The Great Food-Hall Invasion
Not so long ago, New York City gastronomes used to have to travel to Tokyo, London, or Milan to experience the sophisticated, endlessly varied joys of a classic international food hall. But lately, warehouse-size specialty-food temples seem to be as common as pizza joints. At Foodparc, Jeffrey Chodorow’s weirdly futuristic new food-hall operation in the fashion district, it’s a pleasure to wander among the dim-sum obsessives at the Red Farm dumpling stand and graze on crunchy-bottomed pot stickers stuffed with ground lamb, properly steamy bowls of wonton soup, and baskets of plump little har gow, which the city’s resident dim-sum genius, Joe Ng, fills with an addictive mash of shrimp, watercress, and bacon. The braised-beef dumplings at Todd English’s new midtown tourist destination, The Plaza Food Hall, are a disappointment by comparison, but the Jeffrey Beers–designed space in the basement of the storied hotel has a glittering midtown polish to it, and if you’re looking for a restorative snack after enduring the shopping stampede along Fifth Avenue, you could do worse than a taste of English’s toppling little prime-rib sliders (three to a plate, piled with caramelized onions and melted Fontina), or the spicy Moroccan-style chermoula prawns, which I devoured, on my last visit, in the company of a friendly couple from Dubai and a portly gentleman straight off the plane from Dallas.
The food hall of food halls, of course, is Joe Bastianich and Mario Batali’s aforementioned Eataly. The sprawling big-top operation, on the bottom floor of the old toy building on lower Fifth Avenue, is routinely jammed with mobs of pasta snobs, salumi experts, and assorted cheese sniffers. And why not? You can amble down the long aisles and ogle the bags of amarelli licorice and glimmering bottles of first-press olive oils, several of which cost more than a bottle of decent single-malt Scotch. If you’re in the mood for a properly charred Neapolitan pizza or a bowl of perfectly al dente cacio e pepe pasta, you’ll find it at the La Pizza and La Pasta counter. On one of my recent sojourns to the seafood station, Il Pesce, the great David Pasternack himself was serving up silvery Portuguese sardines with cool little mounds of peppers and onions, and giant flash-fried branzini on shavings of crunchy roast potatoes. Or, if you don’t feel like battling for space at the thronged dining counters, do what I often do: Buy a tub of milky fresh-made mozzarella and ribbons of salty Parma ham and herb-laced finocchiona salumi, then scarf them down at home.