Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Main Cabin Dining on Virgin America

Update Review, January 2017

Another day, another flight on Virgin America.  Start with my many previous reviews (below) of Main Cabin or First Class for more background.

I was flying Main Cabin Select, which meant I had "free" food and drinks.  Unfortunately, I honestly do not like a single snack they have on-board.  I love snack foods, so this is surprising, but really, they just have nothing I ever want.

The meals used to fare much better, and I still fondly remember the salads I had the first few times I flew with Virgin America in Main Cabin Select.  But I haven't seen a salad on the on-board menu in years, despite them always being listed on the website.
Mediterranean Veggie Wrap with Cannellini Bean Salad.
"Salad of lemon pesto bulgur wheat, hummus, grilled eggplant, caramelized onions, Persian cucumber, baby spinach, feta cheese, and roasted tomatoes, all wrapped in a sundried tomato tortilla. Served with a marinated cannellini bean, red onion, and oregano salad. "

My choices, besides the cheese platter and snack boxes, were a turkey sandwich or a veggie wrap.  I half-heatedly selected the veggie wrap, hoping I could at least dissect it and get a few tasty bites.  I did not expect to like it in any way, since I don't like sandwiches or wraps, I don't like hummus, I don't really like cucumbers, feta, or roasted tomatoes, and that just left bulgur, grilled eggplant, spinach, and caramelized onions.  Oh, and a side salad of beans?  Yeah right, I never like beans.

But, I liked this.  I don't understand it.  I mean, I didn't *love* it, but I enjoyed it far more than I thought possible.

The wrap wasn't mushy or soggy.  Nor was it dried out.  I liked the sundried tomato flavor.  Well, huh.

The filling was also far better than I expected.  I did push aside the cucumbers, feta, and roasted tomatoes after a first bite, but, the bulgar with lemon pesto, the hummus, and the slices of roasted eggplant were really quite tasty.  The spinach was fresh and crispy and the caramelized onions had a good flavor.  There were even plump, juicy, golden raisins in the mix, a strange ingredient, but, I really liked the sweetness.  There really was a lot of flavor and good textures in the wrap, and it was far more fresh tasting than I thought possible.

The only problem with this wrap was the fact that it included avocado cubes, not listed in the menu description.  I'm allergic to avocado.  I'm curious why they didn't include this ingredient in the description, since it seems like it would draw in more people?

Update Review, Summer 2016

Another day, another flight on Virgin America from Boston to San Francisco (or, vice versa).  This is the route I always take to visit my family.  As a Silver member, I got upgraded to Main Cabin Select, so I was able to sample some food for free.

Normally I'm not particularly excited about domestic airline food, as it is all sandwiches and salads, but, I've had some really good salads on Virgin America flights in the past.  Sadly, this was not one of those times.
Ginger Chicken Soba Noodles. $8.50.
"Grilled sliced chicken breast, soba noodles, julienne red bell peppers, carrots, shiitake mushrooms, sliced scallions, edamame soy beans, sliced English cucumbers, cilantro sprig, and ponzu ginger sesame vinaigrette."

Since I didn't want any of the sandwiches, and had good luck with salads in the past, I went for the salad, even though it contained chicken, an ingredient I loathe.

The garnish on it was amusing, a very substantial sprig, er, branch, of parsley extending the entire length of the tray.  Seriously, wat?

The chicken portion was 3 slices of rather scary looking chicken.  Scary in how ... fake it looked.  All white meat, with perfect grill marks that looked painted on.  Really ... fascinating.  I didn't try it.

The soba noodles were really mushy and all stuck together.  And kinda dry.  The veggies were all unremarkable. Shredded carrot, slices of red pepper, chunks of cucumber and mushroom, too much green onion, more parsley.  None of it was very good.

The dressing on the side was a solid mass, thick and gloopy.  It seemed to be oil and lemon?

I really didn't like anything about this salad.  The woman next to me also ordered it, took a few bites of hers, and said, "Wow, this is kinda awful, isn't it?"

Clearly not a winner.  Neither of us really made a dent in our salads, and our flight attendant didn't seem surprised when she came to collect trash and we both tossed them.  I didn't even bother try to get Ojan to try it.  I can't imagine anyone would find this appealing.

Update Review, Summer 2015

I've reviewed the food served on Virgin America several times, so, I'll skip all general intro this time around.  Please go read my other reviews of the Main Cabin dining from December 2013 and December 2012 below if you are interested, or, about my First Class experiences, and then return here for the latest updates.

