Saturday, February 05, 2011

Across the USA

Emirates Lounge in the SkyMy last visit to the USA probably set new personal records in travel: 30,000 miles, 8 cities and 9 hotels, all in the course of two weeks. With the weather acting up in most of the Midwest, I spent several hours in airports as a result of delayed and cancelled flights. In the midst of the icy winds, airport security and endless waits there were some bright spots: Emirates upgraded me to First during my flight from Dubai to Houston and I got to try some interesting food in new places.

On the map, the city of Atlanta is on the eastern side of the USA. But for Americans this is called the South. The South includes the lands to the south of the River Potomac and all the way up to Texas. I have a special fondness for this part of the USA, having spent a few exciting years of my life in Durham, North Carolina. The Southern states have a variety of cuisine that was influenced by the French, Spanish and African Americans during the early years when they came to his land to rule or work in plantations and farms as slaves. Some techniques like deep-pit barbeques were inherited from the indigenous native American population from even before.

AtlantaOn one Sunday, I walked into a restaurant named Joey D's Oak Room. This restaurant celebrates the food and atmosphere of a popular eating place in the 1920s of the same name. Run by an immigrant from Florence in Italy, the original restuarant was highly acclaimed and visited by patrons of a nearby casino. The food was a combination of high quality steaks and chops along with flavors of Italy, Cajun-Creole and an occasional ethnic speciality from New York. Joey D's tries to bring back some of that food and ambiance and does a good job of it.

The apple martini was perfect and the jazz music livened up the atmosphere. Lots of wood, dark leather and old fashioned lights added coziness and warmth to the restaurant on this cold winter day.

Joey D's Oak RoomI ordered a She Crab soup, a Gulfstream cafe favorite that was hot, thick and very good. They splash the soup with sherry on request.

The house salad with its crisp iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, bacon bits and eggs was out of the world! Really loved the perfect medley of tastes that was enhanced by the excellent house dressing. The freshly baked croissant drizzled with honey was very good too.

Joey D's Oak RoomThe steaks here are special since they chargrilled the meat. My filet mignon was good but a little burnt on one side. However, overall I enjoyed having lunch here. The friendly waitstaff were prompt and helpful throughout.

Joey D's Oak RoomBy the time I arrived in Charlotte, the weather had deteriorated in this side of the country. There was a cold wind and rains making the outdoors very unpleasant. I had the chance to watch my first hockey game. Of coure, hockey here is quite different from the one we are familiar with in India.

Hockey in Charlotte
Hockey in CharlotteThe game wasn't particularly exciting, but the experience was. Bar-food, beer, players padded up like gladiators who broke into fights as often as they played, cheergirls and lot of commercial breaks with sponsors showcased their stuff. :)

Hockey in Charlotte
Hockey in CharlotteIn spite of some flight disruptions I managed to get to JFK to catch my return flight home. I had to fly into Newark airport and drive down to JFK which took a good two hours. Snow and ice were piled high on sidewalks and gardens had been turned into slick icy surfaces.

It was good to get into the warmth of the Emirates lounge. Emirates provides one of the best overall experiences on business class. The free limo pickup and dropoff is very useful and their lounges are among the best. Since I was flying back on an A380 (my first time), they boarded us directly from the lounge!

The first class suites are a class apart. My flight from Dubai to Houston was easily my best in-flight experience ever. Wide-screen LCD, a writing desk, mini-bar, snack basket, high-end amenity kit, complementary pajamas and even a table lamp on the desk area. But what really takes the cake is the seat which converts into a fully-flat 6'6" bed. There are four attendants for about a dozen first class passengers which makes for a very personalized service experience.

The dining menu was a la carte and included caviar and Don Perignon. In other words, I had fun! :)

Emirates First Class SuitesOn the A380, I flew business class which was also pretty good and had a small mini-bar too. What was cool was how silent this mammoth aircraft was. The engine noise was considerably lesser than what I am used to, which made for a very comfortable flight. Another nice touch was the fairly large bar and lounge area at the rear of the upper level.

I have begun choosing Emirates more often instead of Singapore Airlines now. Changi Airport is still my favorite transit airport, but these two airlines are very close now in providing the best business class experience from India to the USA at this time.


Sachinky said...

DOM Perignon. :D

Sandeep said...

Great post Shantanu!. I have never traveled by Emirates and SA was always my first choice. Liked the way this post summarized the experience like always!


Sandeep said...

Forgot to ask ..which camera do you use for these excellent photographs ?

Anonymous said...

@Sachinky: Oh yes! And I made the most of it. :)

@Sandeep: Thank you. I use a Canon S90, which is small enough to carry around but has (relatively) better low-light capabilities thanks to its larger sensor.