The culinary choices at even the best airports can be tragic. With all the time and money that the airlines and credit card companies spend, they rarely get it right. The same stale Chex Mix and sub-par Chardonnay seems to be the norm in airport lounges across the country.
The Centurion Lounge at San Francisco’s international airport has finally changed that grim picture by investing its resources in featuring some of the freshest locally sourced food and more free wines by the glass than I have ever seen in 30+ years of traveling.
By partnering with a talented chef, Daniel Patterson of Coi fame, and heavily staffing the open kitchen, this lounge is turning out food on par with some of best restaurants in San Francisco. Other locations feature an assortment of local chefs; for instance, New York City’s LaGuardia features Cédric Vongerichten, and Dallas-Fort Worth has Dean Fearing.
The lounge also taps the services of bartender Jim Meehan and wine guru Anthony Giglio’s “incredible knowledge, taste and creativity,” according to Josh McKay, the New York City-based vice president and general manager of global benefits and services at American Express. They help to tailor each lounge, he explained, to the local cities’ culture and tastes. This is another factor that makes the place so appealing: most lounges offer cookie-cutter food and wine options regardless of where they are in the United States.
On a recent visit, I had a creamy sunchoke soup followed by chickpeas made three different ways. My veggie intermezzo was roasted asparagus and crunchy bok choy. I am not a dessert person, so I had a little beef stew to wrap up the meal.
It is exciting to see the team of chefs cook in the open kitchen. I don’t think in two decades of food coverage I have ever seen so much quality, high-end food be so quickly and consistently prepared. According to McKay, close to 25 employees are on hand at any time in the lounge.
“Chef Daniel Patterson defines his menu for the Centurion Lounge at SFO as nourishing, bright food made with seasonal ingredients,” says McKay. What is even more exciting is that the types of foods and preparation is hyper-local so you can experience Bay Area dining without leaving the airport (although I don’t recommend it).
Access to the Centurion Lounge is complimentary for Platinum Card and Centurion members and up to two guests and additional passes can be purchased for $50 per guest. Two new locations at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport and Denver International Airport are slated to open soon.
Everything is free in the lounge, unlike Delta and Air France’s lounges in San Francisco and New York that charge for premium wine and food. Bottles by the glass at the bar include lesser-known labels such as Schramsberg non-vintage Mirabelle bubbles and Signal Ridge’s Brut 2012 sparkler from the Anderson Valley.
“The Centurion Lounge at SFO offers the largest wine program of any of our lounges, to highlight the incredible Northern California wine region. Our lounge at SFO is also the only lounge that features a wine tasting area, with a selection of hand-picked wines exclusively from Napa Valley,” shared McKay.
The wines held in the dispenser that I am going to hit up next visit include Miner Family’s 2016 Viognier, Treana’s 2014 Marsanne from the Central Coast and Bravium’s 2015 Pinot Noir from the Anderson Valley.
While your standard big Cabernet Sauvignons and oaky Chardonnays are on offer, many of the wines are a fun — and eclectic — tour of some of California’s lesser-known wine producing regions. There are 18 wines total that can be sampled from the dispenser and no lounge that I have ever visited has offered such a large selection for free.
My last dinner at the lounge, while headed to New York, is one of the better meals I have had in the Bay Area in months, and we are a city indeed blessed with abundant good food options. I might even go to SFO as a dinner destination if Chef Patterson keeps this up and if the good folks at Terminal 3 would let me through security to have a bite.
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