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American Orient Express

United States - Deluxe Rail Journeys On Americas Premier Train

By Carl Morrison,


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Tour Leader, Megan, said at the orientation, "AOE, some think, stands for 'Another Opportunity to Eat!'"  We often quoted this as we went to meals already full, but feeling obligated to partake of what we knew would be a unique meal.  She also said the kitchen staff was paid by the pound...the pounds that the guests gain on the trip!


During the Golden Age of Rail travel, the experience of dining aboard the train was the highlight of any journey.  Evolving from their basic purpose, dining cars came to be known for their magnificent cuisine and settings of elegant sophistication that attracted passengers from one rail line to another.

Ask anyone fortunate enough to have ridden America’s great passenger trains over a half-century ago, and no memory of train travel survives so vividly as a sumptuous meal in the dining car.  Today, the American Orient Express (AOE) pays homage to that rich culinary history and recreates the fine rail dining experience, complete with a classically trained service staff.

Classically trained service staff:

Julian Larado and Yours Truly.
Your first view of the dining staff will be when you are first taken to the train.  There, the dining staff escorts you to your car and your car attendant shows you to your room.


DSC08842.jpg“Our vision for the American Orient Express included an extraordinary dining experience, much like the traditions of fine rail dining over 50 years ago,” said Peter Boese, AOE President.  “After a journey aboard the AOE, there is plenty our passengers will remember about their one-of-a-kind journey.  At the top of that list, we want them to have fond memories of the food and service.  We go a step beyond the rest, and our emphasis on providing the highest quality dining, service and ambiance leads the industry.”

 Featuring inlaid mahogany paneling (left) and opulent appointments of brass and marble, the AOE dining cars offer an inviting and unique setting in which to enjoy a fine repast.  Intimate tables seating two or four are properly arrayed with white linen, signature blue and cream china, gleaming crystal, polished silver and fresh-cut flowers.  The ever-changing landscape and diverse beauty of North America passing just outside the windows offers some of the best tableside views found anywhere.

Chefs hail from top culinary programs and leading restaurants, ensuring epicurean pleasures of the highest order.  Multiple entrée selections for breakfast, lunch and dinner are prepared to-order in two onboard kitchens.  Lunch is a three-course meal, with two entrée and three dessert selections offered.  Dinner is a more elaborate affair, with five courses including appetizer, soup, salad, three to four entrée selections and three dessert choices.  And, of course, the chef is pleased to cater to special requests and second helpings.


Jeffrey Martin, Chef
Assistant/Reserve Chef
Courtney Nguyen (center).

First-week employee

According to James D. Porterfield, rail historian, onboard AOE lecturer and noted author of the book, “Dining By Rail,” the AOE offers an array of innovative fare at every meal and course.  “Menus change daily, with the chefs capturing the essence of seasonal and regional specialties, all artfully presented.  Dining aboard the AOE is a truly delightful experience,” Porterfield said.

Upholding the traditions of fine rail lines long gone, the AOE specializes in offering a selection of uncomplicated, yet elegant continental cuisine that pays tribute to the local ingredients from the areas the train occupies on any given day.  For example, while traversing the rustic beauty of the Northwest’s Pacific coastline, passengers might start with a wild mushroom and seafood strudel served with mussel jus veloute, and then enjoy wild Pacific salmon served on a bed of saffron rice with a Beurre rouge.

Other signature soup and starter course offerings include roasted red beet and Grand Marnier soup, or jumbo lump crabmeat and mango Napolean on cumin-crusted apple chips.  Featured main course offerings at dinner include roasted lamb chops with a pinot noir thyme sauce and lobster mashed potatoes, tequila and lime marinated Long Island duck breast, or marinated and grilled rib eye steak with braised shallot jus.  A selection of complimentary fine wines is included with dinner.

