845 Sixth Avenue, New York NY 10001 (b/n 29th and 30th; map); 646-600-7140; foodparc.com
Service: Reasonably fast counter service and cheery support staff
Setting: Hyper-modern stylized food court
Must-Haves: Wonton soup, pastrami egg rolls, 3Bs Special burger
Cost: Lunch can be had for $10
Food Grades: Red Farm: A-, 3Bs: A-, Fornetti: B-
I've known consultant, restaurateur, really good cook, and nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn turned Chinese food maven Ed Schoenfeld for more than 20 years now (in 1990 he took me around Chinatown for the original New York Eats book). So I was excited to experience his latest project, FoodParc—a most unusual stylized and ambitious food destination in the southern reaches of Midtown (or the northern reaches of the Flatiron, or whatever we're supposed to call 29th and 6th these days). Why? Because Schoenfeld knows an awful lot about all kinds of food, Chinese and otherwise. He's well-traveled (just back from a dumpling tour of Taiwan) and most importantly, he's got a great palate.
Ed is one of the principal creative culinary forces behind the four restaurants kiosks at FoodParc, which are tucked neatly into the ground floor of the brand-new Eventi Hotel. There's the Chinese Red Farm; the burger and American comfort food joint 3Bs; the (not nearly as interesting) Italian pasta-and-flatbread counter Fornetti; and The Press, a French press coffee and pastry bar. Co-created by Jeffrey Chodorow and his son, and designed by Syd Mead (the set designer behind Blade Runner), it's an unabashedly modern food court—where you place your order on touchscreens, get a text message when the order's up, and dine on the sorts of 21st-century comfort food fare (bacon spring rolls, Pat LaFrieda burgers) that today's office lunchers look for.
All this gadgetry sounds ripe for disaster. But in our experience, even at prime lunch hour, it's easy to find a screen and key in your order, swipe your card to pay the bill—and, yes, get a text the moment it's ready. The screens worked, though the overall FoodParc experience is a little overwhelming and disjointed.
But the food, once it arrives? It's way better than the food court setting might have you believe. In fact much of the food is remarkably delicious. The only truly not-good food I've had at Food Parc was when I found myself there at 4 p.m., when it was just about totally empty and my food tasted tired and obviously reheated.
Schoenfeld found Red Farm chef Joe Ng, certainly one of the best dim sum chefs in this country, in a Sunset Park Chinese restaurant a few years ago, and brought him to Chinatown Brasserie (where he still oversees the food). Schoenfeld, Ng, and Chodorow will also be opening a Chinese restaurant on Hudson Street this winter, but for now Ng is spending most of his time here. Which turns out to be a wonderful thing, because even in this stylized food court setting he is turning out fabulous food.
Just about every type of dumpling is worth having. The fillings are distinct, delicious, and carefully conceived, and the dumpling wrappers are more delicate than I could have reasonably expected coming out of a food court kitchen, though they are not the equal of the poetically thin wrappers I am used to seeing come out of a Joe Ng kitchen. The black pepper pork dumplings, the shrimp, watercress, and bacon dumplings, and even the vegetable potstickers were all things I would happily eat every day for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
The wonton soup ($4.95) is fabulous, with a deeply flavorful broth and firm, meaty wontons. Spare ribs ($6.95 for four) are very solid if not up to the level of Big Wong in Chinatown. Schoenfeld's playful culinary curiosity reveals itself in the insanely delicious pastrami egg rolls ($4.50). Egg rolls filled with shrimp and others filled with Benton's fine, fine bacon were less successful. Maybe bacon, even really good bacon, doesn't make everything better. A composed water chestnut, pineapple, and arugula salad can be topped with everything from slices of beef short rib to moist chicken skewers, and even a spare rib. Buns? Red Farm's got those, too. The duck version ($4.95) had an overwhelming gaminess one day, but were much improved the next. Short rib buns were done in by tough slices of beef.
When cooked rare (when pressed, the powers that be at Food Parc insist that a rare button is being put on the touch screen as I write this) the 3Bs Special burger ($6.95), made with yet another LaFrieda custom blend, this one featuring hanger steak, is a phenomenally tasty burger, perhaps one of the top 5 under $10 in New York right now. The crispy onions work, so does the secret Thousand Island dressing-like sauce, and the burger is juicy and beefy and everything you'd want a burger to be.
Bacon junkies should take note of the two terrific bacons featured at Food Parc: the heavily smoked Nueske's from Wisconsin and the more subtly kissed-with-smoke bacon made by pork genius Allen Benton in Tennessee. These bacons find their way into many, many dishes at Food Parc, just about all (except the bacon egg roll) to positive effect. There's the bacon appetizer, the balls of crispy bacon hash browns, bacon on top of your customized burger, a bacon pastrami Reuben that was marred by slightly tough grilled pumpernickel bread, as well as a fancy but phenomenal taleggio, pancetta, and black truffle panini ($8.95) that was so deliciously earthy I practically tasted the soil the black truffles were fished out of.
Much like Red Farm and 3Bs, Fornetti serves comfort food, but of the Italian-inspired persuasion. Both the sandwiches and pastas are massive portions, served on oven-hot flatbread—yes, even the pastas. A Rigatoni Bolognese ($10.95), topped with a ragu of veal, beef, and pork, was a bit tough on first bite—the pasta just undercooked, the meat slightly chewy—but the sauce was meat-heavy and well-seasoned, and of a portion big enough to embarrass as you open up the lid. An Italian Roast Pork sandwich, even the half size ($5.50) enough for a decent meal, is stuffed full with thinly sliced meat, soft roasted peppers, and a tangy, tasty (if overapplied) roasted garlic aioli. A solid, oversized eggplant parmigiana sandwich came on puffy white flatbread. Fornetti is definitely the weakest restaurant at Food Parc, but that's mostly because the competition surrounding it is so strong.
Appealing beverage options at FoodParc include watermelon juice, gently sweetened iced green tea, and shakes and malts made out of Blue Marble Ice Cream.
For dessert you can't go wrong with the straight-outta-Philly Capogiro gelato or its made-in-Brooklyn counterpart Blue Marble cone. There are lots of other baked goods that we didn't get to try on four visits. That's how many options there are at FoodParc.
Questions abound when it comes to FoodParc. Will the environment coalesce into something that's more than the sum of its parts? Hard to tell at the moment. Will Schoenfeld, Ng, Chodorow, and company be able to maintain the quality of the food when lunchers descend on Food Parc en masse? If they do, they will have succeeded in raising the bar for food courts in this country. Right now it's worth your while just for the burgers, Joe Ng's dim sum, and many of the bacon and pork-laden sandwiches.
Who knows: maybe FoodParc will be coming to an airport or food court near you in the not-so-distant future.