ALL WERE aboard: 28 filet mignons, 7 filets provencale, 1 plain fish with no salt, 70 slices of prosciutto, 6 boxes of raspberries hand-carried from California, 1 bartender, 1 chef, 2 waitresses, 3 waiters and Dominique d'Ermo, orchestrator of the most elaborate box lunch in Washington. It was 1 p.m. as "The Little Foxes" Metrolines cast party set off for New York, after five days and several nights of preparation.
Elizabeth Taylor had chosen the menu, her favorite. Filet of beef with green peppercorn sauce, creamed spinach and potatoes dauphinoise have become her trademark in the restaurants of Washington. This time they were prepared the Amtrak way -- with two convection ovens, one microwave and no dining room tables.
Amtrak, on the other hand, was serving it Dominique's way. The usual Amtrak stewards were replaced by restaurant waiters and waitresses, who had stayed up working until 4 a.m. the night before and started work again at 7 a.m.
By 10 a.m., the food had been packed at the restaurant and was waiting in a van to be taken to Union Station. Everything was ready but the waiters' and waitresses' last-minute arrangements for staying in New York. The seven-member crew seems like one big family; in fact they almost are -- Nora and Andre Revelin are married, and Karen Crowley is Nora's sister. Sternly paternal, Dominique scolded one waitress as she plugged in her curling iron and began to curl: "You should have done that at home." He reminded the chef to change from his black sneakers and black jacket: "You look like a motorcycle rider."
Luckily, waiter Obeid Malikar is a veteran camper -- the van was packed as neatly as for a weekend in the mountains. And luckily, Amtrak had supplied them with sufficient green plastic coolers and metal boxes, which lined the sides of the van two high. The cartons were labeled: "pepper steak sauce," "champagne glasses," "crepe suzette sauce." The cold fish salads were already arranged on individual plates, wrapped in plastic and shelved in metal boxes. Buried in one box were the chocolate truffles, in another the restaurant's green-rimmed plates.
Extra metal crates served as stools in the van for the crew's ride to Union Station. Excitement competed with nervousness. Leslie Card, the bartender for the trip, had never been on a train before. Waitress Crowley's last train trip was when she was 3. Someone suggested hijacking the van and playing hooky with a picnic. Martin Singelenberg, a free-lance waiter hired for the day, was the only one among them who had seen Amtrak's cafe car setup.
He was nervous about the bumps. Singelenberg instructed the servers that if the ride got shaky, they might have to pour the wine at the bar instead of at each seat. Bartender Card wondered if the liquor glasses would wobble on the counter. But Singelenberg was most worried about the crepes suzette. The sauce must be very hot, otherwise it won't flame. "Let's do the crepes before we get to the Lincoln Tunnel," he joked.
Dominique was most concerned that the crew might forget something, at least until he remembered that the clocks had been turned ahead for day-light saving time. Then he decided to worry that Elizabeth Taylor would be late.
At Union Station, Amtrak supervisor Anthony Tate talked about Amtrak's participation in the elaborate meal. "It's no big deal," he said. "We've had disco parties on the train before." He did admit later that Dominique's spread was "as fancy as I've seen on the train."
Aboard the end car, arms and boxes crowded the small cafe as the hectic unpacking of food began -- in the dark. "Are you familiar with the equipment?" asked a man from Amtrak. No. And certainly not in the dark. An Amtrak staffer aimed them toward the refrigerated cabinets, and the waitresses shoved the seafood salads and asparagus inside. A half-filled carton of ladyfingers spilled onto the floor: a casualty. "She [Elizabeth Taylor] drinks Jack Daniels," said one waitress as she put the bottle into an upper cabinet. The lights came on.
At noon the cast began to filter on board. The unpacking wasn't finished, but the cast was thirsty and eager to begin the party. Maureen Stapleton, carrying an "I Love New York" pocketbook, asked for a bottle of champagne for herself and two others. Bloody and virgin mary orders were taken, repeated. The Amtrak cafe car had turned into a banquet hall on wheels, the party spilling onto the platform.
Finally, the food, equipment and the early drinkers on board, the train pulled out, leaving behind only four glasses less for the staff to wash.