The following are my reviews from several flights over the summer of 2015, don't worry, I didn't eat all of these on one single domestic flight :)

Sandwiches

Veggie Wrap
"Lemon cilantro tortilla with black rice, farro, edamame bean salad dressed with soy yuzu vinaigrette, roasted slivered almonds, edamame hummus, roasted red peppers, sliced cucumbers, arugula lettuce, and cilantro leaves."

I know, I don't like sandwiches.  I don't like rice.  I don't like edamame.  I don't like hummus.  But ... there really was nothing on the menu I wanted.  They got rid of the salads, which I really did enjoy.

Plus, the description said "soy yuzu vinaigrette", which did sound promising.

I didn't know the wrap would come with a mini fruit cup on the side, but that was the highlight.  A single grape, some fresh enough pineapple, bits of mango, and a single strawberry.  Awesome fruit? Nah, but it was fine, and I particularly appreciated the mango.
Veggie Wrap: Inside!
The wrap however, had nothing redeeming in it for me.  I never tasted any soy, nor yuzu, which was the only part I was looking forward to.

The whole thing was really quite dry.  The tortilla wasn't dried out at least, but the fillings were all just sooo drying.  No creamy sauce, just hummus.  And all the grains.  Dry, dry, dry.

I never should have ordered this, as it clearly wasn't going to be something I liked.  I'll say the good parts: the cucumbers were crispy, the roasted red peppers quite flavorful.  But ugh, not my thing.  I wish they would bring back my salads!  At least it was only half a wrap?
Roast Beef and Cheddar Sandwich
Ojan ordered the roast beef sandwich on his flight a few days prior, and told me he didn't like it (I wasn't with him to steal a bite!), but, alas, I was still hungry after the lackluster wrap.  So, I didn't heed his advice, and ordered it anyway.

I was surprised when it arrived, as it was a full size sandwich, two halves.  I thought that it would be like the veggie wrap and just half a sandwich.  Whoops.  I wasn't THAT hungry.

It didn't come with fruit salad on the side like the wrap, but instead included a small Dean and Deluca chocolate. Even better!
Roast Beef: Inside.
"Ciabatta bread, mesclun mix lettuce, sliced roast beef, mild cheddar cheese, sliced Roma tomato, sauteed pepper medley, balsamic glaze, and lowfat mayonnaise."

Ojan warned me that the sandwich was horrible.  He said the bread was soggy, the meat bad.  I didn't quite agree.

Ok, so the bread wasn't good.  It wasn't soggy exactly, but it surely wasn't good.  "Ciabatta"?  I dunno, it wasn't what I think of as ciabatta.  It certainly didn't taste fresh.

The top piece of bread contained a little bit of the balsamic glaze. It soaked into the bread, so was otherwise lost.  The bottom contained the mayo, a very thin layer, but, I do love mayo.  I mostly discarded the bread, and just scraped the mayo off.

The mesclun mix was fine, the sauteed pepper medley I really didn't like though, but mostly because I don't really like peppers. The roma tomato was rather mealy.

But, the core components, the roast beef and cheddar ... weren't bad.  Sure, the cheddar was just slices of pretty generic yellow cheese.  It didn't exactly have much flavor, so yes, "mild" it was.  But the roast beef was decent enough.  Not fatty, not chewy, just fine.

I did enjoy the roast beef, plus cheese, plus mayo.  Obviously I wouldn't highly recommend this due to the lackluster bread, but the parts that mattered were high enough quality, and if you like peppers, you probably would have found the peppers nice as well.
PB & J Sandwich.
"Sliced wheat bread topped with creamy peanut butter and strawberry jam served with Tasty Brand Fruit Snacks."

The pb & j is likely intended for kids but ... when all the other options don't sound great, what's an adult to do?  Plus, seriously, who doesn't like a pb & j from time to time?

The serving is only a half sandwich, like the veggie wrap.

The bread was very thickly sliced wheat bread.  It was highly unremarkable, except in its thickness.  While there was plenty of both peanut butter and jelly inside, it was really hard for anything to stand up to this quantity of bread.  It was slightly dried out, as you'd expect, but at least it wasn't soggy (although, sometimes, I really do like the soggy nature of a pb&j ...)

The peanut butter was smooth, creamy style, with a good peanut flavor.  Basic peanut butter, but certainly good enough.

The jelly was strawberry jam, not a smooth jelly, but also without any distinct berry bits.  Sweet.  Again, basic, good enough.

The most notable thing about the fillings is that they use two layers of peanut butter, one on each slice of bread, with the jam in the middle.  This helps prevent the bread from getting soggy, and really amps up the pb flavor.  Smart move, Virgin.

