Restaurant quality food on an airplane: Royal Laurel Class on EVA Air [classic article]

When’s the last time you had a real meal on an airplane? I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but they’ve even gotten rid of the classic peanut snacks, because the whole world claims to be allergic to nuts. I was recently hosted by EVA Air back and forth from New York to Taipei, Royal Laurel Class. They make you look forward to mealtime! EVA Air flies out of such US airports as NY/JFK, San Francisco, LAX and Guam.

In Royal Laurel Class, you can actually go online ahead of time and not only pick your meals from the regular menu (which differs whether going to Asia or coming home), but also, they have an exclusive and extensive online menu that you can pick something from, made just for you. There’s a “delicate menu,” which we would call “healthy choices”, as well as both Asian and Western selections. I wanted to try out both sides of the planet’s offerings, because I’m sure people want to know about both types of cuisine that’s available. There’s a swing out tray (instead of pull-down) that’s more table like, but you’re kinda locked in once the “table” is set. The table is set with white table cloth, cloth napkins, real Western silverware, chopsticks, chopstick rests, silverware rests and even rests for the soup spoons.

Cocktails, wines from all over the world and champagne are included. There are also soft drinks and about a dozen Asian and Western teas to choose from. You hear conflicting advice out there: only drink water on a plane or have some drinks to fall asleep. I split the difference and had a glass of champagne. I started my meals out with Dom Perignon, 2003, considered a highly concentrated vintage. I tasted toasted bread notes and definite flavor presence, not just bubbles.

These are menu offerings on the plane from NY to Taipei:

noodle with braised shredded chicken and preserved vegetables

grilled beef with Madeira sauce

lobster with Chinese ginger and onion sauce

If you look online ahead of time, you can additionally select from:

seared lemon thyme chicken breast

seared lamb shop with rosemary jus

beef steak in Chinese style

roasted chicken in spices and herbs

shrimp and scallion with tomato basil sauce

Fu Jian style leechi pork

seared prime beef filet with thyme jus

Chilean sea bass with lobster sauce

stir-fried tiger prawn in Sambal sauce

First, like any top-notch restaurant, an amuse bouche was served. Here, it was smoked duck with a pesto-like sauce. It was presented with apricot jam –which went very well, flavor-wise. Also on the plate was raisin bread, lightly stewed tomato, frisee and mixed lettuce garnish. The duck wasn’t overly smoky or garlicky, letting the natural flavors shine through. The pesto cream adds richness to the dish.

Then, garlic bread, rolls or raisin bread was offered, as much as you like. I spread some of my pesto cream on the garlic bread, which was pretty genius — if I do say so myself.

I wanted to select an entree from the special, order ahead of time list, to see how smoothly that went. It was a pretty easy process — once I learned where to look: the trip planning section. The meals had click-through links to see all the accompaniments with each given dish. I also wanted to order a simple, Western-style meal on the flight out for a practical reason. The flight there is 16 hours and that’s a long time if your meal doesn’t agree with you. So, I wanted to take things easy. I ordered the beef steak in thyme jus and that was exactly the right choice for what I was looking for. I’d describe the steak as more of a pot roast type preparation and that’s good comfort food on a long trip. It was served well done, pot roast style with thyme, a touch of garlic and sesame seeds. Yes, that’s got a fusion thing in the recipe, but it was still fairly mild. It was presented with a selection of various root vegetables: turnip, potato and parsnip (or taro?), baby carrots with their tops on, as well as asparagus. The sauce was well-simmered and the vegetables retained a nice texture.

For coffee service, the coffee comes with a rock sugar stirrer and a square of Godiva chocolate. I put everything in there for a mocha kind of drink!

For dessert, I’m thinking the tiramisu creation was tofu-based.

Later, I also picked some Oolong tea, which was served with a mixed nuts/rice crackers mix: they were sweet and crispy. They’d go over like gangbusters with the non-peanuts US crowd! Now, don’t think this is weird, but I definitely detected a touch of anchovy flavor, like the sesame-anchovy crisps one can find in Asian grocery stores. I liked it!

