Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Japan Airlines, Business Class, San Francisco to Tokyo

Flight Details

Flight: JL1.
Departure Time: 4:25pm.
Aircraft: 777-300.
Class: Business.
Seat: 5K

My journey began checking out the JAL and British Airways lounges, still quite mediocre.  Our boarding time was set to 3:55pm, and, at 3:55pm on the dot, orderly boarding began, with announcements in multiple languages, AND signs held up.  There were at least 8 staff members helping with boarding, and it went faster than I've ever seen a plane board before.  When the PA system came to say it was time to push back, I was barely even settled in my seat.  We pushed back before our scheduled departure time.  Amazing efficiency.

It was overall a decent flight, smooth, good enough food, pleasant enough service.

The Seat

This was my first time flying on Japan Airlines (last time I tried, my flight was cancelled, and I wound up on Cathay Pacific, via Hong Kong, instead).

The cabin is 2-3-2 configuration, although every seat has aisle access.  The cabin is broken into a mini cabin with only one row behind first class and ahead of the galley and bathrooms, and a larger cabin with 6 rows.

I was able to get a window seat (!) in the mini cabin (!) so it was incredibly private, no foot traffic at all.  It did get a fair amount of noise from the galley though.

Overall, it was a nice seat, comfortable, private, but did lack handy storage.

The cabin also only had 2 tiny bathrooms, insufficient for a fully loaded flight.  They had toothbrushes and mouthwash in them, but nothing else of interest.  And again, tiny!

The flight was equipped with wifi (through T-mobile).  It quasi-worked, which is better than most international flights that don't even offer it at least.  However it required you to go back through the entire login flow if you didn't use it for 15 minutes, like, if you were eating (!), which was incredibly annoying.  Still, appreciated.
My Seat.
The seat was a bit narrow, and unlike many other aircraft, there was no storage along the window, the seat was right up against the wall of the aircraft.

Overall though, the seat was fairly comfortable for sitting, and had good electronic controls for moving the leg rest, back, etc.
TV / Ottoman / Storage.
In front of me was a HUGE glossy TV screen.  Really an impressive screen size and quality.  The control was a remote on a cord, easy to use and figure out, no silly touch screen necessary (not that I could have reached it, it was soooo far away).  Content available was great, many recent movies.

In front of the screen was a large ledge, but it wasn't very usable (again, very far away).  On the side was the magazine rack filled with their literature.

Under this was an ottoman and place I could keep stuff.  It became the foot of the bed when it converted.

And under that, a huge storage area, which we *were* allowed to stash stuff even during takeoff and landing.

But that was the sum of my storage space (besides the overhead bin).  I had no side pockets, no cubbies.  No where really to put my phone, my laptop, even my drink.
Aisle Seat.
The aisle seat however did have plentiful storage, and ledges all around for setting things on.  Instead of the larger forward ledge, it had a smaller one that went all along the side, providing a fine place for a drink or phone right next to the seat.
Aisle Seat: Cubby.
And those seats have a huge cubby next to the seat!

While I prefer the window for the privacy, I did lament the lack of storage.
Divider Between Seats.
Speaking of privacy, once underway, the seats have a divider between them, which makes each seat incredibly private (and the staggered layout means you aren't really right next to the person next to you anyway).
Bed.
If you choose to sleep, the seat turns into a flat bed, and an additional mattress pad (stored in the overhead bins) is available to go along with the thin blanket and pillow provided.

It was ... ok as a bed.  Perfectly flat, not sloping, and the foam mattress pad was comfortable.  It was so private.  But, the bed was very narrow.  I'm not a large person, and I could only side sleep in one direction, with my knees overlapping the gap (until I learned I could fill in the gap with my extra pillow).

The pillow, while supportive (foam), was not lofty, and felt like sleeping on a pancake.  I was glad I had brought an extra travel one as well.  And the blanket was laughably small.  I requested a second.

I attempted to sleep for about 2.5 hours, but, it was very early to be sleeping in the US, I wasn't particularly comfortable, and didn't sleep much at all.

