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If you’re a frequent business-class passenger, you’re almost certainly aware that United’s new Polaris “soft product” is launching tomorrow. While the new seats have yet to roll out, all (former) BusinessFirst passengers departing on or after December 1 will travel in Polaris business, while Global First passengers will fly in Polaris first.
All Polaris flights will include new pillows, bedding and amenity kits, along with a completely redesigned food and beverage service, which I had a chance to try out last night at a United event in downtown Chicago.
Food and Beverage
First of all, even United’s Managing Director of Food and Beverage Planning Todd Traynor-Corey acknowledges that the most frequent business travelers are primarily interested in getting a good night’s sleep on long-haul flights, so they’re ready to hit the ground running upon arrival. That means United’s most loyal passengers may board their flights having already eaten and might choose to drink water throughout the journey — and nothing else.
(Though perhaps they’ll opt for the Bloody Mary cart below — available on morning flights.)
For the rest of the cabin, though, having high-quality food and beverage options is definitely a priority — especially for passengers who don’t often have an opportunity to travel in first or business class. It’s those travelers who will benefit most from United’s F&B redesign, in partnership with The Trotter Project, which includes nearly 2,000 new food and beverage options. In total, there are nearly 50 different salads, almost 100 different entree choices and many higher-quality wines — it’s a lot to change all at once.
I had a chance to taste a small sampling of these items, which you can see listed below:
Of course, the real test comes in the air on Thursday, but United gave journalists and several of its most loyal Global Services members an opportunity to try out some of these new offerings on the ground, a few days in advance. The event was hosted last night at bellyQ restaurant, with chef Bill Kim leading a tasting of some of the dishes he created in partnership with United, along with items from other chefs.
As you’d expect from meals prepared by a renowned chef in a top-rated restaurant kitchen, the food was excellent. It’s not realistic to expect this level of quality at 30,000 feet, and tastes will be subdued while on a flight vs. at a restaurant on the ground — though if you’re flying on a Dreamliner, the higher humidity should improve the culinary experience a bit.
That said, this is as close as we’ll get to trying out the new menu options before tomorrow’s inaugural flights.
Before departure, passengers will get to choose a beverage, which will be served along with a “bonbon,” or small piece of chocolate.
Then, after takeoff, evening flights will begin with an optional wine tasting, including three whites or three reds, a mix of each or a sample of all six — not a bad way to start things off! Unfortunately, the actual wines were not available, but we did get a good feel for how the process will work.
As at the tasting dinner, passengers will get to choose from six different wines. There are two “Elevated Favorites” and one “Emerging Star” for each category of wine.
So you’ll get to choose from two established whites, two established reds and one “up and coming” white and red.
The wines were very good overall, but I won’t spend any time focusing on them here, since different wines will be served on board.
Moving on to the food, the first course consisted of Thai-Style Lemongrass Shrimp (the on-board portion includes two shrimp, rather than just one) and a Kale, Mesclun, Roasted Fennel, Bell Pepper and Pomegranate Seed salad (which, again, will be more substantial on the plane).
While the shrimp might look spicy, it was actually fairly mild, though still flavorful, and perfectly cooked. The salad was a good balance of sweet and savory.
After that, we were served a Seared Black Pepper Tuna Loin and a Napa Cabbage, Bok Choy, Carrot and Mango salad. Depending on the route, you might have one of these appetizers available — you could also have both or neither one at all. The same applies to the salads.
The tuna was very fresh, but a bit too lightly seasoned in my opinion, even for the ground. The salad was fresh as well (I loved the subtle sesame flavor), and made a good accompaniment.
And now, to the main event…
I was so focused on trying not to overeat that I somehow forgot to photograph the Gobi Mutter and Shahi Paneer Korma. These two Indian entrees were incredibly flavorful — the paneer cheese was the freshest I’ve ever had (again, this is more a credit to the chef and his restaurant). Indian dishes will typically only be available on flights to India and Singapore though.
Next up was an Asian Fusion Chicken Soup, which had a coconut milk base and was quite spicy (in a very good way). It was served with udon noodles and a small, delicious piece of breaded chicken (this will be sliced and not breaded when served on board). It was phenomenal.
And, finally, we were served a Braised Short Rib, which surprisingly wasn’t quite as moist as the short rib I’ve had on United flights in the past. It was still delicious, but perhaps a bit leaner than I’m used to. I’ve really only had short rib on planes, come to think of it — which makes sense, given that it’s a popular in-flight item due to its high fat content (which keeps it from drying out during reheating).
And in case you’re still hungry…
New to Polaris are hot mid-flight stacks, which will be available on longer flights. These are typically offered by Asian airlines — I sure had my fix on JAL — so it’s nice to see United making a solid effort on this front.
One option that’s already available on some domestic first-class flights and should be boarded on many Polaris routes is lobster mac and cheese. I’ve had this in domestic first class on United and it’s very good, although quite rich (as you’d expect).
Grilled cheese with tomato soup is a new addition, however, and it’s sure to be a favorite. This version was made with coconut milk and was fairly spicy — probably the best tomato soup I’ve ever had — but the onboard version will be more traditional and paired with a much larger sandwich, too.
Apparently United’s been serving ice cream sundaes for dessert for a few decades now, and it’s a crowd favorite, so it’s here to stay. This version included vanilla ice cream, hot fudge, butterscotch, caramel, chocolate bits, a cherry and whipped cream. It’s just as good as it looks. Notably, United serves gelato on flights departing from the US — the gelato’s fat content makes it a bit creamier than the old-fashioned stuff.
There will be other desserts to choose from as well, including a cheese course (as you’ll currently get in BusinessFirst) and a new dessert sampler, with smaller items such as a warm apple pie or caramel bar.
Finally, all passengers receive a Polaris-branded farewell gift with salted chocolates inside. I was so stuffed by that point I ended up giving my box to my Uber driver, but I’ll be sure to report back from an upcoming Polaris flight.
It’s impossible to get the full in-flight experience at a restaurant on the ground, but there’s no question that many of these Polaris dishes represent a big step in the right direction. And with just a day to go until the launch, we should have an idea of how the onboard product compares before the week is through.
Will you be flying United Polaris?
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