Encounters - LAX - CA - USA
Airport Dining with a Difference
When I first stepped on American soil back in 1994, tired but excited from a long, Virgin flight across the Atlantic from London, the very first building I saw after I had escaped from behind the closed doors of airport security was a strange-looking creature that could almost have escaped from the pages of an HG Wells novel. Ever since then, and each time I have flown in or out of LAX, I have been intrigued by this structure, especially since I discovered that inside, up in the top, just under the roof, lurks nothing less than a restaurant.
Fast forward eleven years and at last I have a stop over in LAX, a wait for a connecting flight, a couple of hours to kill. Suddenly I find myself with the chance to satisfy that patient curiosity that has lain dormant for so long. It's time, at last, for a brief Encounter.
A five minute walk across from the International terminal takes us to the circular base of this LA landmark. Inside we find the space-agey shiny metal lift, an ugly, ugly lurid purple logo and atmospheric piped music that melodizes our rise to the dining room. It doesn't surprise me when I later find out that the interior was redesigned by Disney, because the fanciful eighties-looking interior decor would be more at home in a theme park than a sophisticated restaurant. But the dining room inside the "Theme Building" (as it is called), is not the slightest bit sophisticated. As super cool as it looks from the outside, you shouldn't expect your surrounds to have the same magical retro charm when you sit down to eat..
No problem anyway, we are not here to view their interior design skills, we are here to gaze through the huge windows at the planes and the vastness of LA as we ponder the journey we are about to embark on. The staff, as luck would have it, direct us to a nice spot at the window with a view of the Air New Zealand plane we will be flying in a couple of hours later. To toast the beginning of our vacation we ask for a glass of champagne and a Black label on the rocks. Our server swiftly informs us they don't have any of the latter. Both mine and Fred's eyebrows rise simultaneously at this surprising news. There is nary a bar that doesn't stock this standard. Are you sure, we ask? Yes, she is quite sure. So we ask if she has Bushmills. She is not quite sure, she'll have to ask. When we double check once more about the Johnnie Walker she admits what we suspected. "I don't even know what Black Label is". Oh - ok, it's going to be one of those dinners.
Drinks are eventually sorted and it is time to check the brief menu. Our eyebrows are treated to more exercise - the food is really expensive, the choices don't sound particularly mouthwatering and I begin to wish we'd simply settled for a Wolfang Puck terminal-side pizza instead. But, damn it, we are in excellent spirits and determined to start our trip on a high note so we root through the list until we settle on the things that most tempt us. After all, it is going to be several weeks before we eat food on American soil again.
They bring us a basket of too-old bread and butter which is difficult to spread the pointy ended serrated steak knives they have provided. Soon afterwards the tuna tartare appetizer, $13, arrives. It is enormous. About three times the size of any appetizer you would ever find in San Francisco. It's almost the same size as a main course at Suppenkuche. It's that huge. It could easily have been my main course. The fish is fresh and spicily dressed with avocado and sweet, hot soy sauce topped with a crown of sesame seaweed salad. It's actually quite a tasty, if unambitious, dish, with lots of wasabi in the dressing. But the never-ending forkfuls of glistening raw red Ahi flesh grind me down after a while. So much of the same. At some point I give up and lay down my fork for a rest.
Fred is away from the table when the main courses arrive. No one has cleared my plate yet. The waiter barks "Duck?" at me and I quietly nod. He tries to hand me my plate which he can't settle in the table because the remains of the tuna are still sitting there. I don't think I need to apologize, to you, to him or to anyone, but in a place pretending to be swanky, I refuse to hold my own hot plate whilst they work out how to clear the tables. In a friendly, homely, little neighbourhood place I am always more than willing to give the staff a hand. But here, no. The stiff atmosphere warrants nothing more friendly than a professional approach to the dining experience.
Fred had asked for a plain steak and fries without any truffle butter. Of course, it arrived adorned with a huge knob of truffle butter. The server returned to replace my tuna fork, but not either of the pointy knives which earlier we had been struggling to spread butter with. The Peking style roasted duck with spicy Thai sweet chilli sauce, sticky rice and sauteed vegetables actually turned out to be a huge hunk of meat, both large breast and ample thigh that was tired, tough and old-tasting. It has a hint of microwave about it, the skin had no succulence, the meat no juice. The rice was even more sorry and the chilli sauce was a joke. It tasted like a watery version of sweet and sour, there was no more Thai about it than there was Peking about the duck. And then, to add insult to injury, the sauteed vegetables just turned out to be broccollini. No more, no less. So if you don't care much for broccollini, well you sure are going to be out of luck.
Fred's steak didn't have any redeeming qualities either. By the time we finished eating the sun had just about set and it was time to go and check in. Although we often like to linger after a meal, we had no problem checking out of Encounters. Talking of checks - the final bill was $96 and one lifetime ambition is at last checked off my list. I suggest that anyone else who wants to give Encounters a try some day - shouldn't let the wait build up over eleven years. How could anything live up to that kind of suspense, especially a tourist joint? I've learnt my lesson, be choosy about what you wish for...
209 World Way
Los Angeles International Airport
Los Angeles, CA 90045
|Archive Alert! At this time in 2004 we were trying out Frisson It was our first visit, but not our last.|
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