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!
DINING BY RAIL – A
JOURNEY THROUGH THE FINE TRADITIONS OF YESTERYEAR
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:
“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
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
Courtney Nguyen (center).
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
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
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