Move over all ye banjo-bedecked trainhopping downtown Guthries with heads of braided rat tail, for a new king of the rail has emerged in New Orleans, the one and only Tom Fitzmorris. That's right, this week T-Fitz and wife take a two day journey aboard the Sunset Limited from New Orleans to Los Angeles, which involves a lot of "staring out the window," staying in a sleeper car, and feasting on meals that "could have been served in no less than a three-star restaurant without seeming out of place." Overall, though, T-Fitz concludes that decent train dining is very pricey and likely on its way out. Here now are Tom Fitzmorris' 12 best musings about the Amtrak dining experience.
· "Traveling in a sleeper still rivals airline first-class fares. The round-trip price for my wife and me was around $1,600."
· "The menus on Amtrak are the best I can remember since the Southern Crescent exited the scene in the 1980s."
· "At the server's suggestion, I tried a grilled salmon fillet with an aromatic spice rub. It verged on four-star cooking, the salmon cooked exactly right, moist and vivid."
· "The sweet-heat sauce and seasonings completed a very good plate of food."
· "The centerpiece was a flatiron steak with a demi-glace sauce and a mushroom duxelles. I can remember when neither demi-glace nor duxelles could be found on any New Orleans menu. Flatiron steak, too, for that matter."
· "The beef was cooked accurately and juicy, the sauce was flavorful and interesting. Even on the cheap plastic plates Amtrak uses, it looked good."
· "My wife very much enjoyed the roasted, herb-coated half chicken. That idea came not from the waitress this time, but from a regular Amtrak traveler who joined us at our table."
· "Other good items that showed up were a chicken and vegetable soup with dumplings, and a sandwich of three cheeses (one of them smoked) on thick slices of artisan-style bread."
· "The details leave much to be desired. This was particularly true of the vegetables and other side dishes, and breakfast has become ordinary."
· "The Sunset Limited didn't even serve breakfast as the train left the station, even though it was only nine o'clock."
· "The bar service is also less than brilliant. That, however, didn't make the four-o'clock gin and tonic any less enjoyable."
· "Amtrak's food has an up-and-down cycle of about 10 years' duration... I think we may be on the verge of a downturn."