Amenities

Amenities were on the weaker side.  I wanted pajamas!
Pillow, Amenity Kit, Slippers, Headphones, Blanket.
Waiting at my seat was a large pillow, slippers (and shoe horn!), headphones, blanket, and amenity kit.

I quickly asked if there were any extra pillows available, knowing I'd want a second one for sleeping, and was thrilled that I was provided one immediately, as it was a full flight.

The slippers were great for putting on to go to and from the restroom.

The amenity kit had a nice case.
Amenity Kit.
But the contents were lackluster.

Tissues, toothbrush (also available in the bathrooms anyway), lip blam, ear plugs, eye mask, "moisture mask".  

In amenity kits, there are really two things I ever want: lotion and gum.  Why gum is never included is beyond me, but lotion is a standard, and I missed it here.

No pen?  I didn't use anything from here.

Cardigan.
Cardigans were distributed once we got under way.  Note: they do not offer pajamas, so, bring your own.

My cardigan was amusingly large, as I think they had only one size, only one style for everyone: adult male large.  Which I am not.

It had a single button, and was a light weight material.  I actually used it, since I was wearing a white cardigan myself, and didn't want to stain it at the start of my trip.

Dinner

For the main meal service, you have the choice of a Japanese or Western menu.  Both have the same amuse bouche and dessert, but different first and main courses.
4 Course Menu.
I managed to mix and match: Japanese first course, Western main, to form the feast I wanted.
Menu.
The menu wasn't given out until we were under way.  I usually spend time reading it while we are taking off, so I was eager to see it (although, to be fair, I had already looked it up online, JAL has all the menus, by route, available on the site 3 months in advance).

The menu was many pages long, in both English and Japanese.
Drink Menu.
The wine list was fairly extensive, as was the other alcoholic drink list, including things you don't see on Western airlines, like multiple choices of sake, shochu, and plum wine, and a decent whiskey lineup.  Standard soft drinks, tea, coffee, and other hard alcohol were also offered, and JAL's signature, non-alcoholic, "Sky Time" beverage.
Japanese Menu.
The Japanese Menu was as follows:

Sakizuke
Cauliflower Panna Cotta, Wild Mushroom Truffle Oil
Pumpkin Agrodolce, Cottage Cheese

Irodori Gozen 〜Selection of seasonal colorful delicacies〜
Vinegared Snow Crab & Radish
Conger Eel rolled with Chinese Cabbage
Shrimp Cake Mashed Green Soybean Paste
Simmered Fried Eggplant in Japanese Broth
Braised Duck with Sweet Soy Sauce
Egg Cake
Tender-simmered Octopus 
Spicy "Konnyaku" Jelly
Deep-fried Taro
Simmered "Shimeji" Mushroom 
Sweet-simmered Chestnut

Dainomono
Grilled Beef Miso Flavor
Salmon with Colorful Vegetable Sauce

Steamed Rice
Miso Soup
Japanese Pickles

Kanmi
Chocolate Mousse

Western Menu.
The Western had an option for the main course (seafood, beef, or vegetarian), but everything else was fixed:

Amuse-Bouche
Cauliflower Panna Cotta, Wild Mushroom Truffle Oil
Pumpkin Agrodolce, Cottage Cheese

Hors-d'œuvre
Roast Beef Salad
Autumn Vegetables,
Wasabi Cream,
Vincotto Teriyaki Vinaigrette

Main Dish Choice
US Prime Beef Tenderloin
Mushroom Duxelle Potato Purée,
Shallot Cream Truffle Sauce

Sea-bass
Warm Parmesan Risoni,
Smoked Tomato Vin Blanc Sauce

Light Vegetarian Choice
"Rigatoni Pasta with Mushroom Bolognese"

Assorted Gourmet Breads

Dessert
Chocolate Mousse
Table Setting.
I was really surprised but how promptly meal service got underway.  Again, so efficient.

