagship First Dining.
The first appetizer to arrive was the arancini, which I found to be very flavorful. It wasn’t too heavily fried either, which is hard to get right. Again, this is a smaller serving size than you’ll get when you’re here.
Another waiter came by with a bread tray, which looked great but I passed (needed all the room I could save for more food!)
After I had the smoked duck, which was excellent (particularly the succotash), the first round of entrees came out. These weren’t my main entree so they were smaller portions than will be served to guests (reference above for full-size plating and portion sizes). I started with the salmon.
The salmon was juicy and wonderful, which is very hard to get right. But the best part of this dish was the cauliflower risotto. Absolutely divine, I almost wanted to see if I could just get a small bowl of the risotto, it was that good.
Up next was the spiced lentil cake.
Now I’ll confess that vegetables tend to fall outside of my normal Main Food Groups (steak and ice cream) but I gave it a shot anyway. There were quite a few flavors competing for attention and the tikka masala kind of punctuated everything with a bit of spice, but it felt well-contained. The spice wasn’t too much nor were any of the competing flavors domineering. The lentil cake brought a nice texture to the rest of the dish. If you’re a vegetarian I think you’ll really like this, and even if you’re not a vegetarian you may want to get this anyway!
It was time for my full-sized entree. The Flagship burger. Oh my goodness the Flagship burger.
(go ahead, drool, I know)
Served with hand-cut fries, the burger was phenomenal. My buddy Ed, who runs the fantastic blog Pizza in Motion, was there as well and he and I both went nuts about the burger. The red-onion and bacon marmalade provided the perfect amount of crunch to the burger and just enough saltiness to give it some bite (without being too heavy). The bun was excellent and not too buttery. The fries were good as well, but really it didn’t matter what else they put on the serving board with the burger, anything other than the burger would be an afterthought.
If you couldn’t tell, I liked the burger.
But then my day got even better. The bartender walked by and asked if I’d like to try a pisco sour. I of coursed at him and soon I was delivered a lovely-looking pisco sour. I’ve never had a good one in the USA so I was curious if they pulled it off or not. It was excellent! I highly recommend it, it tasted authentic to me. They used Peruvian pisco, for those who are particular about their pisco and curious.
The other cocktails received high praise from the assembled media. I tried the champagne cocktail, which tasted nice but honestly I couldn’t really see myself getting one when I could have a pisco sour instead.
Dessert was offered (I accepted) and I asked for a Baileys and coffee as a aperitif of sorts. I was very surprised when a french press was presented to me for the coffee portion.
The dessert medley was fantastic. Each of the items were flavorful but they weren’t huge portions, which is appropriate for how much we had already eaten.
The sea salt sprinkled atop the whipped cream was absolutely wonderful. I took the chocolate tart and put some of the sea salt whipped cream on it and that became the highlight of the dish for me. The chocolate bread pudding was nice too, but the tart was the highlight for me. The raspberry and white chocolate “sauce” was great, I’d recommend drinking that first (yes, it’s meant to drink) before the rest of the dessert.
As our meal wound down, we all made variations of Really Full Noises (gurgles, etc.). And then, to say thanks, the waiters brought by cute little chocolate airplanes as one final snack
to make us explode for us to enjoy.
What’s a qualifying itinerary for Flagship First Dining?
American wants Flagship First Dining to be an exclusive experience, and the access policy is reflective of that. To gain access to Flagship First Dining you must be flying in First Class on an American Airlines international flight (which allows you to bring in a guest) or First Class on one of American’s transcontinental flights to SFO or LAX (in which case no guest). That’s it. You don’t get access as a Oneworld emerald, Executive Platinum, or anything else. I think they got the access policy right, for the record. The Flagship lounge has great food, this is a cut above that quality of food so it makes sense to carve it out for an exclusive audience.
So, overall, how was it?
It was phenomenal. The dining room had plenty of seating (which should be sufficient for how exclusive access will be to Flagship First Dining) and the service was excellent. The food was world-class. The head chef was walking around discussing the food with us and was interested in all of our commentary, both good and otherwise. Again, the cauliflower risotto was divine and the burger was out of this world. Then you throw a perfect pisco sour on top of it? That gets me to stand up and start a slow clap for American.
Now, I do hear what you’re saying, “this was just a media preview, no way they can pull that off that well every time.” Ok Mr. Pessimist, fair point. The proof, as they say, will be in the cauliflower risotto. But it’s hard to imagine a better start for American here. They’ve set the bar very high for other US airlines to follow. I’d easily put the quality of the dining experience up there with The Pier in Hong Kong.
Put simply: well done American. Although I guess I should say medium rare. Haha get it?
Which picture was your favorite? Do you like pisco sours as much as I do? Tell me in the comments below!