American Airlines’s most premium experiences are gradually emerging from the pandemic.  Flagship lounges reopened at JFK and MIA, with plans to reopen Flagship Lounges at DFW and LAX later in 2021.  This is an important step for American Airlines, as it is an acknowledgment that there are premium passengers flying often enough to justify reopening these expensive and expansive lounges.

For customers, the reopenings are fantastic news because, put simply, American Airlines Flagship Lounges are some of the best domestic lounges in the entire country.  Here are my reviews of a few of them back when times were a little more precedented:

But the Flagship Lounge is not the only thing that reopened.  The prize of American’s lounge network, Flagship First Dining, has reopened at JFK and MIA.

Flagship First Dining

This ultra-exclusive sit-down restaurant-style dining facility is a lounge-within-a-lounge.  It’s available for First Class passengers on 3-class international flights or certain transcontinental flights (American’s access grid is available here).

I’ve visited these facilities before (the media preview at JFK and dining experiences at LAX and DFW) but was really curious how things changed after the pandemic closed the facilities.  I was flying through JFK recently on my way to Italy (you’ll love those pics, coming soon) and American Airlines were kind enough to let me test out the relaunched Flagship First Dining.

[disclaimer: staff at the dining room knew I was media but American Airlines have not reviewed this post and did not write any part of this review, all opinions are mine]

Flagship First Dining

It all starts at the entryway to the Flagship Lounge, located near Gate 12 at JFK’s T8, basically just after security.  If you have access to Flagship First Dining, you’ll be escorted there by a lounge attendant.

The room has two areas: the bar and the dining room.  They’re part of the same room and come with beacoup ramp views of American jets at the gates.  There are many seating options, from solo tables facing the windows to two-top and booth options as well.

We were initially seated at a two-top but a booth opened up and we quickly moved there (I need room to take my pictures, it’s a process).

The Menus

There are two main menus for Flagship First Dining: a breakfast menu and an everyday menu.  We were there in the afternevening (I’m trying to make this a word, please use it) so we had the everyday menus.

The drink list was impressive, as were the custom cocktails made exclusively for Flagship First Dining.

The Drinks

“Ok Andy,” you’re asking yourself, “surely you didn’t test almost all of the cocktails did you?  You’d have to be a mad man.”

I did.  For you, my readers, I sampled almost every one of the custom cocktails so I could give you my up-to-date rankings and recommendations.

First off, I miss the Krug they used to serve.  Laurent-Perrier is a good alternative but it’s just not the same.  These are the problems that people love having, I’m fully aware, but if your heart is set on Krug, you need to adjust thine expectations.

First up, at the recommendation of a friend of mine, was the Watermelon Mafia.

Watermelon Mafia

Calling something a Mafia drink brings its own set of expectations, so I was surprised when the drink came and…it was kind of a peach color.  And had a watermelon wedge sticking out of it.

I am an enthusiast of salted rims to impart different flavors, though, so I respected the smoked paprika on the rim.

The Watermelon Mafia was delicious.  It was simple, pure, and very refreshing.  I’m a sucker for tequila drinks, so I’m biased a bit, but everything worked really well together with the paprika on the rim giving just a bit of heat and intensity to finish things ofOMG TO FINISH THINGS OFF LIKE A MAFIA PERSON WOULD.

Blueberry Basil Gimlet

I’m not much of a vodka guy, so I had some trepidation about this one.

I loved how colorful the drink was!  The vodka wasn’t overpowering to me, actually I felt the basil, blueberry, and lime juice all worked together to enliven the drink.  It was a beautiful, colorful, and bright drink.  I did not expect to like it as much as I did!

Caramelized Fig Old Fashioned

I said above that I’m not much of a vodka guy.  As much as I’m not a vodka guy, that’s how much of a bourbon guy I am, so I was very excited about this one.

Not only were the flavors absolutely perfect together, but they even had the American Airlines logo on the large ice block!  I’m a sucker for a great Old Fashioned and this met my high expectations.  Figs, especially caramelized figs, are a hot flavor right now, the deep fig flavors really enhanced the smoothness of the bourbon for me.