Our orders were taken, and moment later, I was asked if it was ok to set my table (with a small tablecloth).  I kinda thought it seemed early, but agreed, although it meant I had to put away my laptop (there was no space to stash my laptop other than my lap, or bag (unlike aisle seat which had a side area for it), and the tray table didn't have a half-size mode for just holding drinks, and it didn't push back out of the way either.

But my drinks were close behind.  Each person's drinks were brought out individually, along with the amuse bouche.

I opted for sparkling water and pinot noir.

The bottle of pinot was presented to me, and my serving was poured in front of me, a nice touch, no cart, no wine just fetched from the galley.

I actually really liked the wine, not too much tannin, really, just a nice wine.  I had been regretting my quick decision to go with wine rather than sake or a cocktail to start, but, I liked this, so I didn't mind.

I also tried the Sky Time that my companion ordered.  It was ... sweet kiwi based watery juice?  Not my thing.  Perhaps good with some gin?

This is likely the fastest I've ever been served on a flight (to be fair, I was in the first row of business, and seemed to be the first one in my row served).
Amuse Bouce.
"Cauliflower Panna Cotta, Wild Mushroom Truffle Oil
Pumpkin Agrodolce, Cottage Cheese"

All diners received the same duo of amuse bouche, both cold items, vegetarian.

They were both ... interesting.  And served with an adorable tiny spoon and fork.

I'm no stranger to savory panna cotta, and the cauliflower one was ok.  It wasn't smooth and creamy, but rather, was textured.  In a way I didn't quite love.  And it was very cauliflower-y.

On top was cubes of mushroom, decent enough.  I didn't taste truffle oil, nor did my companion, who does not like truffle.

The pumpkin agrodolce with cottage cheese was ... ok.

I kinda liked the cubes of cooked pumpkin, but the yellow raisins and sweet sauce were just too sweet.  The dollop of cottage cheese was also a bit odd.

Overall, both ok, but not great.
Japanese First Course: Irodori Gozen: Selection of seasonal colorful delicacies.
The next course came served from a cart, a salad and rolls for the Western meal or a box of assorted small dishes for the Japanese.  All cold items.

My request to get the Japanese starter and the Western main was honored (although I was again asked if I didn't just want the Japanese main).

My box had many goodies.

Top row:
Vinegared Snow Crab & Radish
Conger Eel rolled with Chinese Cabbage
Shrimp Cake Mashed Green Soybean Paste

Bottom Row:
Simmered Fried Eggplant in Japanese Broth
Braised Duck with Sweet Soy Sauce

Egg Cake
Tender-simmered Octopus 
Spicy "Konnyaku" Jelly
Deep-fried Taro
Simmered "Shimeji" Mushroom 
Sweet-simmered Chestnut

If I thought the presentation of the amuse bouche with the cute utensils was impressive, this was something else entirely.

Each dish was in an entirely different style tiny bowl.  They were elaborate.  My tray also came with chopsticks, an oragami bird chopstick rest, soy sauce, a toothpick, and napkin.

Still water was also on the tray, no offer to refill my empty sparkling was given.

The assortment was a mixed bag, but I'm very glad I tried it.  Some seriously fascinating stuff, and far more interesting than a salad.
Vinegared Snow Crab & Radish.
The description didn't quite match what was here.  It did have vinegared snow crab (two pieces, sorry I ate one right away!), but it also had carrots, lots of sweet stuff, black beans ...

The crab was ok, it didn't taste like much besides vinegar, but I really didn't care for the sweet stuffs under it.  Kinda meh.
Conger Eel rolled with Chinese Cabbage.
This I did not like!

The eel was super fishy.  The cabbage was slimy, really hard to chew, and tasted like the fishy eel.  My least favorite item.
Shrimp Cake Mashed Green Soybean Paste.
The cake on top I didn't care for.  It was a cold, mushy, fishy cake.

But, shockingly, I adored what was under it.  A green paste, that looked a bit like wasabi.  It wasn't wasabi, but rather, "mashed green soybean paste".  Really tasty, I liked it quite a bit.  My second favorite thing on the platter (paired with my second least favorite).
Simmered Fried Eggplant in Japanese Broth. Braised Duck with Sweet Soy Sauce.
This I also did not like.  While not quite as bad as the conger eel, the eggplant was crazy slimy.  Crazy, crazy slimy.

