Review: Sampling Every Dish At The United Polaris Lounge

Filed Under: United

I’m not going to lie, traveling as a family with three kids five and under is a lot of work. Quite often it means not getting to use some of the airline or lounge amenities — like daybeds or even showers — that you otherwise would.

But once in a while there can also be real advantages to having five mouths to feed. Like being able to sample literally every dish on the United Polaris Lounge lunch and dinner menu.

As luck would have it, we had another opportunity to visit the United Polaris Lounge Chicago about a month after our Oslo trip. And this time, we got to experience the full sit-down dining experience.

So rather than doing a full review of the lounge, I’m going to focus exclusively on the a la carte dining experience.


Arriving at the United Polaris Lounge

We had scheduled this trip with a very long layover because my wife had an important meeting in Europe the next day and we were going to be connecting in Chicago. In the winter. So we wanted to minimize our chances of not getting stuck as much as possible, even at the expense of an insanely long layover.

Of course, with the Polaris Lounge at your disposal, insanely long layovers aren’t necessarily a bad thing.

Our plan was to have lunch at the Polaris Lounge, then wander over to the Chicago Children’s Museum playplace inside O’Hare, and then come back to the lounge for dinner before boarding. That would, in theory, enable us to board the plane, and pretty much go to sleep immediately.

At any rate, we arrived at the lounge and were warmly welcomed, much as before. We soon found some seats and settled in.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago 

Requesting a table

I wasn’t exactly sure how to go about getting a table. It would seem like maybe you should check in with a hostess, put your name on a list, or something official, but, at least according to one of the bartenders, you just plop down at one of the tables with a reserved placard on it.

That seems sort of counter-intuitive to me — personally, I would never just sit down at a table labeled reserved, as I would assume that it is, well, reserved already. But anyway, that’s what they told me to do.

There are currently six such tables to the right of the bar area and four in front. Each seats two, so roughly speaking, they can accommodate 20 guests.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago Main Dining Area

Since we needed a table for four (five with the littlest one), our server Erin happily pushed two tables together for us. We sat in front of the bar, which was nice as I don’t really like sitting in the middle of the room. And that was true even before I had kids.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago

United Polaris Lounge Chicago

United Polaris Lounge lunch and dinner menu

Erin soon presented us with the menu which consisted of two pages under a band on a wooden board. It had a classy feel to it.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago Lunch and Dinner Menu

United Polaris Lounge Chicago Lunch and Dinner Menu

We placed our drink orders which mostly consisted of drinks you could get at the self-serve hydration station, but she happily got them for us.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago 

Like I said, we knew we were going to have both lunch and dinner at the lounge, so we strategically ordered such that we could cover the entire menu between both meals.

From here on, I’m not going to distinguish as to whether we had something for lunch or dinner, but rather cover the offerings in the order that they appear on the menu.

United Polaris Lounge appetizers

There are two appetizers on the menu. We ordered one of each, though Erin encouraged us to order more, warning that they are individually sized. We assured her that one of each would be sufficient for our family.

That said, they are indeed pretty small, so my advice would be to not plan on sharing.

The fontina arancini, for example, consisted of one arancino and a couple of crackers.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago appetizer

United Polaris Lounge Chicago appetizer

The American beef carpaccio was also quite good.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago Appetizer

United Polaris Lounge Chicago appetizer

United Polaris Lounge soup

The soup was a charred carrot and apple with candied fennel slaw. The soup and slaw came separately and are combined at the table by your server, which made it feel a bit fancy.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago soup

United Polaris Lounge salads

There are two salads on offer.

The roasted beet salad had both red and yellow beets, which made for a colorful dish. I’m not a big fan of beets, but my wife enjoyed it.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago salad

United Polaris Lounge Chicago salad

I thought the seared tuna was a little more interesting. I’m not sure that putting a small pile of microgreens in the middle of the plate qualifies it as a salad, but I’m definitely not complaining.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago salad

United Polaris Lounge sandwiches

There are two sandwiches on the menu — a burger and a chicken sandwich. You might be inclined to skip right over these in favor of the entrees, but that could be a mistake, as the burger is actually quite impressive. It is (optionally) served with an egg on top.

The burger is also noteworthy for being sizable. While most of the other offerings are probably smaller than you might expect, the burger was actually just as big as its pub counterparts. It was also served with a generous portion of fries. Here it is with the egg.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago burger

And without. (Hey, I promised the definitive guide to lunch and dinner at the Polaris Lounge, so it seemed only proper that we try it both ways.)

