A First Look Inside Foodparc, NYC
Foodparc is not quite as big and grandiose as it looks from the outside.
If this era coming up has a theme, it might be the Era of Food Courts. They seem to be popping up everywhere.
Todd English opened one recently in the basement of the Plaza Hotel, Limelight Marketplace was planned with a food court in mind, Chelsea Market seems to be slowly turning into one, and, if you scrape away the groceries, what is Eataly but a big, upscale food court?
The idea, I guess, is that rather than adopting the culinary point of view a restaurant requires, a food court can accommodate any yen that one has. The newest, wackiest, and most cynical is Foodparc, occupying some prime real estate along Sixth Avenue just south of Herald Square. It's implanted in the Eventi Hotel without having any physical connection with it. It's much smaller inside than the grandiose signage suggests.
Wait! Did I wander into the Apple Store?
The place is based on several gimmicks. One is that everything must be paid for by credit card. Another is that there are no cashiers, per se -- your first contact is with a computer touch-screen. Like all touch screens, these can be persnickety, especially if your hands are already coated with grease. During the first week of opening, the screens were acting up, of course, though there was a crowd of perky attendants ready to help you.
There are four main counters, plus a bar (how does a place like this score a liquor license so fast, one wonders?) dispensing four main classes of viands: 3Bs is a burger joint, with pedigreed patties and a sideline in BLTs and grilled cheese sandwiches; Fornetti specializes in sandwiches that look like folded-up pizzas; Red Farm Stand, though it evokes fresh fruits and vegetables, mainly sells neighborhood-y Chinese food like egg rolls and dumplings, but with newfangled twists; while The Press sells an ungainly combination of juices, candy, notions, and newspapers, and may function as the hotel's newsstand. The bar is simply a bar.
To go on your burger, or inside your toasted cheese -- four kinds of bacon! Bacon also crops up at other unexpected points on the menus of Foodparc.
Why do I call Foodpar cynical? Well, for one thing, with the volume of food being dispensed, there's virtually nowhere to sit down and eat it. All told, there are spaces for maybe two dozen people to sit down, arranged along some of the kiosk counters, and a couple of standing tables in the rear -- which had been removed completely by my second visit. Lingering after your order is filled is thus not an option. There's a massive outdoor seating area that will presumably be used for hanging and eating once it's completed, but only in fine weather. A food court with virtually no seating, is one of Foodparc's more radical innovations.
Foodparc is a project of Jeffrey Chodorow and Ed Schoenfeld, the former considered a kind of moneybags loose-cannon in the food world; the latter famous for telling restaurateurs the kinds of Chinese food white people like to eat, consulting on Chinatown Brasserie and other similar projects. Indeed, Schoenfeld was seen scampering around the premises constantly in the opening days, fine-tuning the place and paying a commendable attention to details. Here are some of my impressions of the food itself.
The beef totally gets lost in the bombardment of toppings.
I copped the special hamburger at 3Bs ($6.95). The patty is made with a numbered combination of LaFrieda beef. More impressively, there was a choice of four kinds of bacon to go on it, at $1.50 each. I got the Nueske's from Wisconsin, which is the only button I could get to work on the bacon page of the touch screen. While the burger was lush, covered with all sorts of toppings, the taste of the beef was lost in all the hubbub. When I nipped off a piece, it was really nothing special, anyway. The fries were OK, but tasted as if they'd been dusted with something I couldn't put my finger on. Still, despite the all-in cost $9.20 for just the burger, including tax and bacon, I might get it again if I'm in the neighborhood and want something super gloppy.
Strawberries? Soybeans? Pinenuts? Why not just throw in the kitchen sink in this signature salad of Red Farm Stand?
I sashayed over to the Red Farm Stand, eager to decipher what the name means. Is "Red" a signifier of all things Chinese, making the name slightly racist? As in "The East Is Red"? Who knows? But the farmstand concept is strained to the breaking point, though the signature salad contains plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits. The salad's name -- "water chestnut, pineapple, and arugula salad" ($7.95) -- only begins to catalog the random ingredients that the salad contains. I loved the crunchy lotus chips, could have foregone the pineapple, and especially disliked the passion fruit vinaigrette, which might as well have been Kool-Aid.
The pastrami egg roll didn't taste like pastrami.
This is what $5.95 worth of Sichuan wontons look like from the Red Farm Stand.
Days later I returned to sample a few more of the "farm stand's" exotic offerings. One was the pastrami egg roll ($3.50), which had a thick adamantine crust and a constellation of crunchy vegetables inside that rendered the pastrami utterly ineffectual (if it had been stuffed only with good pastrami, it would have been far more interesting). Calling their bluff, I also ordered the Sichuan wontons (5 for $5.95). Here the version somewhat resembled what you might find in a Sichuan restaurant in an upscale nabe, but the wonton wrapper was far too thick and gummy, and the wontons small.
Here's the eggplant parm thing-a-majig from Fornetti (half size, $5.50)
The strangest counter is that called Fornetti. While it might have simply turned out pizzas from its flaming oven (which is stoked, not with wood, but contains "wood stones"), instead, thick focaccias are wrapped around collections of ingredients and reheated in the oven. A small serving of eggplant parmesan is put atop the thick bread, making something like a cross between a Sicilian eggplant slice and an eggplant parm hero. Not bad, but you'll wish it was a hero instead. In other words, the gimmick itself seems unnecessary and senseless. Oddest among the offerings at Fornetti are the flatbreads topped with pasta.
Unless the dining courtyard is opened in short order, I might be tempted to Deathwatch Foodparc. Once the novelty and newness wears off, you're left with a very strange menu, and no place to eat it. Prepared to scamper back to your desk and dine, rather than spending your lunch away from work?
At least Dr. Atkins is not in charge at Fornetti!
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