OK, So Fine Dining It Ain’t.

The Lake Shore Limited’s New York section was waiting for us when we arrived in Albany from Boston yesterday and the combined train left there on time en route to Chicago. But that’s when it all began to fall apart. There was a lot of freight traffic, but we seemed to be the one doing all the waiting on sidings. Alas, we arrived in Chicago at 1:00 p.m., three and a quarter hours late.
 I must also report that the faux-dining car is still on that train and the crew is serving the new generation of Amtrak meals … the meals the NARP board of directors tasted last April at Amtrak’s test kitchen in Wilmington. For dinner last night, I had what I think was described as braised short ribs of beef with BBQ sauce, accompanied by mashed potatoes and green beans. The potatoes and beans were OK, but the meat was dry and awfully tough, and–the worst offense, in my book–there was only a dribble of BBQ sauce on it.
When it comes to breakfasts in a dining car serving these new meals, my best advice is to avoid the omelet. First of all, what you will get is two eggs cooked very thoroughly on both sides, folded in half, and in half again. Then, as a final degradation, a square piece of cheese–counterfeit Swiss or cheddar, your choice–is put on top of the folded eggs and the whole thing is popped into the microwave. I’m sorry, but it comes out a stiff, overcooked slab of egg, and whatever that is, it is NOT an omelet!
I do understand that eggs are one of the more difficult items to prepare ahead of time, let alone freezing for later use. I don’t know what the answer is, but trying to serve eggs under those conditions just doesn’t work very well.
One more note: the utensils–knife, fork and spoon–were all of rather flimsy plastic. My fork snapped in two last night while I was sawing away at the beef. If everything must be disposable, at least give us plastic tools that are substantial and adequate for the job.
Ah, yes … disposable is taken to an entire new level on the Lake Shore. The table cloths are, in fact, large sheets of fairly heavy paper and when passengers from one sitting have finished and left the dining area, one of the Amtrak staff separates the top paper sheet from the stack, lifts it from the corners and wraps it around all that plastic and paper and uneaten food, thus creating a neat and rather large bundle ready for the trash. Efficient, yes. An enhancement of the Amtrak dining experience? Well . . . no.
Frankly, considering the quality of the food, the plastic plates and the flimsy utensils, the trash removal system, and the bare bones look of the café car itself, mealtime on the Lake Shore leaves a lot to be desired. And, as we all know, it’s the dining experience that people remember and talk about when they come away from a long-distance train trip.
Cutting corners in an effort to reduce food service costs isn’t going to work and is, in fact, counter-productive.