United Polaris Lounge Chicago sandwich

The fried chicken sandwich was also generously sized and came with the same fries.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago sandwich

United Polaris Lounge entrees

The Polaris Lounge has four entrees on the menu, one less choice than you’ll get on the plane.

The buttermilk fried chicken comes with two pieces which, unsurprisingly, tasted similar to the chicken sandwich.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago entree

When I first saw a preview of the Polaris Lounge menu, I was most excited about the seared ribeye. I had visions of enjoying a big juicy perfectly-marbled steak, perhaps served with a baked potato with butter and sour cream.

Instead, the thought that went through my head as it was being served was, Where’s the beef? 

United Polaris Lounge Chicago entree

Now don’t get me wrong, it was a wonderful dish, it just wasn’t quite what I was expecting. Mostly I wish it was bigger.

And it seemed a bit more like a steak salad.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago entree

My family was probably the least excited about the shrimp and grits. Actually, I have trouble getting excited about anything to do with grits, but we gave it a shot.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago entree

United Polaris Lounge Chicago entree

Finally there was a sweet potato gnocchi. Or at least there should be. On the day we were there, the kitchen was out of sweet potatoes, so they substituted tortellini.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago entree

With just eight dumplings, this was one of the less impressive mains.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago entree

United Polaris Lounge dessert

While the entrees were a bit underwhelming, the dessert portion of the menu really stood out.

The first item was a “chocolate decadence” which included a truffle, a panna cotta, and white chocolate bark. My kids were momentarily disappointed that the bark wasn’t cheese. The disappointment didn’t last long….

United Polaris Lounge Chicago dessert

Then there were two flavors of ice cream, vanilla and chocolate.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago dessert

They were served with a strawberry.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago dessert

And finally, the pear and cranberry cobbler, which was fantastic. It does take 20 minutes because it’s served warm, but it is well worth it. Just remember to order ahead of time!

United Polaris Lounge Chicago dessert

The one flaw with the cobbler is that I think it ought to be served a la mode. Of course, you can easily remedy that….  

United Polaris Lounge Chicago dessert

A few notes on timing

We had plenty of time during our visit, but I know that many folks will be on tighter connections, so I kept some notes about how long it took to dine. Note that this doesn’t include any wait for a table, but then again, we didn’t observe any queuing the entire time.

12:11PM Order placed

12:28PM Appetizers arrived

12:45PM Entrees arrived

1:09PM Dessert arrived

As you can see, we basically went from start to finish in about an hour. With three kids five and under, dining isn’t exactly a leisurely experience for us, but we also weren’t trying to hurry at all.

So overall, I think allowing an hour for the entire experience seems reasonable. Also keep in mind that there are a limited number of tables, so if others are waiting, you might not want to linger as a courtesy to fellow diners.

United Polaris Lounge dining bottom line

We were quite impressed with the restaurant style dining at the Polaris Lounge. We had the opportunity to try everything on the lunch and dinner menu and enjoyed most every dish. (Sorry grits.) I believe this is a real game changer that, when fully deployed across the network, can put United ahead of the pack, at least among their US peers.

All of the dishes were of good quality, beautifully presented, and quite tasty. The biggest beef (pun intended) I have with the concept is the portion sizes of the mains which, aside from the chicken, seem to be on the small side. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing given that you are just about to board a flight, but it is something to be aware of so you aren’t surprised.

The service during both of our meals was fantastic. Like, just as good as you’d expect in a nice restaurant. Both Erin and Jay were attentive, friendly, and efficient. They were also happy to accommodate our bustling family with three kids which is a true testament to their patience.

But how did our plan of eating in the lounge and then going to sleep immediately after take-off work out? Well, my five year old son decided he also wanted to also eat on-board the plane. Because he wanted to get the full Polaris experience.

Have you tried the restaurant-style dining at the United Polaris Lounge Chicago? What did you think?

  1. I believe that it would be rather easy to expand the menu for vegetarians and vegans. For example, United could offer a vegetable patty alternative for the hamburger.

    In your photo of the menu it says, “Cash or credit gratuity is appreciated. Your server or bartender will kindly charge your preferred gratuity to your credit card.”

    The closest I have come to seeing an equivalent in a lounge is a tip jar at the bar that may or may not be official airline lounge policy.

  2. Looks impressive! I’m flying SFO>EWR>DEL in October, so I’ll be doing a breakfast>lunch Polaris itinerary myself. 🙂 That is, assuming both the SFO and EWR Polaris Lounges are open by then as scheduled.

