If you see a moving truck at the Plaza Hotel, it's probably Eloise moving out. In a snit. Until now, this impish six-year-old lit wit has been the Plaza's most celebrated resident—with an Eloise flag flying outside the hotel, an over-the-top all-pink Eloise shop, an Eloise-themed suite, and an iconic Eloise portrait opposite the Palm Court. But the new star of the show and most celebrated resident is Chef Todd English, who has just opened his newest and splashiest outpost: the Plaza Food Hall.
Harrods, Peck, Fortnum & Mason, Takashimaya, and KaDeWe ("two football fields of food!") are probably what come to mind when you hear "food hall." In all candor, if these are Food Halls, this is a Food Foyer. In the basement. (Or as Bergdorf's likes to spin it, "the Lower Level.")
The branding is outta sight. It is so tourist-centric and hard-sell that it makes the American Girl Doll store look like an outpost of a Mother Teresa orphanage.
It is not huge, but it is pretty snazzy.
Someone on a food blog mentioned Dean & DeLuca, and I agree. It's spacious and gracious, clean, modern. I kept trying to figure out what the design of the place reminded me of, and I finally realized it was the kitchen in Diane Keaton's home in the film "Something's Gotta Give"—the Hamptons house we all lusted after. And the food hall is comfortable. The seating is all counter. The counters are all a cool white marble. The idea is that you sit and watch the food being cooked right in front of you. So you can give your own compliments to the chef at the Dumpling Bar, the Grill, the Ocean Grill and Oyster Bar, the Pizza Station, etc, etc.
One of the other differences between the global food halls and the Plaza is that I think Todd has out-logoed and out-branded them big time. (Sidebar: no shrinking violet, Todd. One of the first things on his website is the fact that in 2001, he was named one of People Magazine's Most Beautiful People. If you think his saffron risotto looks good, check out dreamy photos of Chef Todd on his website and don't skip the "About Todd" section. Clearly Todd and his PR people believe that Todd is a dish.)
So, no surprise that along with the "PP" logo for the Plaza Hotel (the first P is actually backwards, but I can't do that on my computer) there's a "TE" for Todd English.
The branding is outta sight. It is so tourist-centric and hard-sell that it makes the American Girl Doll store look like an outpost of a Mother Teresa orphanage. Logos are on everything from a t-shirt to a tote bag to a coffee mug to a white plastic Frisbee. And then there's branded stuff that isn't for name-droppers or Irish Setters. Sweets like TE Brickle, TE Mallows, TE Key Lime Caramels. A selection of PP teas. And my personal favorite: a small bag of PP TE White Chocolate Trail Mix. Which trail would you be going on with this? The Barney's Trail? The FAO Schwartz Trail? Or maybe this pricey trail mix is for social climbers.
But back to the good news. Let's start with the fact that if Todd English ever gets Alzheimer's, he never has to worry about forgetting his name. He doesn't even have to walk in the door to remember who he is. The welcome mat on Central Park South reads: "THE PLAZA FOOD HALL. Est 2010. BY TODD ENGLISH. New York."
Happily, you can't put your name on a peony. And Todd has added a jewel-box size flower shop to the Food Hall. So you can get a pale yellow rose to go with your dumplings.
But what about the food?! Tell us about the food! It's very, very good—just check out Chowhound or eGullet to see positive reviews. The huge and delicious $9 sandwiches are a great bargain. The roast chicken is sublime. And the place is Mecca for neighborhood foodies who have had it with the nearby Columbus Circle Whole Foods. (A recent visit of mine to the charcuterie section of Whole Foods: "What is that?" I ask the clerk as I point to an artisanal-looking sausage on the shelf. "I don't know," he answers. "I don't eat pork." Last week, as I was buying Pawlett cheese at the cheese counter there, the Whole Foods clerk asked if I thought what she was about to cut looked like a quarter pound. I said, "I think it looks more like a half pound. What do you think?" She smiled and said, "Oh, I'm not good at this.") Thank you, Todd, for the perfect cheeses and charcuterie and breads you are selling; the bountiful take-out salads; the helpful servers and the cheerful attitude that prevail.
Where does Todd go from here? If I were TE, I would take over the entire floor of the PP (which looks like three football fields) and put the existing tenants out of their misery. What's there now are a few disconsolate-looking Euro clothing boutiques and jewelers, a small dispirited café, and a random, rambling cosmetic section. It's Eau de Death Valley—and not just in the Parfumerie. (NB: But if you're looking for a sexy, sensuous fragrance called "Juliette Has a Gun" —it's there!)
So I think there's lot of room for more wonderful TE food and a satisfying TE dining experience. I'm seeing a huge selection of TE cheeses, endless TE charcuterie, row upon row of TE prepared foods, a counter-full of TE sweets, a hot and cold range of TE soups. I could easily envision a TE Coffee Bar, a TE Spirits Bar with the requisite TE cocktail, a TE Jazz Corner, Breakfast with TE. And because he is truly gifted, a TE Gift Shop to house all those eponymous Frisbees and t-shirts. I mean TE-shirts.