Overall, a decent, basic sandwich.  When all else fails, it works.
Chicken Mozzarella with Pesto Sandwich.
"Ciabatta bread, arugula lettuce, basil leaves, sliced fresh mozzarella slices, sliced chicken breast, sliced Roma tomatoes, lemon pesto, and balsamic glaze."

Now, I obviously don't like chicken, but the other components of this sandwich sounded great, so I figured I could just remove the chicken.  A tomato and fresh mozzarella sando with pesto sounded fantastic to me!
Chicken Mozzarella with Pesto Sandwich: Inside.
I was curious how the sandwich was composed, so I opened it up.

The bread was the same ciabatta we saw with the roast beef sandwich.  A bit stale, a bit dry, but also a bit soggy.  Not great.

The top side of the bread had the balsamic glaze soaked in, so, in order to taste balsamic, you had to go for the bread.

The bottom slice had the lemon pesto, really quite flavorful and delicious, and the winning element of the sandwich.  On top of that was the lettuce, basic lettuce, and the sliced roma tomatoes.  The tomatoes were fine, but really there wasn't much tomato.  Since I was intending to remove the chicken, this left a more meager sandwich than I was expecting.  More tomato please!

Speaking of the chicken, it came next, and was slices of deli chicken, rather than a piece of grilled breast like I expected for some reason.  There was tons of it.  Doh.  But at least they were generous with their protein?

Next came the slices of fresh mozzarella.  Decent enough, soft, but not particularly remarkable.  On top was a basil leaf.

Overall, the bread was clearly the worst aspect, and the other fillings good enough.  I really liked the pesto, but I'm really never a sandwich girl.

Boxes

Protein Box.
"This protein-packed meal combines Bumble Bee lemon pepper tuna, La panzanella rosemary crackers, Heritage roasted red pepper hummus, Crunchmaster multi seed crackers, Emerald's natural walnuts & almonds, and Happytimes veggie pals chews."

One one flight, I went for one of the snack boxes, rather than trying more sandwiches.  None of them were REALLY what I wanted, like a couple with boring cheeses (munster? who eats munster?) or featuring hard boiled eggs or sliced turkey.  I went for the "protein box" because I vaguely remembered liking at least the crackers before.
Crunchmaster Multi-Seed Crackers.
The multi-seed crackers were again decent.  Salty, crispy, flavorful.  But I wanted something to dunk them in.  I know that is likely what I was supposed to use the hummus for, but, I don't like hummus and didn't want it.

I could have topped them with tuna, and actually would do that next time, except that I'd bring mayo.  Tuna without mayo just seems ... wrong.

I also really love the La Panzanella rosemary crackers.  A bit of a strange thing for me to like so much because I don't generally get excited about crackers, and I often find rosemary too strong, but, these are strangely addicting, and quite fine on their own (although I'm sure they'd be better with cheese).  The rosemary flavor is not overwhelming, and the crackers are thin and crispy.  I'd gladly eat more of these!

Update Review, December 2013

As I mentioned last Tuesday, I recently did some traveling, and I'll be devoting Tuesdays for the next few weeks to Travelin' Tuesdays!  And what is a big part of travel for me?  The culinary experience (uh, I mean, seeing my friends and family of course!).

Last week, I started the review of my journeys with snacks in the Admiral's Club.  Not extraordinary.  I was eager to get aboard my Virgin America flight.  I was flying Main Cabin Select, which is always such a treat.  Not only do you have the normal Virgin America perks of in-flight wifi, tv, movies, and food ordering at your seat, you get unlimited food and drinks.  And, completely unlike any other domestic airline, this is food you actually would like to eat!  I normally pack myself meals for flights since I know what I bring with me will be far better than anything they have on the plane, but the last time I flew on Virgin America I was so impressed with the tuna niçoise salad that I risked it this time, and decided to go for the airplane food.  I'm so glad I did!

I was again blown away by the freshness and quality of their food.  It makes me wish I could fly Main Cabin Select every time :)  I'll be back on Virgin America for the Christmas holidays, but holiday pricing led me to stick with regular Main Cabin.  As I write this up, I'm slightly regretting that choice!  I again really enjoyed the food, and continue to be very impressed.  Virgin America really sets the standard here.
Udi’s Granola with Fruit and Yogurt.
"Fresh fruit salad of pineapple, mango, and red seedless grapes, served with Udi’s gluten-free granola and fruit yogurt. "

Since my flight left in the morning, I started with the only breakfast selection: the granola, fruit, and yogurt.