    One correction to your review: those are clearly not gnocchi, but tortellini. Gnocchi don’t look anything like that. Perhaps the sweet potato was inside the tortellini?

  3. “We were quite impressed with the restaurant style dining at the Polar Lounge.”

    Oh, were there polar bears, too?

  4. Hi, FYI, they didn’t serve you gnocchi at all. The pasta in the picture is tortellini. I am not sure what kind of sauce was on it but it does not even resemble the dish on the menu.

  5. Travis, apologies if you have answered this question in this or other posts, but if I’m flying Polaris to, say, LAX from London with an ORD stopover, will I get lounge access?

  6. Travis, if you preface the article by saying that you aren’t going to lie, does that mean that when you DON’T say that, you are normally lying? First sentence would have sounded the same yet more professional simply by stating “Traveling as a family with three kids five and under is a lot of work.”

  7. My wife confirms that they did tell us it would be tortellini.

    My knowledge of Italian food sort of begins and ends with spaghetti…. 😉

  8. Rick, yes you will get Polaris Lounge access on your stop between LHR and LAX assuming you are in business or first on the LHR-ORD flight.

  9. @Lucky they have a chocolate chip nut bread pudding out now and its by far the best thing on the menu. The chocolate decadence dessert is definitely pre made. Chicken sandwich was disappointing. Rib Eye quality is good though even though its small.

  10. Ate there yesterday and the shrimp and grits were great. The only ding was how often the server stressed gratuities would be welcome.
    Instead of the simple “reserved” signs, they had something to the effect that this table is reserved for your dining and please be seated (don’t remember the exact wording) so l guess others were confused by the reserved signs.

  11. Interesting how few people were taking advantage of the dining option while you were there.

    Guess that’s a good thing.

  12. Great report!
    Considering all the travel air blogs on the net, this is the first one to completely review the menu. Thank you!

    I think the Shrimp & Grits would be the highlight of my meal, btw. 😉

    One question, what did you guys end up doing about the “tipping?” And since it’s all free, do they present you with a $0 bill and then have a spot for gratuity? Or just expect cash to be left on the table? Present you woth a tip tray?
    Rather awkward.

  13. I was there for a long time a couple weeks ago and nobody said a word about a gratuity. I gave the bartender some cash after about my 5th beer but he never asked for it and seemed kind of surprised to get it.

  14. Donald — they don’t present a bill at all. And nobody asked for a tip when I was there. The menu suggests that you can put a tip on a credit card, but when I tried, she told me that they actually weren’t equipped for that yet, laughed, and said maybe on my next visit if I wanted. Really low key. So it definitely didn’t seem like it was expected at all, which I liked, and that prompted me to give her some cash anyway.

    I plan to share my thoughts on a tipping in a separate post.

  15. Did they look twice at you for coming for lunch, leaving, and then coming back for dinner? I have a 10 hour layover next month before the SAS flight to CPH and was thinking I may do the same thing – esp since the T5 lounges are all pretty weak…


  16. Fun post. I guess the moral of the story here is that it’s more a “tasting menu” than actual lunch/dinner service, though it’s nice to hear that the quality is good.

  17. Thanks Travis. Good to hear they’re not pushing the gratuity part of their service. Supposedly United picked the creme de la creme for this new lounge, so hopefully they’re paying more too.
    Still haven’t connected through ORD yet! I’m always going West to Asia or flying over. Ah well, thanks again.

  18. @Travis, the food looked really good! I am based in Qatar and have had the opportunity to try the food in the Al Safwa Lounge (Qatar Airways 1st Class Lounge). On my first visit, a little over a year ago, the food was over the top. I still have fond memories of the seared scallops. Unfortunately, the food had taken a real tumble. I am told it is because open flame cooking is a fire hazard :p Anyways, everything looks and tastes like it was cooked earlier in the day. Now that I see what you have experienced in the Polaris Lounge, it gives me added reason to keep pestering the ‘5 Star Airline’ to do better!

  19. Chris — Not at all. That said, I guess we were gone long enough that most of the staff didn’t recognize us when we came back, probably due to a shift change. And trust me, we with 3 kids five and under, we tend to be fairly memorable.

    So I’m confident you’ll have no issue. Enjoy!

  20. Regarding portion size, we experienced similar small portions at BA Concorde dining at IAD. I was worried it would be too much since we did intend to eat in the 380. So all in all too small, order another serving

  21. @Lukas

    It’s called a figure of speech. Please find better things to do with your life than offer article corrections.

  22. Can anyone tell me where I can buy the seasoned flat crackers? I had some in Ohare. I was told they are made in Chicago at a local bakery.

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *