The Mountain View Flights was the fourth to land in the Bay Area in less than 18 months, following rapid-fire launches in Campbell, Los Gatos and Burlingame. Fasten your seat belts, ladies and gentlemen, the next stop is Las Vegas. The world capital of concept eateries is the obvious next destination for this fast-growing chain, built on the notion that comfort food and classic cocktails are more fun in threes.
Aviation-themed and over-the-top, Flights is as gimmicky as it is cacophonous. The servers sport pilot uniforms and there's a call button on your table to summon them. It is a fun kind of gimmicky, though, and my visits to the 7-month-old Mountain View location were mostly enjoyable. Ultimately, it is more economy plus than first class, but the three-is-better-than-one premise can make for an entertaining evening.
Flights is piloted by Sweden native and one-time pro hockey player Alexander Hult and his wife Sarah, a former Miss Nevada. Hult was drafted by the San Jose Sharks in 2003 but was derailed by an injury before he could officially join the team. He previously ran an eponymous fine-dining restaurant in Los Gatos. The couple has high-flying ambitions for their growing empire, envisioning Flights in cities and airports (of course!) around the country. The Vegas outpost, set to open later this month, will seat 300.
The prime location at the corner of Castro and California streets, previously occupied by Shiva's, now does a good impression of an airport bar, with loud -- much too loud -- music most evenings. TV screens, usually tuned to sports, flash aggressively from every corner of the dining room. Uncomfortable metal chairs call to mind coach seating for a long-haul flight. But you can't help but smile once your epaulet-wearing server presents the full-color, photo-adorned menu.
It is all way more Vegas than Valley. And it seems remarkable that such a brash, decidedly American concept sprang from the mind of someone from Scandinavia, known for clean-lined restraint.
A few months ago, the Hults hired a new executive chef, Kyle Kingrey, to elevate and expand their initial menu, which had been tilted more toward all-American bar bites. The result is a mix of middlebrow comfort food, some trendy ethnic-fusion and cocktail standards. There are a solid number of vegetarian and vegan selections. While the food ranges from tasty to terrible, the adult beverage portion of the experience is what distinguishes Flights. There are at least as many cocktails as food selections on the menu.
The varied flavors and cute glasses definitely triple the fun of a pre-meal cocktail. I enjoyed a potent, whiskey-forward Manhattan flight (orange, classic and chocolate) and, during another visit, the Old Fashioned flight (orange, classic and "bold") (both $19). The pours were generous and the flavors on point. A cocktail flight adds up to about one and a half typical drink servings. A flight of "first class reds" ($19) came with a card detailing the vintages and offering hints on what notes and finishes you might experience as you sip each wine. It was a nice touch and made for a fun, mini wine-tasting experience.
To accompany the wines, I chose the prime New York strip steak with creamed spinach and homemade steak sauce ($32), one of Flights' four "shareable entrees." The 12-ounce steak arrived medium well, rather than the medium rare I had requested, a surprise given that I was one of just a handful diners in the restaurant early on a Sunday evening and the kitchen likely was only working on a few orders.
That said, my attentive server noticed my steak was overcooked and quickly volunteered a re-do. The medium rare steak that came back was tender and nicely seasoned, accompanied by a small, lightly dressed green salad. The creamed spinach was served more as a condiment than a proper side (there was far more steak sauce than spinach). This was too bad because I wanted more of that spinach and bechamel decadence.
A meatless but oh-so-meaty Beyond beef slider ($6) from the "bites" portion of the menu was a larger-than-average slider slathered with an avocado spread, pickled onions and pepperoncini. The French fry flight ($14) was ideal for sharing (not all the flights are), with three baskets of piping hot but unremarkable fries: sweet and smoky, sea salt and truffle. The truffle version was the most flavorful. The other two were barely distinguishable from each other.
The dips and pita flight ($12) offered creamy hummus, smoky baba ganoush and a tangy tzatziki along with fresh, thick pieces of pita. This was a winner. Not so much the ceviche flight ($16). The tuna ceviche was edible, barely. The salmon and shrimp versions were not: heavy on the onion, light on the seafood (which was mushy anyway) and bathed in a cloying tomato sauce that tasted like something from a can.
I had high hopes for the mac and cheese flight (plain, truffle, bacon; $18), but was a little underwhelmed. The presentation was delightful: three cute little skillets served atop a long wooden board. But the skillets were deceptively shallow and three petite servings of what turned out to be rather bland macaroni did not add up to $18 worth of cheese and pasta.
The dessert menu seems inspired by TGI Fridays with a hint of The Cheesecake Factory. To wit: the "macaron payload," ($12) an only-in-America cookie and ice cream extravaganza that again had me marveling at the fact that Flights is the brainchild of a Swede.
As someone who enjoys culinary variety and routinely makes a meal from the appetizer portion menus, I love the concept here, even if I did not love everything I tried. Note that it is easy to over-order, especially as some flights are not all that shareable with parties larger than three. Expect to pay at least $60 per person at dinner if you have a cocktail or wine flight. It is easy to spend more. Note the 4% service charge is added to each bill to cover minimum wage increases.
A generous happy hour runs from 3 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and would be a good opportunity for a test flight.
800 California St., Mountain View
Hours: Monday- Tuesday, 11:30 a.m to 9 p.m.; Wednesday-Thursday. 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Saturday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Credit cards: Yes
Happy hour: Yes
Outdoor seating: Yes
Parking: Street or public garage
Alcohol: Full bar
Noise level: Very loud