An In-Flight Dream Come True — Taste Testing Entrees at 30,000 Feet

Oct 26, 2015

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On last night’s inaugural 737 flight from Copenhagen to Newark, TPG Editor-in-Chief Zach Honig got to taste all four entrees. Read on to see his favorite dish.

Since Thursday, I’ve flown three long-haul legs on the same plane. Not just the same aircraft type, but the exact same aircraft — HB-JJA, a 737-700 wet leased by SAS and operated by Privatair. On Thursday I flew nearly 10,000 miles on JJA, from Stavanger, Norway to Houston, Texas and back. And last night I flew it once more, on its inaugural voyage from Copenhagen to Newark.

I’ve heard plenty about the excitement surrounding inaugural flights in the past, and I’ve been eager to join one myself. My first inaugural (last night’s flight) happened almost by accident — I booked a sub-$800 round-trip on the world’s longest 737 flight. The plane features 44 business-class seats, and, through Friday, operated nonstop service between Houston and Norway. Then, last night, the same 737 began flying SAS’s second daily service from Copenhagen to Newark.

Ground staff chatting about the new 737.
Ground staff chatting about CPH’s new 737.

I just so happened to be booking a flight on that same route on the same date as the inaugural, so rather than travel in the airline’s new A330 business-class cabin (which looks very nice), I opted for the first 737 flight, which left quite late for a Europe-to-US flight, giving me a few extra hours to explore Copenhagen.

From what I’d heard about inaugural flights, I was expecting a speech from SAS execs, a gate celebration and a party-like atmosphere on board. As it turned out, it seemed that I was the only passenger who actually intended to be on the inaugural, which I suppose makes sense, given that this isn’t the launch of a new route — rather just a new aircraft type on an existing route. Fortunately, the crew was still very excited, and they seemed happy to have an enthusiast on board. So happy, in fact, that they went above and beyond with the service.

SAS crew photo with passenger #1.
SAS crew photo with passenger #1.

I knew I was in for a treat when the crew asked me to join their group photo before departure. As the only passenger waiting to enter the gate area when they arrived, I was declared the first passenger on the first flight to Newark. Once I boarded, the good times continued. Privatair’s in-flight service director happened to be on the flight, and he and the rest of the flight attendants helped make the inaugural extra special — despite the lack of official festivities.

I was offered a celebratory glass of Champagne after boarding (yes, the same Champagne I would have received either way), plus my pick of some miniature stuffed animals that the airline usually hands out to children — I grabbed a monkey finger puppet and a frog.

An "Air Born," with vodka, Busnel Calvados and ginger ale.
An “Air Born,” with vodka, Busnel Calvados and ginger ale.

The real excitement began with the meal service, however. I had picked a window seat in the last row, which was otherwise entirely unoccupied at check-in (and during the flight). So, while I was served last, there were plenty of appetizers and entrees left over — far more than the crew of five (plus the pilots) could eat. (Note that there are normally four flight attendants on board, but the service director joined, making a fifth.)

The salmon and ham appetizers on SK 901.
The salmon and ham appetizers on SK 901.

The service director suggested that I try both of the appetizers — so I did. I enjoyed the salmon spread with crisp bread and fennel salad best, but the serrano ham with goat cheese was quite good as well.

Last night's entree choices on SK 901.
Last night’s entree choices on SK 901.

I was already feeling quite full when a flight attendant came by to show me the entree options.

I couldn’t make up my mind, so the service director suggested that I TRY ALL OF THEM. I’ve seriously had dreams about doing just that on a long-haul first-class flight (where the food is much better than what I usually get on United), and even though I was feeling full after sampling both appetizers (and a fresh salad), I didn’t want to pass up on the opportunity.

My entree pick — all four!
My entree pick — all four!

Left to right, here’s what I had: ricotta cannelloni, beef cheek, seared chicken breast and fried cod.

So how did they rate? Here’s my review, ranked in order of taste:

1. Seared chicken breast with chorizo, amandine potatoes, French beans, garlic and plum tomato sauce — This was definitely my favorite dish. The chicken was moist and flavorful, as were the accompaniments. The sauce was delicious as well, and, since I’m a sucker for garlic, I was really happy to have whole cloves beside the piece of chicken. I give this dish a solid A.

2. Beef cheek with mini potatoes, spinach, baby carrots, pearl onions and black peppercorn sauce — If it weren’t for the amazing chicken, this would have been my first pick. The beef was tender and flavorful, and not too fatty. The potatoes and baby carrots were blanched, and far from overcooked. Everything was seasoned perfectly, including the spinach. I give it an A-.

3. Ricotta cannelloni with creamed spinach, grilled peppers and tomato sauce — A decent vegetarian dish. Honestly, I was just excited to see a veggie option on the menu, since many airlines opt to include only meat and fish, leaving vegetarians out of luck unless they’ve pre-ordered a special meal. The pasta was a bit chewy, but the filling was flavorful. There was definitely a strong pepper flavor. This dish was a solid “C” in my opinion — average airline fare.

4. Fried cod with olive oil mashed potatoes, mixed vegetables and a creamy seafood sauce — It was just okay. The fish was cooked fairly well (the texture was more steamed than fried, which I was happy to see), but it was over-salted. The mashed potatoes were good, and the “mixed vegetables” (peas in the pod) were perfectly cooked. Interestingly, a flight attendant told me that another passenger really liked this dish, and while I’m perhaps a bit more sensitive to salt than others, it was simply over-seasoned. I give it a C-.

After the meal - can you tell which entree I liked best?
After the meal — can you tell which entree I liked best?

Since this was the first flight from CPH, the dishes were new not only to the passengers, but to the crew as well. The flight attendants seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say, so I shared the same impressions with them. Note that SAS offers the same menu on other flights from Copenhagen to the US, so you may have these options even if you’re not flying on the 737.

Dessert on SK 901.
Dessert on SK 901.

When the dessert came around, I sampled a bit of everything there, too. The Fourme d’Ambert and Saint-Nectaire cheeses were pretty solid, as was the cherry tart with vanilla sauce. My favorite was the chocolate ice cream, which was a bit soft by the time it arrived, but very tasty nonetheless. I also had some fresh fruit, which was as described.

Ultimately, while this inaugural flight was a bit lacking in the celebration department, I was pumped to get to try a bit of everything. Our flight had just 29 passengers (with 44 seats), and even though flights typically aren’t over-catered, there’s apparently usually enough of each dish that passengers can get what they want, even if they’re seated in the back (like me).

Seat 11F with all four entrees.
Seat 11F with all four entrees.

Also, if you do happen to be in the last row (or somewhere nearby) and there are still plenty of dishes left on the cart, it never hurts to ask for a second — any leftovers that the crew doesn’t eat just end up in the trash.

Stay tuned for my full review of SAS’ new 737 service between Newark and Copenhagen, which launched just last night and will run through March, when the airline moves its 737 to the Boston to Copenhagen route, instead.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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