Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Dining in One of Amtrak’s Rolling Restaurants

Almost invariably, the first question I’m asked when the subject turns to long-distance train travel is, “What’s the food like?”

My response is, “Quite good, most of the time.”

If you sense a little hedging there, you’re right. There are some inconsistencies. A flatiron steak will be tender, juicy and cooked to perfection on one occasion; another time, on another train, it can come out tough and overcooked. (This one was great!)

But, by and large, the Amtrak dining car crews do a very good job under difficult circumstances.

They start serving breakfast at 6:30 a.m., lunch begins around 11:30, and dinner starts around 5:30 and often the last customer leaves the diner as late as 8:00. That, friends, is a helluva long day … and, on the western trains, the same crew have to do it all over again the next day! Then they turn around and take a two-day trip back to where they started from.
Nevertheless, the food is quite good and passengers are almost always pleased with the quality and with the service. I always look forward to the dining car, especially because there is “community seating” at the tables-for-four. There’s nothing like enjoying a good meal and meeting new and often interesting people while the USA passes by outside your dining room window.


Mike said...

I agree with everything you said, Jim. I think we agree it's one of the best places to eat that one could find!

jjtrains said...

My wife and just returned from a Thanksgiving holiday vacation (2008) using Amtrak round trip between Naperville and San Diego via the Southwest Chief (economy bedroom/roomette) and the Pacific Surfliner. The comment is absolutely correct. Flatiron steak on the first evening westbound was dry and only so-so. However, extra cost ($7.50) appetizer dish: large quantity of spicy BBQ chicken wings, massive helpings of fresh sliced cucumbers and of cherry tomatoes, was outstanding and sufficient for an entire table of four! Second night Thanksgiving preview Turkey dinner was outstanding. Returning to home in Chicagoland, first night's dinner (7:15 p.m. Pacific time) immediately after leaving L.A. was fresh salmon, of generous quantity and fine quality. Second night's dinner post-Albuquerque was the flatiron steak (again); this time, made to perfection: thick, juicy, tender and flavorful. I ordered it medium-rare instead of medium as on the way out. All of the desserts were wonderful including but not limited to raspberry cheesecake, peanut chocolate cake and, of course, Haagen-dazs ice cream (chocolate or vanilla). Westbound train was 65 minutes early arriving L.A.; eastbound was 10 minutes late (and actually much later taking into account the schedule padding on the east end) arriving Naperville. We were delayed substantially--exactly as on a previous eastbound trip some time ago--by dispatching and/or signal issues at "Academy" just west of Galesburg where the S.W. Chief exits the old Santa Fe mainline and transfers over onto the old CB&Q mainline. Really a disgusting and apparently recurring problem there. Otherwise the BNSF dispatchers and the Amtrak train crews--except for an unwarranted late eastbound departure from K.C. after an early arrival there--did an overall fine job both ways of getting the trains through on time.