The "kosher" Capitol Ltd. eastbound -- travel report -- food only

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Manny T

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On my recent Capitol Limited sleeper trip from Chicago to New York City last week, I decided to go "the whole hog" (pardon the expression) and order kosher meals for the duration -- dinner, breakfast and lunch. By way of explanation, there was a period in my life when I "kept kosher," so I am totally familiar with the cuisine, all the rules and regulations, and all the quirks involved. I was interested in trying out the full array of offerings. This required ordering the meals at least 72 hours in advance, which I did. All were on board and all came my way as ordered. In each case, my SCA, who was great, had to heat the meal for half an hour prior to serving (so apparently this was in an oven, not a microwave), since they boarded frozen, and bring them to me in my bedroom. So far as I can tell, the dining car attendant had no role in this process.

All the meals were labeled as to source, Borenstein Caterers Inc., 179-29 150th Road. Jamaica, NY 11434. They have a great website, which states: "Our company is unique for being a kosher caterer that serves fresh and frozen meals to airlines, cruise lines, rail liners, other institutions, and the retail market, but our success stems from always striving for excellence....Our main goal is to make food that tastes good and is healthy. We use only top quality fresh ingredients." Borenstein » Our Customers Of course this is hype, but it is partially borne out by the meals themselves. The meals were not cheap or skimpy in either quantity or quality; whether one is going to like them, of course, is a matter of individual taste.

If I had to generalize, these meals, collectively, would get 5 stars (A) for effort -- nothing was lacking -- and 3 stars (C+) for taste, enjoyment, satisfaction by the consumer (me).

Each meal consisted of two double-wrapped packages -- a hot tray and a cold tray, served together. In only one case was an item not completely thawed by the time it reached me. Everything else was edible as delivered.

First up was the "fish" dinner -- in this case baked salmon. The cold tray had a small container of water, a dinner roll, a small carrot and slaw salad, utensils, condiments, and a pudding for dessert. The dinner roll was fine and the small salad was tasty, basically sauerkraut with carrot pieces in a tangy dressing. Next up was the entree -- a large piece of well-baked salmon that, frankly, was perfect -- it had a salmon taste but not a "fishy" taste, it was moist inside, and very filling. The salmon was surrounded by white beans and diced tomatoes, and in addition the hot tray contained two sides -- yam cubes and green beans. All were fine, not overly salted and thoroughly cooked. Frankly I didn't have room for dessert and didn't try it. This was a very good, satisfying dinner.

Btw I was entitled to my free adult beverage and took the small bottle of Barefoot Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a departure from the "kosher" theme since there is such a thing as kosher wine and this doesn't qualify. But I'm not complaining.

The next morning it was time for K-breakfast. In this case, there is only one choice, an omelet. The cold tray is quite frankly a very decent continental breakfast in and of itself -- orange juice, citrus fruit cup, sliced bagel, cream cheese, honey, jam, coffee creamers and a chocolate rugelah (I'll return to that). The hot tray contained an "omelet" and two sides -- roasted potatoes and diced tomatoes. The veggies were fine; the omelet was not. It looked like a round yellow pot holder that had been folded in half; it had the consistency of a pot holder and tasted like one. I assess it contained about 2% egg product and 98% chemicals, preservatives, stabilizers, artificial colors and food dyes. It was inedible. It had no relation (other than color) to any eggs or omelet I have ever eaten. One bite and it went into the garbage. Without the cold tray, I would have starved. But the chocolate rugaleh for dessert -- a Jewish pastry of concentric rings of dough filled with a sweet puree -- was one of the best I have ever eaten (and I've had thousands). Still, man does not live by rugaleh alone.

This brings us to the final meal of the trip, lunch. I ordered "chicken," and I had visions of feasting on a delicious drumstick or two or maybe a bone-in thigh swimming in gravy. It was not to be. The main course, i.e. the chicken, was in fact a processed chicken "product," compressed chicken rolled and sliced. If you're into that sort of thing, fine; if not, then you will not be satisfied by this entre which, again, seemed to me like a product of the laboratory more than the kitchen. Two bites and it ended up in the garbage. Still the sides saved the day and made a nice lunch -- aside from the roll, there were orzo, chick peas, corn, and green beans in a nice sauce -- these items made a nice vegetarian meal, again not too salty. A little dessert cup completed the meal.

