October 4, 2010 | BITE: My Journal

Food Parc: feeding the inner animal

FoodParc’s Pastrami Bacon Rueben is a sandwich worth the detour. Photo: Steven Richter.

FoodParc’s Pastrami Bacon Rueben is a sandwich worth the detour. Photo: Steven Richter.

        A city as vast and evolving and hungry as New York can never have too many quick lunch meccas. For some hungers it needs to be a Korean salad bar. For others it could be salumi and cheese from Eataly or a perch in the Plaza Food Hall for oysters and a double tuna roll. Now comes FoodParc carved out of the Eventi Hotel with just five stands to start but given to remarkable fits of almost maniacal creativity. Indeed I have tasted pleasures on the menu so totally over the top thrilling I plot to return even though the crush from 11 to 3 is daunting and my guy isn’t comfortable doing dinner in what looks a lot like an airport food court. 

Katz’s pastrami egg roll is a luscious kink in egg roll history. Photo: Steven Richter.

        I’ll find a way to sneak back for that bold and marvelous Katz’s pastrami egg roll and the spicy beef wontons with Sichuan peppercorn sauce at RedFarm Stand. I’ll buy a bacon snack for any friend who comes along – slices of thick-cut Nueske’s glorification of the cured pig from 3Bs – where Bacon, Burgers and Beer is the life-affirming you-only-live-once theme. But I’ll need stuffed hash browns too, fried balls larded (literally) with bacon, cheddar and onions. And if I can’t finish the marvelous house cured bacon pastrami Rueben on Eli’s toasted pumpernickel after all that, I’ll take what’s left home for breakfast.

RedFarm Stand’s dumplings and stuffed hash brown balls is dinner. Photo: Steven Richter.

        Why have you never heard of a pastrami egg roll, or a bacon egg roll for that matter, or stuffed hash brown balls before? Because they were conjured up by food genie Eddie Schoenfeld, consultant for Jeffrey Chodorow’s latest eatery. No one who’s eaten Schoenfeld’s cooking (as a long time friend, I often have) will be surprised by such delicious excess.

FoodParc’s crew stand ready to serve floats, shakes and watermelonade. Photo: Gael Greene.

        It’s only day two for the hatchling.  I hear the place has been slammed at lunch.  But it’s almost deserted when we arrive with friends at 7:30. It’s glaringly bright and very white, with touch screens for ordering, overhead display panels to track your order, and sculptural ceiling panels in a scheme by futurist, artist, illustrator, conceptual designer Syd Mead (Blade Runner, Aliens and Tron) doing his first ever restaurant design. Flashes of color and moving gels give FoodParc a disco éclat.

RedFarm Stand’s kitchen sears and woks to order. Photo: Steven Richter.

        I can live with it as long as I can order from a human being. Schoenfeld in shirtsleeves and fancy suspenders, and Zach, the Chowd’s heir apparent, a partner here too, are still standing, dazed a bit by the afternoon onslaught. One of our friends picks up a cocktail at the full-service bar where Steven is pleased to find Clausthaler, a favorite non-alcoholic beer. An amiable young man is ringing up my order. Hung is his name. He never stops smiling. Half a dozen cooks are flipping and woking in RedFarm Stand’s open kitchen. Everything comes boxed in brown paper sacks (recycled paper should you be concerned) – to carry out or into an adjacent dining room if we wish.  Hung opens boxes, sauces, delivers extra napkins and free water with a straw. OK. Some of this could be VIP handling.

Tables in a tiered dining annex seat 60. Counter stools hold another 30. Photo: Gael Greene.

        But an egg roll is an egg roll and these are remarkable, couturier crusty skins almost nutty.  We’re tasting all three: classic shrimp with duck sauce, wickedly good Benton’s smoked bacon, and the inspirational Katz’s pastrami to dip into mustard sauce, emblematic of the Asian fusion cuisine by Schoenfeld and Chinatown Brasserie’s dim sum master, Joe Ng. (They’ll be taking the concept on the road soon with China Grill Management as partners, opening first in the West Village.)

Mushroom spring rolls, shrimp-bacon-watercress shu mei. Photo: Steven Richter.

        The four of us are sharing BBQ spare ribs, black pepper pork as well as lamb pot-stickers, steamed shrimp, bacon and watercress dumplings, a menu sampling.  It’s all good or very good. I like the Peking style duck bun with hoisin better than a short rib version with roasted red peppers sliding out and the spicy beef wontons with Sichuan peppercorn sauce better than rather bland mushroom spring rolls. Water chestnut, pineapple and arugula salad topped with a spare rib, a slab of short rib, a skewer of chicken and lotus root chips strikes me as weird marriage.

