Wednesday, July 20, 2011

the plaza food hall by todd english

When we were young, a food hall (or food court, as we call them in the Philippines) was akin to a culinary Switzerland—a place where my parents could take all the kids with dissimilar cravings and feed them without too much drama. All our folks had to do was give us money and we could get whatever it was our tummy desired: pizza, tempura, hamburgers, Mongolian stir-fry, halo-halo. And we could all still sit down at one table and eat as a family. But food halls in the Philippines are very much like their traditional American counterparts: usually located in a shopping mall and chock full of fast food stands—not exactly what one would think of as haute cuisine.

My view of food halls changed somewhat when I got to eat at Marché in Singapore some years ago (funnily enough, Marché actually hails from Switzerland). Built to give you the feeling that you are eating in a European market (or in some parts, a Swiss chalet), the ingredients are fresh and the food just-cooked.

Lately here in New York, the idea of what a food hall is has been turned upside down in my head yet again. In recent months, a few gourmet food halls have popped up in the city that are bears little resemblance to your momma's food court. Last night, I ventured with a big group of friends into The Plaza Food Hall by celebrity chef, Todd English. This food hall boasts eight specialty food stations as well as numerous gourmet delights to tempt any foodie shoppaholic.

My friend Jammy specifically requested the table in the demo kitchen when she made our reservation so our party of 7.25 (myself, three couples and a baby) had plenty of space to devour food in. Boy, did we need that space because we ordered quite a bit of food!

The Restaurant Week menu was available and seemed to be a good deal. The lunch menu includes 4 pieces of fried oysters with caviar creme fraiche, lemon zest and micro cilantro as an appetizer.
Add to that a Bianca pizza and a mini cheese cake for dessert and it's definitely not a bad deal for $24.07. For dinner, they change it up with half a dozen fresh oysters, and a choice between the Bianca pizza or roasted prime rib for the entree, plus the same cheese cake dessert. You could do worse with $35.00.

Seduced with the bounty of choices from the meat and seafood grills, the sushi bar, the dumpling station and the pizza station, we decided to order a la carte. My mom always tells me I shouldn't make decisions about food when I'm starving and she's always right. In a state of starvation, I went with the Food Hall Burger and its half pound american kobe beef pattie, fried onion, grilled bacon, roasted tomato and gorgonzola, all slathered in barbeque sauce.
It was good but the prime rib sliders, described in New York magazine as "piled with ribbons of tender meat, dripped with a rich Fontina dressing, and served on fresh brioche buns", probably would have been a better choice. Three of us ordered this burger and while it did the job, it wasn't the best any of us had ever had.

I didn't dwell on this too much though because the mac n cheese blew my mind. Is there anything better than macaroni, pulled pork and caramelized onions all slathered in melted aged cheddar? Ok lots of things are but none come to mind while you're dishing bite after delicious bite of this goodness into your mouth, I promise.
I had my hands full (literally) with my massive burger plus the mac 'n cheese so I didn't really get to taste everyone else's food. Consider the rest of the post as food porn. Coco and JM ordered the special: a flat bread pizza with pork belly bits, green onion and sriracha.  
Jammy and Sancho ordered one of their favorite pizzas: fig jam, prosciutto and gorgonzola on a rosemary crust.
There were a couple of rolls from the sushi bar on the table, too, but I haven't had a yen for sushi in awhile so I didn't try any of them. Thought they looked pretty (and yes, I'm sorry that's all I have to say about them). Mica had the lobster roll in the picture below while Jammy had the dragon roll further below. 
All in all, a very good meal. It's hard to find a chic place where one can eat good food at reasonable prices, get seated as a fairly large party painlessly and not be rushed out. So I'm grateful to The Plaza Food Hall for providing a bunch of high school friends and their significant others a great spot to catch up over a good meal.

The Plaza Food Hall by Todd English is located at 768 Fifth Avenue (at Central Park South), New York, NY 10019. Phone (212) 986-9260 for reservations.
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