The yogurt was Upstate Farms brand, strawberry flavor, nonfat.  It really had no flavor at all.  I would have never known it was supposed to be strawberry.  Not that I like flavored yogurts anyway.  It was basically just generic, runny, sorta sweet yogurt.  The type I stopped eating years ago.  I had a little of this, tried mixing in the fruit and granola, but really didn't care for it.

I was more hopeful for the fruit, since I've had some very good fruit on Virgin America flights in the past.  The first time I ever flew on Virgin America, I ordered the cheese plate, and it came with assorted fresh fruit.  I was blown away by the quality of both the fruit and the cheese then (I've had it again more recently, and I've been less impressed, the cheese selection more mundane, the fruit dried instead of fresh).  But anyway.

The fruit was indeed good.  My bowl contained four chunks of mango, sweet, and ripe.  Really quite good for mango in the United State, and impressive for something pre-cut and served on a plane.  There were also four red grapes, standard.  The majority of the dish was pineapple, which was slightly overripe, but not bad.  It was very juicy.  Overall, I was impressed with my fruit, and quickly gobbled up the whole bowl.

The granola however was my favorite part of the assortment.  I had heard of Udi's before, but I hadn't ever had their granola.  I've been missing out!  It was really flavorful, and contained fun ingredients like banana chips.  Since I didn't like the yogurt, I ended up just munching on the granola alongside my coffee, and I was a happy camper.  I've tried, and reviewed, many granolas over the years, and this was some of the best I've encountered.  I'd gladly seek it out again.

Overall, this was a nice breakfast for the plane, and I'd get it again  I just wish they'd swap out the yogurt.
Arugula and Roasted Pear Salad.
"Crisp romaine and baby arugula salad tossed with red seedless grapes and toasted slivered almonds, topped with pears roasted in fig mustard, and served with olive oil, balsamic vinaigrette, and diced brie cheese on the side."

A few hours later, it was time for lunch.  I looked at the Virgin America website prior to my flight, and had a few meals picked out that I wanted to try.  There was a Vegetable and Plantain Salad that I was really eager to try, as I love plantains.  And there was a Tomato and Mozzarella Sandwich, with sundried tomato and basil pesto on a cornbread baguette!  Or, an interesting set of "Flight Bites", a collection of salads and chocolate mousse!  I wanted them all.  I was a bit torn between what to pick.  But alas, I never had to solve that problem, as none were available.  I even double checked with the flight attendant to make sure all the meals were indeed loading into the system.  He had never heard of either of these choices before, and thought perhaps they were an upcoming menu that hasn't rolled out yet.  Sadness.

Instead, my meal choices were the standard snack boxes (hearty meal, protein meal, jet set kid's pack), the standard unappealing sandwiches (pb&j, veggie wrap, chicken sandwich), or this salad.  Since I was really pleasantly surprised by my tuna salad last time, and I really just didn't want any of the others, at all, I went for the salad.

Like the tuna salad, it far exceeded my expectations.

The greens were a mix of romaine and baby arugula.  As always, Virgin America impressed me with the freshness of the product in their meals.  Both types of lettuce were incredibly crispy and fresh.  The romaine was juicy and succulent.  The arugula even a bit spicy.

There were a few slivered almonds, which added some additional crunch and flavor when I got some, but there weren't many in the salad at all.  The grapes were same as in the granola/yogurt dish, standard red grapes, juicy and fresh.  These all added up to be a decent base for a salad.

The pears were the part I was excited for, since I do like roasted pears, and fig mustard sounded flavorful and tasty.  But they were the only aspect of the salad that wasn’t good at all.  The flavor was just … bad.  I didn’t taste mustard.  Or fig.  And the pears were mushy.  Just old tasting, completely unlike anything else Virgin America served.  Just not good.  But, there were only 4 slices.  Had I liked them, this would have made me sad, but as it was, it wasn’t a problem.

The brie was in tiny chunks, in a separate container.  It was standard brie, not particularly good nor bad.  Probably the same as on their cheese platter?  The chunks did all stick together and required some work to separate, but it was nice that they weren’t on the salad originally.

But the best part was the dressing.  I really can’t say what it was, but I got addicted.  At first I thought it was too thick, but once I used it more as a dipping sauce rather than a dressing, I couldn’t stop.  It was tangy, it was sweet, and well, it was great.  It was sweeter than I’d normally want for an entree salad though.  Usually, I finish a meal and immediately want dessert.  After this, I had no desire for more sweets.  So, good for them in taming my sweet tooth?  I did enjoy it, don’t get me wrong, but I think the sweetness maybe needed some taming.