The sauce on top was really good, it said "sweet soy sauce", but it was more like a miso paste.  I used it to dip other items in.  Third least favorite, since I did like the sauce at least.
Egg Cake / Tender-simmered Octopus / Spicy "Konnyaku" Jelly / Deep-fried Taro /Simmered "Shimeji" Mushroom  / Sweet-simmered Chestnut.
And finally a crazy assortment of items, 2 of each (except the chestnut).  And again, a mixed bag.

The slices of egg omelet had something in them, I'm not really sure what.  I couldn't even say if it was animal or vegetable.  Fine, but not interesting.

The octopus I was really excited for, as I love octopus, but, "tender" as advertised this was not!  It was crazy chewy.  Did not like.

The jelly was ok, an interesting item I know I've had before, but wasn't entirely sure what it was.  Kinda jelly like, didn't have much flavor, but it looked cool?  The internet tells me this is pulverized konnyaku powder and water gelatin, very low calorie.

The deep fried taro is another I was super excited about (I love taro!), but, eh, it was only ok.  Certainly didn't seem deep fried.  Was mostly just soft taro.  It was fine, but, cold soft taro isn't particularly interesting.  I used the miso-like paste from the eggplant on it, and enjoyed it more that way.

The shimeji mushrooms were fine.

The highlight of this compartment, and the whole platter, was the chestnut.  And sadly, it was the only one that came as a single!

I really, really loved it.  Sweet, soft, flavorful.

Also on here was an adorable star shaped carrot and several slivers of pea pods, all fine.
"Rigatoni Pasta with Mushroom Bolognese" (Vegetarian).
And then, my Western main dish, the vegetarian pasta.  Boring, I know, but I just wasn't excited for dried out fish or overcooked beef on a plane, sorry.  My companion went for the Japanese choice, but I didn't get a photo before he dug in.

The dish was actually quite decent.

The pasta was well cooked, not soggy, not dried out.

I really loved the meaty assorted mushrooms.  The stewed tomatoes were also quite good.  Since this was vegetarian, the stuff that looks like ground beef wasn't ... it was some kind of vegetable protein that I wasn't really into.  But the mushrooms and tomatoes were great, and it was presented very nicely.

I also kinda wished I that I had some cheese to sprinkle on top, but, otherwise, this was fine.  Again, quality presentation, even if just pasta.

My companion opted for the Japanese menu, and I did steal some of his pickles.  They were fine, crunchy, an interesting mix of veggies (some of which I couldn't identify).
Chocolate Mousse.
Dessert was a single option for everyone: chocolate mousse (although the "anytime" menu also had ice cream).

I was pretty sad to see this, since I avoid chocolate in the evenings (caffeine), particularly when I'd be trying to go to bed soon after.  But ... I know people say JAL does great desserts, so I figured I could at least try a little.
Chocolate Mousse ... devoured.
Uh, oops?

I didn't just try a little.

It also wasn't what I expected from a chocolate mousse, as I was expecting a pudding.

Instead it was a chocolate mousse cake, a thin layer of chocolate sponge cake, topped with chocolate mousse.

The bottom cake layer was light and very moist.  The chocolate mousse was creamy and nice.  It also came with a stewed raspberry and blueberries, in a sweet sauce.

All components were good.  It did scream out "I want whipped cream with me!" to me, but, perhaps that was just me, and my never ending love for whipped cream.
Anytime you wish Menu.
The menu continues for many more pages, as the second meal service doesn't have a set time (just a cutoff, usually until 1 hour 30 min before landing, earlier for us due to expected storm activity).

There is a huge selection of additional hot items you can order (small plates, noodles, sandwiches, cheese, the aforementioned ice cream), and two set menus (one Japanese, one Western). 

