Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Fly-In Dining Grows Up

Few things go better with aviating than eating. There's something supremely magical about liberating yourself from the bonds of terra firma to land at a destination where a hot meal and good conversation await you. Unfortunately, pilots think about eating in the most boring and mundane terms. We fly more for the experience—not the food—and we accept mediocrity.

But flying has always been more about making a journey than simply taking a trip. Instead of just "flying," we prefer the experience of "aviating" and immersing our senses in the zen of aviation. Luckily, airport restaurant owners have discovered that great food attracts more than just pilots; amazing eateries now exist at airports across the country. Finding these aerial outposts of epicurean bliss is something I call "avidining," an apt portmanteau combining the best of both pursuits.

One California destination that shatters the "$100 hamburger" mold is Typhoon at Santa Monica Airport in Los Angeles. Typhoon, with its sophisticated pan-Asian cuisine, control tower–like view of the bustling runway and fascinating clientele, stands like a beacon in the fog of fly-in eateries.

I decided to fly to Typhoon in a Piper Cub to meet some friends and savor what may qualify as the most interesting menu of any airport eatery in existence. Typhoon attracts hordes of pilots and locals who know good food when they taste it.

Like an old Buick pulling up to the valet parking lined with BMWs and Ferraris, my Cub seemed a little out of place among the glitterati at Santa Monica. After all, celebrities from Angelina Jolie to Tom Cruise have called the airport home, and private jets are as common there as the seagulls. Still, on a glorious afternoon, I planted the trusty Cub on runway 21 in a decent three-pointer.

Typhoon hosts five tiedown spots right in front of the restaurant. The inside of Typhoon is like the briefing room at some mythical airport in Far East Asia. Behind the bar is an expansive backlit mirror with meteorological depictions and exotic map locales in the Pacific. Cement pillars are blanketed with tattered pilot certificates that patrons have put up during the last 18 years. Gaping windows bathe the place with luscious northern light. Frank Lloyd Wright would feel at home.

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