I imagine the marketing team that came up with “Mint” as the name of JetBlue’s new premium cabin has been patting themselves on the back for months. It’s the perfect evocative brand name; a four-letter word without scorn. Mint is fresh. Mint is financially sound. Mint is crisp and cool and exactly what you want when six hours separate you from home.
After kvelling over JetBlue on my economy flight out to JFK from LAX, I was treated to an upgrade to Mint on my return flight so I could try out its minty splender on the way back home. Surprise, surprise: I’m now a Mint convert.
I’ve flown in premium cabins both domestically and internationally and it’s always interesting to see the experience the carrier is trying to provide/emulate. In international business/first, it’s clear that they want you to feel like you’re at a luxury hotel in the air. There’s an effort made to replicate the elegance and service level of a Four Seasons or a Mandarin Oriental, despite the fact that you’re flying above the clouds. In domestic first, it’s more about trying to make you grateful that you have extra legroom. Mint occupies another category entirely.
While the luxury hotel world has welcomed a new class of competitors that target the younger, affluent crowd (think the W or Ace Hotels), so too has Mint. It feels more casual than any first class product I’ve ever experienced but that doesn’t mean the level of service was any different than other airlines. In fact, the casual nature combined with ultra-attentive flight attendants made the entire experience feel more comfortable. I could laud the lie-flat seats or the comfortable blankets or the bigger-screen with live TV — and trust me, these are all fantastic amenities — but let’s get to the meat (hey, it’s a pun!) of the conversation and talk about the food.
I gave you a preview of the JetBlue x Saxon + Parole partnership when the product first launched, but trying it in-flight was a whole different experience.
Before you take off, you’re given JetBlue’s signature cocktail: The RefreshMint, a mix of vodka, mint, and limeade (also available without liquor). It’s a welcome change from a dehydrating glass of champagne before the flight and gets the whole party started off right. Here’s my half-full (or half-empty for the pessimists) glass.
You’re also given the monthly menu — it changes based on the season — to peruse before the cabin doors close. That way, if you’re like me, you can agonize over your choices until you get to order. There are five small plate options from New York’s Saxon + Parole, two cold and three hot, and you can choose three of the five to make your tapas-style meal. This is a major departure from the traditional first class routine of a multi-course meal. Here’s November’s menu:
I had so much trouble choosing that I ended up asking if I could sample all of the dishes. Luckily, with the a la carte system of ordering, they plan for extra portions of everything and the flight attendant was happy to accommodate my request! I asked if this was typical and he told me that they’re able to do it whenever there are more portions than orders, so feel free to ask and if you’re lucky like I was, you may be in for some extra treats.
The first thing to arrive was the artichoke and black truffle crostini. These were my exact notes after taking a bite: “Puréed artichoke. Slice of truffle. Crostini. Tangy? Works well in the air. Engages the tastebuds.” I stand by all of those mini-statements. It was light, but flavorful and certainly different than anything I had eaten on Royal Air Maroc hours earlier. I was pretty happy to be starting off the meal in such an elegant way.
Next came the main course, which was actually five mini-courses all served at once. While I would have enjoyed going through each one as if it were a mid-flight tasting menu, the reality of the situation is that the cabin crew would never have time to serve each Mint flyer in this manner. Serving them all at once is the only feasible option and I didn’t mind it one bit.
Since we’re in the middle of football season, I think it’s only appropriate the discuss the main course options in Power Ranking style, starting with my number one entree choice: Ricotta gnudi!
Now, to be fair, the version I saw didn’t look nearly as pretty as this photo. That said, the gnudi (similar to gnocchi) were supple and bouyant without feeling heavy — a feat considering they were served on an airplane. The butternut squash added a wonderful sweet note while the pesto rounded out the dish with a mild herbal contrast. If I had one complaint, it’s that the sauce disintegrates into a pool of butter on the bottom of the dish, but what do you expect given the constraints of flight food? All around solid dish. A
The next most successful item was the “Herby lentil salad.” Now, nobody expects to be able to eat in a healthful way on a plane but this salad could change a lot of people’s thinking. A thick bed of lentils laid the foundation for green beans, avocado, toasted pecans, and lettuce with a pomegranate molasses vinaigrette accenting the whole salad. The reduced effectiveness of my tastebuds in the air made it less perfect than I would have hoped, but still — this many fresh vegetables available on an airplane? I’ll take it! B+
If you want to scare somebody, tell them they’ll be eating scallops in the sky. This simple dish with a blackberry Sauternes sauce and foie gras mousse was better in the description than the actuality but that doesn’t mean it was bad. The texture of the scallops themselves was off and there was more sand in them than I would have liked, but the foie/blackberry Sauternes combo was really nice and I could see myself loving the dish at Saxon + Parole on the ground. B-
As for the terrine and the pot roast, I would skip them next time. The pure ambition of serving a terrine in the sky should be recognized and appreciated, but the cabin pressure dried out the dish leaving it more like a rough, thick piece of lunch meat. Not great. The pot roast was my least favorite of the whole group, with a bit of an acrid flavor on every piece of beef. Weird. Both get a C-.
For dessert, JetBlue keeps up their tradition of using “blue” foods with Brooklyn’s Blue Marble ice cream (they serve Organic Peppermint, natch). It’s a delightful palate cleanser and even works well with the awesome fruit plate. Now, I’ve had fruit plates on planes before that taste like they were packed during the Reagan administration. I don’t know what JetBlue is doing, but the pineapple specifically tasted sweeter and fresher than most pineapple I’ve had on the ground. Nice work, JetBlue fruit selectors.
Upon landing, you even get a little box of brownies and cookies from New York’s Mah-Ze-Dahr Bakery which I enjoyed thoroughly the next morning.
I won’t bore you (any further) with a full recap, but this was an incredible flight experience. Considering that JetBlue’s Mint class isn’t all that much more expensive than a regular ticket and you get a full meal, lie-flat seats, and expanded entertainment options, it’s not much of a stretch to think that I’ll spring for another Mint ticket in the very near future. Nice work, JetBlue. It’s a pleasure to welcome you to the First Class World.
Professional photos courtesy of JetBlue. Amateur photos by Fly&Dine.