Mellow Manhattan

Because you can’t have a premium cocktail list in New York City without having a Manhattan on the menu!

The Mellow Manhattan was smooth, sweet, and at this point my images started getting a little shaky from all the sampling haha.

So how did I rank them?  I’ll include the Flagship Lemonade, which I’ve tried before.  All of the drinks were great in their own way, but I absolutely loved a few of them.

  1. Caramelized Fig Old Fashioned
  2. Blueberry Basil Gimlet
  3. Watermelon Mafia
  4. Flagship Lemonade
  5. Mellow Manhattan

I was really bummed they didn’t bring the Pisco Sour back, it’s one of my favorite drinks in the world, but I thought the cocktails were fun, tasted great, and had some great hat tips towards New York City that I enjoyed.  And I guess I’m a sucker for a big logo on a block of ice.

The Starters

The cocktails happened throughout the meal, but I liked batching the different phases of the meal together for this review, so I’ll review the starters as one group.

We started with an amuse bouche of whipped ricotta, pickled radish, herb oil, and grain crisp.

It was simple but tasty, with the bread providing a nice complement to the crunchy texture of the onions.  The perfect preamble to a wonderful meal that will have me riding the Peloton for a while to work off.

Our waitress came by and asked just the most lovely question, “Would you like some cornbread?”

Yes, yes I would.

It arrived and it was fantastic.

Freshly cooked in the cast iron pan in which it was served, the cornbread had a honey glaze on top and was served with jam and smoked butter.  Absolutely perfect, speaking as a guy from the south who has consumed many lifetimes worth of cornbread.

From there we had two starters that were on the menu: the salmon tataki and smoked trout.

They also brought out the chickory salad as well, “because why not?”

The three dishes were great, the winner in my eyes was the salmon tataki.  Tart flavors offset by the beautiful salmon which seemingly melted in the mouth, just sublime [makes chef’s kiss motion]

The Entrees

Oh man, how to choose from the amazing entrees!  I had previously tried the burger (and it’s literally my favorite burger in the world) so I went with the steak, after hearing someone else say it was incredible.  My friend traveling with me chose the scallops.

I mentioned my deliberations between the burger and the steak to our waitress and she promptly returned with both the steak and the burger (because why not?) in addition to the scallops.

The dishes were absolutely beautiful, the plating comparable to Michelin-star restaurants I’ve eaten at around the world.

The flavors were bold and the dishes cooked to perfection.  The steak was tender, the burger as good as I remembered (especially the bacon marmalade), and the scallops were just a joy.

I’m proud of the pictures I took, but can assure you the pictures do not do these beautiful dishes justice.

The desserts

At this point of the meal we were full of both food and drink, so, naturally, our waitress came by to inform us she was just going to bring us an assortment of desserts, because why not?

FINE I’LL TRY THE DESSERTS.

We had the classic flan (with pistachio biscotti), the cranberry pomegranate crisp, and a beautiful cheese plate.

Eventually the sun began to set behind Manhattan in the distance and it was time to get ready for our flight, so we bid the staff farewell with lots of gratitude after an epic meal.

The service

The service from the Flagship First Dining team was just wonderful.  And not just for us.  Listen, I know that we received a pretty favorable experience because they knew we were media, but I kept my eyes on other service interactions and the staff had the same warmth and professionalism with everyone else.  It’s clear the team have good leadership and were trained well.

Summing it up

American Airlines created this program in 2017, canceled it 18 months ago because of the pandemic, and now it’s back.  Put simply, Flagship First Dining represents the best that American Airlines has to offer.  The food and cocktails are ambitious, exclusive, and compare favorably to the great airline lounges in the world.

If you have the chance to experience Flagship First Dining at any of the Flagship Lounges as the network reopens, do it.  Get to the airport early.  Give yourself a few hours to do it right.  Savor every bite and sip.  Because why not?

 

Have you visited any of the Flagship First Dining facilities?  What did you think?  Which cocktail and entree look the best to you from JFK?  Tell me in the comments below!

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