Daniel Boulud and Mario Batali aren't usually crafting your weekday lunches. But once a year, Bon Appetit assembles some of the nation's most acclaimed chefs for a one-week-only pop-up cafe, where you can stop by and grab lunch from the likes of Rick Bayless, José Andrés, Emeril Lagasse—plus desserts by our own Gina DePalma. Open each day this week from 11:00am to 3:00pm, expect cooking demos, book signings, and more along with your salad and sandwich.
Let's be clear: Bayless is not actually back in the kitchen stirring up your soup, and the food here isn't on par with anything at these chefs' outstanding restaurants. Don't go in expecting Babbo takeout or Gramercy Tavern-caliber desserts.
But as a Midtown sandwich stop, it's an pretty impressive operation. And with prices kept low ($8-$10 mains, $2-$3 desserts), service as prompt as they could be, and more seating than any city deli I know, it's more than worth a visit during your lunch hour.
The café entrance. Everything's a market these days.
Rick Bayless's creamy corn soup ($6.50, with roll). I wanted to like this more than I did, given how rarely I get to try anything that's come from Bayless's real or temporary kitchen. Fresh-tasting and full-flavored, it definitely tasted more of fresh corn than your average corn soup, but was otherwise unremarkable.
There are rotating specials, and today's was from the winner of the Gourmet Pizza Classic, a "Heavenly White Porcini Pizza" ($8) made by Lisa Kielas. Though Adam gave the toppings his seal of approval—Porcini mushrooms, with garlic, Fontina, and Parmesan—the crust was pale and a bit bready.
Nate Appelman's tuna and bread salad ($9) was quite good—sparsely dressed, with high-quality flaked tuna, fresh cucumber and tomato, and enormous, olive-oily bread chunks that seemed to fall somewhere between croutons and panzanella-style soaked bread. A pretty substantial meal.
The best thing we ate was definitely José Andrés's JLT ($9), on crusty bread with Jamón Serrano and Manchego cheese. I'd return just for this sandwich.
Well, and for a few desserts.
I don't think I've ever eaten anything touched by the hand of Gina DePalma that I didn't love, including this surprisingly dense, almost nutty Venetian Apple Cake ($3), with the extra bite of polenta and stickiness of honey.
And this pumpkin whoopie pie ($3) from Nancy Olsen is everything you'd want a fall dessert to be: sweet, spiced, and pumpkin-heavy.
Expect a bit of a line and the normal pitfalls of pre-made lunches—not everything is as crisp or as hot as it could be. But for a welcome change from your usual weekday lunch, it's a decent culinary adventure. Where else will you find Daniel Boulud's terrines for $8.50?