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JOHN WAYNE AIRPORT : Happy Meals Instead of Happy Stars Selected to Spice Up the Fare

September 04, 1990|MAX JACOBSON | Max Jacobson reviews restaurants regularly for The Times.

Airplane food may be a self-canceling phrase, but it's not as if things in the terminal are a whole lot better.

How many of us have muttered softly to ourselves about the food in airport cafeterias, picking listlessly at a dried-out piece of chicken while chewing on a cherry tomato that couldn't be speared with a fork.

Now, somebody is trying to change all that. The nerve.

Like all the great airport foods of the world--the barbecued beef of Memphis, the chili crab at Don Muang Airport in Bangkok and the beluga caviar of Maxim's at Charles de Gaulle in Paris--a regional emphasis is the foundation of success.

Host International Food and Beverage Services, the same people who have already brought you that success fou, the Japanese noodle bar at L.A. International Airport (and a good deal of that dried-out chicken), is in a regional mood again. The new Thomas F. Riley Terminal will be their latest experiment.

There, at Orange Grill, a 177-seat restaurant that will be the centerpiece of the terminal's atrium, they plan to offer California/Mexican cuisine in a casual atmosphere. According to Bruce Fish, Host International's general manager at John Wayne, the menu at the restaurant will feature, among other things, quesadillas, soft tacos, tostadas, grilled sandwiches and oversize salads. The prices will be moderate, with almost everything ranging from $5 to $8.

The atrium itself will contain a Food Court, in case Cal-Mex cooking is not your style. There, you will find TCBY (the audacious acronym for "the country's best yogurt"), Pizza Hut and something they call the "personal pan pizza" (in a cardboard box that bore a striking resemblance in texture to what was inside the last time I tasted it), Fresh Bakery, a Host International operation serving cold sandwiches, chocolate chip cookies and the like, and an outfit called Creative Croissants, which will hopefully do its part to stop those uncalled for comparisons about airport croissants and the padding in Italian shoes.

More conventional travelers and kids, no doubt, will be happy to know that two McDonald's restaurants will be opened in the gate areas. Apparently, Orange County-based Carl's Jr. was in contention for the spots, but McDonald's got the franchises. Essentially, that means happy meals instead of happy stars. I'm not sure what else.

All of this sounds shopping mall-ish to me, but then, that's life here in Orange County.

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