New arrivals: Lindbergh Field's food situation should improve

Finding a decent meal in Terminal 1 at Lindbergh Field is like trying to get through security on roller skates. Pretty much a fantasy.

Searching for sustenance that's fresh, healthy and/or interesting post-security at Terminal 1, where space is as cramped as a middle seat in coach, is futile.

But there's a sliver of fresh, made-to-order hope: Four new eateries will open in Terminal 1 within the coming year. The first, Yan Can, is expected to be serving fresh, wok-cooked Asian dishes by Thanksgiving.

"For Asian cooking, the key is fresh seasonal produce, fresh spices -- all fresh ingredients," said Martin Yan, the chef/owner of two Yan Can restaurants near San Francisco. This will be his third Yan Can -- the first at an airport.

The "quick, casual" restaurant will be situated on about 1,750 square feet at the pre-security corner leading to Terminal 1's East Rotunda, where Southwest Airlines operates, said Steve Johnson of HMS Host. Yan Can will replace Cinnabon, Pizza Hut Express, a pretzel stand and the former Top Gun Bar.

HMS Host, which has managed concessions at Lindbergh for more than 40 years, plans three other new eateries in Terminal 1:

* Chili's Too! is expected to open in January in the pre-security food court, replacing the Arriba Margarita Bar & Restaurant and TCBY Treats. "It'll be a real Chili's, with fresh salads, sandwiches -- and table service and cocktails," said Johnson. "The one at LAX has become the top-grossing Chili's restaurant in the entire chain."

* Brioche Dorée Cafe & Bakery is expected to open in March in the post-security West Rotunda of Terminal 1, where Alaska, United and Air Canada have gates. The chain started in France and has outlets all over Europe and increasingly in North America (including at LAX and John Wayne Airport in Orange County). "Walking the Champs d'Elysee, you can't go more than 300 yards without running into a Brioche," said Host's Pat Carroll, who adapts food and beverage concepts for airports. The cafe serves European-style sandwiches, salads, plus breads and pastries baked on site. It will replace the West Rotunda's existing snack bar.

A second Brioche Dorée is planned for Terminal 2, but no date has been set yet for that project.

* Departing Southwest passengers who've passed security can buy made-to-order Quiznos sandwiches starting next spring. The sub chain will also offer salads, soups and desserts. Quiznos will replace the snack bar that's currently at the center of the Southwest rotunda. "Uno's Pizza will stay," Johnson said. "People love their individual pizzas."

Things change

Johnson, the senior vice president for business development at HMS Host, said the company is investing about $5 million in the new restaurants at Lindbergh Field. The company's contract at the airport runs to 2012.

"Ten years ago, Lindbergh Field was considered one of the best (airports) in the country (for its food offerings)," Johnson said. "Like everything else, things change."

Today, Johnson said, travelers spend more time at airports; they're demanding fresh, high-quality, healthier foods.

"Ten years ago, we weren't on the same health kick we are today," Johnson said, adding that a decade ago travelers expected they'd be offered meals on all but short-haul flights.

"Before 9/11, the average dwell time at airports was about 30 minutes," he said. "Back then, the public was satisfied with fast food.

"One of the things that's changed in the airport (food) industry is that things today have to be fresh," he said, adding that HMS Host vendors will supply the airport's new restaurants with daily fresh produce -- much of it locally grown.

"I will make sure they provide fresh seasonal produce, fresh spices and other fresh ingredients," said Yan. "We use no processed foods, no powder-form spices. Everything is fresh. It's what differentiates Yan from other people. It's what makes us."

Chinese roots

Yan, who resides in Hillsborough in California's San Mateo County, said he'll oversee everything from menu development to kitchen design for Yan Can at Lindbergh Field. Once the restaurant is open, he said, he'll make regular trips to the airport to ensure that everything from the freshness of produce to cooking procedures meets his standards.

"I love to teach," he said. "I don't look at it as a job; it's fun in the kitchen."

Yan was born in Guangzhou, China, to a restaurateur father and a grocer mother. "My mom was a capitalist," he said. "At 9 or 10 (years old), I was working in the kitchen. I left home when I was 13 to work in Hong Kong."

Yan worked at his uncle's restaurant and earned a diploma from the Overseas Institute of Cookery in Hong Kong. At 18, he moved to Canada, then to California, where he received a Master of Science degree in food science from the University of California Davis.

Since then, he has produced 26 cookbooks and starred in nearly 3,000 cooking shows for Public Television ("Martin Yan's Quick & Easy" aired on KPBS last year). In 1985, he founded the Yan Can International Cooking School in the Bay Area (for professional chefs); he is a frequent guest instructor at culinary schools around the country.

Asked to name an Asian restaurant that's similar to the Yan Can that will open at Lindbergh Field, Yan chose Pei Wei Asian Diner, the "quick, casual" younger sister of PF Chang's China Bistro chain. San Diego's first Pei Wei will open Nov. 12 in Mission Valley.

"You will order (and pay) at the counter," Yan said. "You'll take a seat and your food will be presented to you. Everything will be freshly cooked to order. It's not a steam-table operation."

His Lindbergh menu will include about 90 percent of the items available at other Yan Can restaurants, he said -- everything from kung pao chicken and Mongolian beef to lettuce wraps and Chinese chicken salad. "I'm creating several breakfast dishes, including an omelette that will be made with fresh vegetables," Yan said. He and Johnson are working with TSA officials to ensure that at least some Yan Can dishes will be allowed through security checkpoints.

Fresh and fast

"One thing that hasn't changed in the last 10 years is that food still has to be ready fast," Johnson said. "You're never going to get the two-hour dining experience you have (at off-airport restaurants). People just don't have the time."

Yan predicted it will take about eight minutes for Yan Can customers to get the food they've ordered at Lindbergh.

"We anticipate that most people will order food and eat it there," Johnson said. "We also expect that a good number of arriving passengers will stop at Yan Can on their way out of the airport. They'll grab something to go, to take home."