I'm cutting into a $40 steak with a four-cent plastic knife. The knife isn't even painted silver to offer an illusion of metallurgy; it's as white as paper and just as sharp. The steakdeeply charred, oozing pink juice and smelling of iron and earthpatiently mocks me as I massacre it with my contemptible tool.
I'm in Terminal 5 at New York City's Kennedy airport, the first of four stops I'll be making on a coast-to-coast tour of America's best new airport restaurants. As the in-flight meal goes the way of the go-go-booted stewardess, airports are filling the void with dining options that are considerably more ambitious than the usual eat-and-run-to-the-gate fast-food and snack spots. It's about time: As ballparks, music festivals and street carts have haute-ified their food in recent years, American airports have been stuck in a rut of cellophaned sandwiches and restaurants with names ending in "Xpress." (Everyone's in such a hurry, these places seem to say, that there's no time even to spell out the names.)
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The recent boom in serious airport food is great news for early birds like myself, who must be at the gate at least an hour before departurelest the airline decide, for the first time ever, to run ahead of schedule. On my four-airport restaurant marathon, I plan to arrive for each flight a few hours early to mimic the experience of a long, agonizing delay. But the simulation won't be necessary; Murphy's Law will grant me more than enough time to eat well.