Bottom line, there were some nice hits and some very big misses. What made it doable and fine was first, my SCA's ability to locate, heat and deliver the meals at meal times, despite all his other tasks -- there were no problems; he was great; and the variety of the kosher meals in each case, which meant if something didn't work for me, there were enough decent items to form an acceptable meal. Borenstein put a lot of effort into the meals' composition, and I know the cost of kosher quality ingredients which was reflected in many of the offerings.

Btw on my return trip, aboard the Lake Shore Ltd., I ordered the flex salmon for dinner. It was fine (the sides were white rice and pea pods), although as we all know, the salad is skimpy and the brownie dessert is boring.

Would I do the kosher again? Maybe. Would I recommend it to others? Maybe not.
 

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I'm glad to see that your assessment of the kosher food offerings is similar to mine.

(4) My 2021 Gathering Food Thread | Amtrak Unlimited Discussion Forum (amtraktrains.com)

I do agree that the "omelet" is a total culinary disaster. I'm also not really thrilled with the baked goods provided. In particular the bagel was a travesty and an insult to Jewish cuisine. All of these bread products are supposed to be "mezonos," which means that the blessing before and after the meals is supposed to be simplified, but given that mainstream Orthodox rabbis no longer accept this loophole, they might as well provide real bread products. I also thought the chicken was OK. The other amusing thing was that the breakfast pack was labeled "Glatt Kosher -- Dairy." (For those not in the know, "Glatt" only refers to meat, and since dairy cannot be served with meat, then no dairy product can be "glatt kosher.")
 

Manny T

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Jun 7, 2015
Messages
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Chicago IL
It isn't flex but neither is it Traditional Dining, it seems.
That's right. And oddly, the difference is in the thought that goes into what is being offered. Borenstein actually thinks about what the consumer wants, what are the components that make up a satisfying meal, and then tries to provide them in a nice way. As to flex, Amtrak thinks what's the minimum (in cost, quantity and quality) we can get away with that can be considered a "meal," offer that and repeat endlessly. I didn't feel abused by the kosher dining, the way I do with Amtrak flex.
 
Joined
Apr 5, 2011
Messages
4,054
Location
Baltimore. MD
That's right. And oddly, the difference is in the thought that goes into what is being offered. Borenstein actually thinks about what the consumer wants, what are the components that make up a satisfying meal, and then tries to provide them in a nice way. As to flex, Amtrak thinks what's the minimum (in cost, quantity and quality) we can get away with that can be considered a "meal," offer that and repeat endlessly. I didn't feel abused by the kosher dining, the way I do with Amtrak flex.
I'm not sure I agree with this 100%. While it's true that Borenstein puts more variety in the dinner by including a roll and a cold salad, the poor quality of the add-ons sort of negates the effort. I was able to sample three of the cold salads on my trip. The cabbage and carrot salad was good, but the other two -- a pasta salad and a chickpea salad were straight-out flavorless carb bombs. The mezonos roll was dry and flavorless, which is surprising, considering it was supposedly made with fruit juice instead of water. And no kosher provider is going to serve a fresh garden salad because of the restrictions inherent in kashrut, especially as interpreted by the particular rabbinical authorities who typically supervise commercial kosher offering. In short, the only part of the meal that was really worth eating was the heated plate, which was more or less the same as a flex meal. As far as the desserts, of the 3 i had, only the pseudo-cream puff was really tasty. The chocolate cake was dry and with only a faint chocolate taste. Personally, I think the flex-dining brownie is better. And finally, there is no excuse for the horrible "omelet." And the weird "bagel" and the strange, inferior off-brand cream cheese and fake butter (they could include real butter in the dairy breakfast.)

Also, I hated having to unwrap all the double wrapping taped up in a way that couldn't be undone easily, but that's not the fault of Borenstein, that's due to the requirements of the rabbinical supervision.
 
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