There is no breakfast service on this flight, due to the somewhat odd timing.  The "Anytime you wish" menu was as follows:

Order in the Sky
Rice Bowl with Spicy Cod Roe & Grated Yam

Light Meal
Rigatoni Pasta with Mushroom Bolognese
〜Recommendation for light vegetarian〜
Assorted Japanese Brochettes
Crab Quesadillas
Vegetable Curry
Mushroom Soup

Noodles
Japanese "Udon" Noodles in Soup with Seaweed

Sandwich
Smoked Salmon Bagel
Croissant Sandwich with Ham & Cheese

Cheese Selection
Assorted Cheese

Refreshments
Ice Cream
Fresh Fruits

Set Plate Menu.
Then there is a  choice of two set plates, Japanese or Western options.

Japanese:
Grilled Sea-bass Salted Rice Malt Flavor
Kobachi
Japanese Pickles
Steamed Rice
Miso Soup

Western:
Chicken Pot Pie
Assorted Gourmet Breads
Greek Yogurt with Mango Sauce
Western Set Plate.
"Chicken Pot Pie / Assorted Gourmet Breads / Greek Yogurt with Mango Sauce"

Due to expected turbulence, the galley closed 2.5 hours before landing, but, we were warned.  For my next meal, I could order anything from the "Anytime you wish" menu, ranging from a cheese plate, to curry, to a ham & cheese croissant sandwich.  I wasn't particularly hungry, and if I wanted anything it would have been breakfast (not available, since, evening in Tokyo), but I went for the more ambitious Western Set Plate.

It arrived soon after ordering.

The pot pie wasn't quite what I was expecting, as, it didn't have a top, and didn't have any puff pastry.  Instead, it was a tart shell, filled with bits of chicken, in a cream sauce.  Chicken chowder tart?

It wasn't bad, actually.  I avoided the chicken since I don't like chicken, but the tart shell was ok, a bit crumbly, kinda a savory thing.  It sorta met my desire for a breakfast pastry.  The sauce was like a gravy almost, except mustard flavored?  I really liked the flavor, but it certainly wasn't as I was expecting.  I didn't find much else in the shell, just the bits of chicken and the cream sauce, not really any potatoes, carrots, or celery.

So certainly not a traditional pot pie in any way, but, not entirely bad.

The salad on the side, not listed on the menu, was great though.  Fresh, crispy greens in a light dressing.  It was really refreshing, particularly the spinach.  I was glad to have some greens.

The "Assorted Gourmet Breads" was a warm seeded roll.  No butter.  Not particularly good, but not stale or spongy.

Finally, it had a little bowl of Greek yogurt.  The menu said it had mango sauce, but there was no mango sauce.  There did seem to be a bit of something sweet, more like a honey sauce.  It was ok, thick, tangy yogurt, and I did like the sweet sauce, but there wasn't much of it.

Overall, there were some satisfying bits in here, but I was pretty confused (it was just after midnight after all), and didn't quite feel it.
Japanese "Udon" Noodles in Soup with Seaweed. Smoked Salmon Bagel.
 My companion selected two items from the Anytime menu: the noodles and a smoked salmon bagel.

The noodles was a nice portion, hot and fresh, with a seasoning packet to add as much umami as he wanted.  I tried the broth, and it was flavorful and salty.

The smoked salmon bagel was only a half bagel, and it was cold.  Not toasted.  And the bread was not good at all.  He salvaged the smoked salmon.
Vanilla Ice Cream.
Still not quite satisfied, I ordered the ice cream.  I love ice cream, and ice cream on planes always makes me quite happy, it feels so ... fancy.   However, they had only vanilla available, Haagen-Dazs.  It arrived rock solid, and still I couldn't get a spoon into it after 30 minutes.

Meh to this.  On the flight out of Haneda however they had amazing ice cream.  More on that soon.
Decaf Coffee.
Since it was night where I was headed, I couldn't order regular coffee, although they have a partnership with a fancy coffee company.  I still wanted a little zing, so I got the decaf.  

I think it was instant.  It wasn't very warm, and it wasn't very good.  Sugar and cream were offered, no sweetener available.
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