In late August, United Airlines opened Classified, the hottest restaurant to hit the airport dining scene in recent memory.
But apart from those dedicated to restaurants and airport dining, few know of its existence and even fewer will have the privilege to dine at the establishment.
And don’t bother exploring the confines of Newark Liberty International Airport’s Terminal C looking for Classified. Your journey will end in futility.
That’s because Classified is invitation only and just a select group of United’s most elite passengers will find their names on the vaunted list.
United and their partner in this endeavour, OTG, have been pretty tight-lipped about who is worthy of an invite. However, being a member of the airline’s elite 1k club — those who fly 100,000 miles a year on United — certainly wouldn’t hurt your chances.
To be able to dine at Classified, United passengers must first receive an email from the airline inviting them to make a reservation. Then, the passenger is made aware of the restaurant’s location along with instructions for how to properly approach the host to gain access to Classified.
Classified is but a small portion of a $US120 million revamp of Terminal C’s travel experience that will see the launch of as many as 55 stores and dining establishments by the end of the year. United’s Terminal C is run in partnership with OTG, a company that designs and operates restaurants such as Classified.
A few days ago, Business Insider got an exclusive behind the scenes tour and a chance to experience Classified.
Here’s a closer look at our experience.
Classified doesn't have its own 'storefront.' Instead, it's tucked away in the back of a stylish French brasserie called Saison. To get in, all invitees have to do is simply approach the staff at Saison and tell them you have a reservation. Classified is the only restaurant in Terminal C that takes reservations.
From there, you'll emerge in Classified. The decor is a mix of modern chic and traditional elegance.
The immediate impression you get when you step foot in Classified is that it's an oasis of serenity amidst the chaos of a bustling airport.
The restaurant isn't very big, seating only 36 diners in a single room. Overall, the whole space feels relaxed and cosy ...
...While a glass wall floods the room with sunlight and keeps it from feeling cramped. The windows also provide a great view of a tarmac filled with United jets.
Since the entire restaurant is designed to deliver high-class dining within the fast-paced eco-system of an international airport, passengers order and pay using iPads integrated into each table.
Even though Classified boasts a friendly and informative group of wait staff, the iPad offers patrons added ordering and payment flexibility. Unlike airport lounges, Classified in a fully functional fine-dining restaurant with fine-dining service and prices.
Those with a taste for a stronger beverage will have the benefit of a spirit cart and tableside bar service.
As far as amuse bouche courses go, this one is pretty exciting. No dull crudité or sorry canapés, but a shockingly bright and smart shot of heirloom tomato gazpacho. Melon and cucumber help temper the tart acidity of the sherry vinegar. The tiny aperitif leaves you wanting more -- a shot-full is almost too little.
Next up is a veritable mountain of a raw bar: the 'seafood plateau'. It's a towering mesa of East and West Coast oysters, middle neck clams, stone crab and king crab claws, lobster, sea bass, salmon tartare, and a handful of enormous cocktail shrimp, all on ice.
There isn't much to say about it, apart from how fresh everything is -- not a single grain of grit or sand to be found.
While not as visually decadent as the seafood plateau, the sizable crab cake is quite a rich ordeal. The grapefruit-sized bomb of jumbo lump crab is encrusted in crushed cornflakes and laid atop a pool of creamy onion remoulade dotted with fennel and greens. As an appetizer, it's quite filling -- a meal could be made on it alone.
Of all the chicken biscuit sandwiches in the world, this one could easily be in the running for the best. Blazing beneath a delectably buttery, flakey, and savoury 'Everything' biscuit baked in-house, sits an expertly fried chicken breast marinated in a classic buttermilk mixture to bring a hint of tang to the tender meat.
The breast is drizzled in a chilli-infused honey that holds a near-perfect level of heat -- just enough to keep things interesting, but nothing that burns or overwhelms the Old Bay seasoned ranch sauce that's poured in unison with it.
One of Classified's signature entrees is the chilli lobster. It sounds intimidating at first -- in fact, it looks intimidating at first, too.
Lobster is a very rich and nuanced meat, typically made all the richer by copious amounts of butter with some lemon juice to cut through. This lobster is a rather bold approach to the crustacean: it's steeped in a spicy, buttery chilli sauce that's remarkably rich and fiery; it creates a fantastic counterpoint to the succulent lobster meat. The Texas toast that accompanies it is necessary to cut the heat, but it isn't one of fire and brimstone that burns the tongue -- it's a spiciness that holds tonality and depth from myriad spices.
This is monumental steak; a 16-ounce steak of dreams and Pat LaFrieda legend. It's dry-aged for 28 days, and cooked to perfection -- rosy in the center, juicy and tender throughout.
Velvety rich seared tuna pairs wonderfully with sautéed artichoke and chanterelle mushrooms -- the crisp and smooth fish is a good contrast to the earthy mushrooms and piquant artichoke.
The chestnut éclair, from Mélange Bakery and Chocolaterie in the same terminal, is light and airy, topped with little meringue drops. In fact, all desserts at Classified are made from scratch every day at Mélange.
As fall approaches, Mélange embraces a seasonal offering, like the pumpkin cheesecake. It's incredibly smooth and velvety, with little to no resistance to the fork. Some cheesecakes can be heavy and dense, but this manages to stay delightfully buoyant and dainty.
This layered chocolate pastry is resplendent with crushed hazelnut and mousse within and is abutted by stacks of Mélange's pristine macarons -- chocolate and salted caramel.
For most of us, airport dining in America is limited to nothing more than overpriced snacks or fast food. With Classified, United and OTG show us that elegant high-class dining at an airport doesn't just exist in theory, it's a reality.
The delightful menu, created in partnership with celebrity chef Marc Forgione, delivers traditional American and European cuisine with a twist. While all of the vegetables are sourced from the Union Square Greenmarket.
The restaurant's service is first class and its ambiance is a much-welcomed respite from the hustle and bustle of the terminal.
Although few us of will have the opportunity to experience Classified, the secret restaurant is but a feather in United and OTG's cap. It's a manifestation of the partnership's vision for terminal dining at its most exclusive and plush.
However, bits of pieces of the Classified experience can be found throughout the entire facility ranging from Mélange's freshly baked croissants to the 5,500 iPads spread across the terminal.
In addition, there are plenty of other interesting eateries in the terminal such as Daily, OTG's farm-to-terminal restaurant.
With that said, if you managed to get one of United's invites, try Classified, it will change the way you think about airport dining forever.
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