Here’s something that’s kind of off the radar for meal service, but you should definitely know about: during the flight, EVA Air serves substantial snacks upon request. You can choose from Western things like sandwiches or quiche. By this time in the flight, I was feeling more confident in my tummy and tried the “pork chop soup”. It was pretty awesome. It was also a huge serving and I was glad I ordered it when the lights had been turned to “starlight” mode with little tiny lights in the ceiling, just like a night sky. It was a big bowl of soup with a breaded pork chop that I went to town on, with a hard-boiled egg half, sweet pickled veggies and a whole crisp baby bok choy.

In the morning, orange, tomato (which has been tested to be airplane goers’ fave, due to the extra umami flavor), apple and mango juice were offered. Water was offered throughout the flight and a bottle was at each seat: Evergreen, from one of their natural springs.

For breakfast, I tried out a true, classic Asian breakfast: congee. Congee is like cream of rice cereal and they serve it with a variety of savory mix-ins. These can include meat threads, spicy veggies, pickled veggies, fish. I think congee is something one either loves or . . . does not. I can see the creative appeal in fixing your own hot cereal however you like.

On the return trip, I was offered a Taiwanese veggies appetizer with squashes, tomato salad, a big chilled prawn, lemon garnish and salad. It was light and refreshing.

During my trip, I had eaten a great deal of pork. Previously, I had pre-ordered a pork dish from the online choices, but was given the opportunity to change my mind. I did! I got a fried beef dish — pan fried beef steak with creamy mushroom and black peppercorn sauce — to ease myself back into Western food. Once again, I started my meal off with the Dom Perignon.

The appetizer was pork pate’, so I still got my “vitamin pork” in.

The first course was a creamy button mushroom soup, which, once you’ve been to Taiwan, realize is more Western in nature. They would have more of a broth soup and have a number of rare-for-us mushrooms at their easy disposal. The soup had a smoky, herbal flavor. It was creamy and not overly salty.

Next came salad with a choice of Caesar, mango cream or vinegar/oil. I chose mango cream. the salad was mixed lettuce with red cabbage, pear tomatoes, red peppers, yellow peppers and fresh parsley leaves. I like fresh, herbal salads like that, with lots of nutritious, colorful phytonutrients as ingredients.

Along with my steak with cream sauce, it was accompanied by potato leek gratin with bacon flavor and a medium-crisp cooked Western veggie mix.

Before the dessert course, a Western-style cheese course was offered –ask for the Port that’s included. You can have a selection of Emmenthaler, blue cheese, Camambert, Boursin and some others. Accompaniments include Carr’s water crackers, raw walnuts, dates, carrots and celery.

Also, there was a fruit selection to go with the cheese: I chose mango and dragonfruit, but I could also have had papaya, apple and bananas. I like apples with cheese, but I prefer the snappier, crisper US varieties. With both the cheese and fruit, the portions offered are substantial. The cheese comes straight from the fridge, so my advice is to watch a little of the tv/movie selection or do a little reading, to let the cheese come to room temperature.

The Port was Taylor 2005 — lovely. It was a ruby Port, with a nice balance between wine and raisin flavors.

The dessert course (yes!) was a correct, more dainty portion of pine cake (I could have had Haagen-Daas ice cream instead) that was different from a traditional Italian pine nut cake. It had a stronger, roasted pine nut flavor and little layers of cocoa. It was served with chocolate pine nut brittle. All the different EVA courses were presented nicely, actually. It didn’t come off like airplane food.

I don’t know what was served in the way of snacks on that flight; I was pretty full and sleeping like it was going out of style.

For a breakfast (!), I got the double boiled chicken soup. It was HUGE, with large pieces of thick breast and thigh meat. There were also minced shrimp and super baby peas in the broth. A little salad was on the side with a baby lime slice. Also on the side was a piece of Chinese sausage, bok choy and pineapple slice, plus a little dish of minced scallions to garnish the soup.

The fruit plate that followed had apples, papaya, pitaya and melon.

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