For dessert, the temptation possibilities change almost as often as the tableside scenery and might include the signature blueberry cake with white chocolate frosting served atop crème anglaise or chocolate and vanilla malted crème brulee.  Other classic favorites such as dark chocolate mousse or seasonal berry pastries also regularly grace the menu.

Daily breakfast offers two options for passengers.  In the lounge car, a light buffet features fresh fruit of the season or region and freshly baked pastries.  In the dining car, a full-service breakfast is offered daily with a variety of omelets, quiches and frittatas, or signature specialties such as toasted coconut pancakes or crab eggs benedict.

[Author's comments:  Breakfast includes "Southern Style Creamy Grits."  This brings a smile to my face as I recall my brother, Don, who referred to grits as follows:  "If you put salt, pepper, and butter on them they taste like salt, pepper, and butter."  In his East Tennessee hometown, there's a local quote, "Grits are like sales pitches - if you sling enough grits at a wall, some of it is bound to stick."  I had gravy and grits for an off-train lunch once on this trip, and the only thing I can say is that it tasted like gravy and grits. ]

During special afternoons spent traveling aboard the train, a traditional American tea service is offered in the lounge cars, complete with petit fours, finger sandwiches and specialty pastries such as lemon cream scones.

Giving new meaning to the phrase “everything in its place,” the logistics of maintaining a fine quality dining experience for up to 120 passengers daily presents specific challenges for the AOE.  But, they pull it off masterfully.  With extremely limited food storage and preparation areas, as well as menus that feature fresh seasonal and regional ingredients, the chefs and staff must maintain the highest levels of efficiency without sacrificing quality.

Since total product utilization is a first and foremost concern, the AOE chefs must be masters of innovation.  Every ingredient demands approximately three uses.  What is served a plate garnish one day might be utilized in a soup, chutney or glaze the next.

It’s truly a team effort aboard the AOE, with each culinary staff member functioning in multiple capacities and roles.  With rotating schedules, a team of 10 people are dedicated to the daily onboard food service operations at any one time.  Remarkably small in size, fully appointed stainless-steel kitchens aboard the train can be found buzzing with activity well before dawn and into the late-evening hours, preparing as many as 400 meals a day.

With a kitchen that, at times, travels the tracks at speeds of up to 80 miles per hour, the culinary staff might also find themselves performing amazing feats of balance and precision.  To compensate for the motion on the rails, recipes were adjusted to better suit the experience of traveling aboard a train.  Thick sauces, full-bodied soups and simple, yet elegant garnishes are a few of the standards the chefs have incorporated into the AOE culinary guidelines.

[Author's comment:  As you pass through the unoccupied diners (as shown below), while the train is in motion, you hear the sound of 'chimes.'  Those 'chimes' are the fine wine and water glasses clinking together from the vibration of the train.  If you pass through again, you will see bread plates, silverware, and napkins that have actually scooted off the white linen onto the carpeted floor.  Upon entering the dining room later for dinner, however, all is back to normal, with nary a fingerprint showing.]

One of two dining cars on the AOE
Seating is at two-, or four-top tables, unreserved. 
Five-course dinners
Wine is included with dinner, one red and one white.  I preferred the white that I had the first evening, then they changed.  Waiter, Julian, found a bottle each succeeding evening, of my first night favorite, Oak Grove...that's service!

Kim (right)

The Entre and Dessert half of one evening's menu.
One breakfast menu.

The American Orient Express (AOE) is North America’s premier private train, providing deluxe rail vacations.  Noted for its exceptional service, fine dining and elegant furnishings, AOE has brought a return to the unhurried and graceful Golden Age of rail travel.  Programs include in-depth exploration of North American landmarks with onboard lecturers and historians, and off-train tours, which complement the theme of the selected itinerary.

In operation since 1995, AOE currently offers eight regional itineraries throughout the United States and Mexico.  AOE is owned by Oregon Rail Holdings, LLC of Portland, Oregon.  For information and reservations call 800-320-4206, or visit

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