Overall, another impressive salad from Virgin America.  Is it the selection I wanted? No.  Was I still a bit sad that the more interesting choices weren't available? Yes.  But, I was satisfied and finished everything but the nasty pears, so, it was a winner.  If I was flying with the same menu again, I'd get it, but I hope they change up the selections before I fly again!
35° South Chardonnay Reserva 2012.
I wanted something to pair with my salad, and thought that the red wine would be too over-powering, so I went for the white.  I forgot that I'd had it last time.  It wasn't great. I like a buttery chardonnay, and this was just a bit too harsh.  Given no other option, it is ok, it did go well with my salad, and I did indeed finish it, but I'd pick the red next time, regardless of the pairing.

Original Review, December 2012

For the holidays, I travelled home to New Hampshire.  I had the pleasure of flying on Virgin America, always my favorite domestic airline.  I know I shouldn't be impressed with it at this point, but wifi on the plane still sorta blows my mind.  The time just flies by (yes, pun intended).

The first time I flew on Virgin America, I remember saying that it was like being on the couch at home, but better.  Comfortable recliners, internet, satellite tv (I don't even have cable at home!), movies on demand, and food and drink brought to me with the press of a button?  Yes, please!

My recent trip was just as I remembered, and really quite enjoyable.  I sat in Main Cabin Select, which gave me an unlimited supply of food and drinks, which I of course indulged in.  I was honestly quite pleasantly surprised by the quality of the fresh prepared food.
Tuna Niçoise Salad.  Romaine and mesclun topped with green beans, albacore tuna, potatoes, tomatoes, hardboiled eggs, and kalamata olives, exclusively by Gilt Taste.  Served with balsamic and olive oil dressing.
This was an honest surprise.  I did not expect a salad on an airplane to be remotely decent.  I had even less high hopes for seafood.  But I'm a brave girl, it was free, and as much as I love snack food, I wanted something else too.

The base of the salad was mixed greens, a nice assortment, all crisp.  The tomato came in tiny cubes, and was the most surprising part, as it is winter, and tomato is so often watery, flavorless, and not even red, and this stuff was decent.  Not a fresh ripe heirloom tomato obviously, but so much better than I ever expected.  The green beans were my least favorite element, more cooked than I liked.  They weren't bad, but I would have liked them more al dente, with a bit of snap to them.  The signature niçoise olives and hard boiled egg were unremarkable, decent, but nothing notable.  The tuna, as I hinted at above, was a surprise.  There was a generous amount of it, and it was all pretty good.  Not fishy, no dark meat, just decent.  There were also some chunks of cooked potato, that I originally thought were jicama.  Jicama made no sense to me in this salad, but that is what they looked like.  It took a while for me to identify them as potato.  They weren't very good.  The dressing was provided on the side, so as to not make it soggy.  It was good, flavorful, and complimented all of the greens.

Overall, I was just really impressed with it.  Not Michelin star restaurant quality, but honestly, on par with what you'd get at any decent restaurant in the wintertime.  And on an airplane.

[ Not Pictured ]
Protein Meal, $7.

I also tried out the "protein" meal, although this was mostly for Ojan, I just tried a bite of everything.  It was an interesting assortment, but a disappointment compared to the salad.  It was just a bunch of packaged foods:
  • Bumble Bee Lemon Pepper Tuna: I didn't try this, but I think it was just a can of generic tuna.  Ojan wasn't a fan, as he didn't like the lemon pepper flavor.
  • Emerald's Natural Almond: I also didn't try these, but they were just generic almonds.
  • Wild Garden Sundried Tomato Hummus: This came in a strange tube.  I didn't taste any sundried tomato, just lots of hummus flavor.  I don't really like hummus.
  • Multi-seed crackers: These were my favorite item.  A nice mix of seeds, crispy, and well salted.  I thought they were tasty just on their own, but also ate them with some cheese.
  • Partner's Traditional Crackers: Plain crackers, not remarkable.
  • Happy Times Veggie Pals, Carrot Orange Apple Chews: These were super strange.  They had carrot juice and some fruit juices.  They were chewy, but otherwise, not very good.

35º South Chardonnay Reserva, 2012.
This was better than I expected.  It wasn't good, but it wasn't offensive.  Not bad for generic white wine, and it paired well with my salad.
35º South Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva, 2012.
Again, better than expected.  Not all that complex, but pretty drinkable and enjoyable for airplane wine.
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