I might have liked this salad with meats served separately. Photo: Steven Richter.

        Eddie can’t stand to see us ignoring his 3Bs’ creations and drops off two orders of the fabulous stuffed hash brown balls and glasses of watermelonade. “It’s what I keep in my refrigerator all summer,” he says. Then he’s back with blood orangeades and two sandwiches: Taleggio and pancetta lushly layered with black truffle and roasted garlic aioli on a Balthazar ciabatta roll and a housemade pastrami bacon Reuben with swiss cheese, sauerkraut and thousand island dressing on Eli’s pumpernickel. Our companions are lost in conversation.  I am lost in this iconic homage to the Reuben.

You can order on a touch screen or from a human being. Photo: Steven Richter.

        I feel it’s my duty to taste the whole thing, so two days later I’m back with my guy and a friend. Dinner traffic is still slow but half a dozen men have settled at the bar where a hostess passes complimentary dumplings. My friend Ava has no problem ordering on the touch screen but complains the response boards are in the wrong place. And she spots the text message signaling her to pickup half a minute after the response board. (Although if you’re ordering from two or three stands there is no way to coordinate delivery and food can get cold.)

3Bs burger, egg cream and fried pickles satisfy the craving. Photo: Steven Richter.

        I cannot deny Ava the Reuben. She who never eats bread can’t stop eating it. A big, classic egg cream made with the essential Fox’s U-Bet chocolate, just $2.75, is standout marvelous. The 3Bs’ burger is good too, rare and gently cooked, with American cheese, slivers of red onions, crispy onion and the house’s secret sauce, plus the $1.50 bacon option. Fries and coleslaw are fine. And it’s a commendable Cobb salad for $9.95 - grilled chicken, spinach, radicchio, hard-boiled egg, avocado, blue cheese tossed in a big plastic bowl with two kinds of bacon: Nueske’s and Benton’s. The most bacon-y Cobb I’ve ever eaten, too rich to finish but perfect for a wicked breakfast the next morning.

Fornetti’s counter displays mockups of pastas and salad on flatbread. Photo: Steven Richter.

        My assistant Ashton Keefe is game to join me a few days later to check out Fornetti’s – everything on flatbread -- and The Press (it opens at 7am with coffees, tea, smoothies and sweets). We study the mockup flatbreads in the display case. Pasta on a white or whole wheat flatbread. It strikes me as beyond merely creative, actually absurd but I order the penne with spicy tomato basil, stripes of roasted garlic aioli and a big plop of ricotta. From six salad options – chopped antipasto, tuna Nicoise, Caesar – Ashton chooses grilled vegetables in pesto. Whole wheat for both. Watching the creations unfold I am stunned to see crusts being rolled and cooked to order in a pizza oven – half a dozen workers are toiling at this one station. How many flat bread salads and sandwiches ($9.95, $5.95 the half) must FoodParc sell to break even? I admire the commitment.

Salad on a flatbread works for me but pasta pizza is a stretch. Photo: Gael Greene.

        The penne is a mix of indercooked and overcooked and the whole wheat crust is wimpy but we both like the pesto’d toss of grilled eggplant, zucchini, fennel, mushrooms, asparagus and roasted red pepper. A hostess comes by our table in the stadium-tiered dining room. “The white flatbread is much better,” she advises, rushing off to order one for us. And she’s right.

Cakes and cookies are the orphans in this gourmand’s food court. Photo: Steven Richter.

        Meanwhile we’re tasting sweets from The Press. As master of DairyofaSweetooth.com, Ashton wades right in, singling out a pecan diamond pastry as the best-tasting but too fragile to transport in a tissue. I agree. It falls apart at a touch. The brownie is good enough but surely the CGM commissary could turn out a more voluptuous chocolate chip cookie. And both of us are shocked to see the miniscule dot of “filling” in our stuffed cupcakes – chocolate and butterscotch - though the cakes themselves are moist and light as a cupcake ought to be.

         In spring, FoodParc will multiply stands and extend into the courtyard with its reflecting pool and giant flat screen TV. Meanwhile, an aficionado of Spain and its loudly lauded molecular chefs, Terry Zarikian, will open Bar Basque for Chodorow upstairs in a very red space overlooking the courtyard bringing pintxos (Basque tapas) and grills to an neighborhood that needs a little cuisinary gravitas.

         At the Eventi Hotel. 845 Avenue of the Americas between 29th and 30th Streets. 646 600 7140. The Press is open daily from 7 to 9 am. The other stands open from 11 am to 9 pm.