As the anonymous writer of the revolutionary pamphlet Virtues of a Deep Fried Hot Pocket, Properly Aged it may come as a surprise that I am very picky about restaurant food. In fact, Gordon Ramsay would probably be telling me to keep my voice down, it's not that bad if we ever ate somewhere together, like a train.
Meals came with the sleeper ticket. Much like the sleeper compartment itself, the passenger feels obligated to use what has been paid for to the utmost. As a result, I found myself shambling towards the diner car more than once, despite knowing what was waiting for me.
First the good. portions are very large; no one goes away hungry. Second, meals come with a side salad. They were always fresh. No overly ribby lettuce, and the tomatoes had no rancidity to them whatsoever. The salad was also dry, a pleasant change from the soggy ones I often get. Third... uniforms of the dining crew were nice...?
Seating. They have communal seating. Even if there are plenty of booths available they insist on seating four at a table. They call it part of the experience, I call it lazy. I also call it terror on the tracks. If you don't time your arrival perfectly, you could wind up by the window with no way out and no barrier between you and your boothmate.
Bread. A little under cooked, still white on top. Dry. Nice hollow sound when thumped. Breakfast biscuits the same way.
Meal One, Fish. Mushy. Served with vegetable medley. I hate side dishes that are lumped together as an afterthought. Cold. Also served with vegetarian chili. Interesting. Nice try, but if you are going to be innovative, get it right.
Meal Two, Eggs and Bacon. Think the bacon was microwaved. No much of an aroma. Ordered eggs scrambled dry, but got a plain omelette instead. Scrambled eggs are supposed to be fluffy, but they poured mixed eggs into a pan and let it cook until the bottom was done , then put it on the plate. Still jelled on top.
Meal Three, Half a Roast Chicken. Not totally fond of chicken, but I do enjoy a roasted one in a bistro setting. Rather bland, skin not crunchy. Few too many bone splinters. Green beans were cold.
Meal Four, Steak. Actually good! Too bad it took an hour and fifteen minutes to get it from the moment I sat down.
Dessert: Not freezer burned, but they had a texture which is difficult to describe. Imagine if something is very deeply frozen, then quickly thawed. It's as if the cheesecake kept the crystalline form internally despite being soft all the way through.
The Staff. Some were inattentive, others were inexperienced. Chef stewards were professional, but the rest need some help.
Overall, probably not as bad as I make it out to be. You have to take the circumstances into account, but I've eaten in places where full meals were freshly prepared in areas much smaller than the bottom deck of a train carriage. I didn't make a snobby visit to the kitchen, but I suspect the main problem is over reliance on the microwave. Cook something, then put it under glass right away; that's the main impression.
Better than airplane food I imagine, but sixteen dollars plus for a plate should get you something really good. All the trains also had snack bars on board where you could get drinks (cans, not bottles) packaged food and cold sandwiches, all pretty affordable. That is probably the future. Amtrak could do a lot to improve efficiency and reduce waste, but I imagine an outside vendor (sorry Aramark, but I hope it's not you) taking over meal services with an expanded selection in the snack bar.