Thursday, July 9, 2015

A French Mega Market in Lower Manhattan

Beverly Stephen, the former executive editor of Food Arts magazine, is a journalist and consultant specializing in food, travel and lifestyle. A lifelong Francophile, Bev lives in New York but jets off to France every chance she gets. She was thrilled when this new French food hall opened recently, not far from her lower-Manhattan home...so I asked her to tell us all about it. 

Can’t make it to France his year? Pas de probleme! Francophiles on the East Coast have a great new way to get their fix at a sprawling French market in lower Manhattan called Le District.

The just-opened 30,000-square-foot Gallic fantasy, located in Brookfield Place (the former World Financial Center, recently redone at a cost of $250 million), is divided into four "districts": restaurant, café, market and garden.  Within these districts, all culinary needs for eat-in or take-out can be met, from poisson to  patisserie and fleurs to fromage. Tourists seeking a respite from the somber 9/11 Memorial Museum nearby can happily sip a rosé from Provence, take a bite of ratatouille, and feel transported to the South of France...never mind that the sweeping views are New York Harbor and not the Mediterranean. Workers from nearby Goldman Sachs and Condé Nast are likely to eat-in at one of the restaurants, at one of the counter seats scattered throughout, or on the 7,000-square-foot plaza looking out to the Statue of Liberty. Everyone can buy plenty of ingredients to make dinner back at home...along with a chic bouquet for the table from fleuriste Yasmine Karrenberg.

Dessert  comes first at Le District.  Commanding attention at the entrance is the riotously colorful French  candy store La Cure Gourmande which offers an astonishing array of nougats, caramels, biscuits and even olives au chocolat (chocolate-covered almonds in disguise), all available in gift-worthy tins. This is the first U.S. outpost of the store that originated in the Languedoc-Roussillon and now has 45 locations around the world.

Across the aisle is a crêperie, a waffle station and a patisserie displaying jewel-like French pastries. And of course a coffee bar. 

Other temptations follow—freshly baked breads, cheese, charcuterie, salads and sandwiches (I chose a delectable roasted lamb sandwich with ras al hanout and hummus white sauce), brasserie-style meals, wine and beer. Packaged foods to take home include Provencal olive oils,  Les Comtes de Provence jams, argan oil, mustards, spices, salts and sausages.  If you prefer to avoid temptation, graze before 4 p.m., when the salad bar transforms itself into a chocolate mousse bar offering eight different varieties of white and dark with toppings such as orange confit and speculoos cookies.

Le District is the brainchild of restaurant impresario Peter Poulakakos of the HPH Group, a restaurant and development company, and his business partner Paul Lamas; together they pretty much have downtown Manhattan cornered with Harry’s Café and Steak, The Dead Rabbit, The Growler and Financier Patisserie among others. They took their inspiration from Parisian markets such as La Grande Epicerie and from other countries touched by French culture such as Morocco and Vietnam. Chef Jordi Valles, an El Bulli alum, was recruited to be culinary director of the whole project. Under him is an army of chefs and cheese mongers, butchers, bakers and sausage makers.

Poulakakos himself was standing in the aisle munching on a crêpe when I stopped him to ask about his vision. “I’ve always been thrilled with French cuisine,” he said. “It’s the backbone of precision.”  As for the customers. “I want to be there for everyone. People who live and work here love it.”  Of course, he’s not oblivious to the fact that 12.4 million visitors were counted in downtown Manhattan in 2014 with more expected this year.

Little more than a decade has passed since the area suffered the devastating 9/ll attacks. And then there were the angry flood waters of Hurricane Sandy. Now FiDi (the Financial District), arguably the hottest real estate in the overheated Manhattan market, has literally risen from the ashes. 

Comparisons to Eataly--the insanely popular Italian food hall on Fifth Avenue, with 26 other outposts worldwide--seem inescapable. Le District has already been dubbed the French Eataly. But who’s complaining?  Eataly has become one of the top tourist attractions in New York City behind the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building. Last year, seven million shoppers crowded its aisles while the cash registers rang up $85 million in sales. Should Le District be far behind? Mais non!

Le District at Brookfield Place
225 Liberty Street
New York, NY 10281
+1 212 981 8588
ledistrict.com
info@ledistrict.com

Photos:  (1) The Fromagerie at Le District features nearly 200 varieties of cheese, from France, Switzerland, Belgium, Quebec and American producers.  (2) The Pavilion is the "front door" of  Brookfield Place. The dramatic entry hall was created by Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects. (3) The layout. (4) Sweets from the patisserie section. (5) The dining room at Beaubourg, Le District’s flagship restaurant. (6) At the Boulangerie, at least 12 types of bread are baked fresh daily on site. (7) Catch of the day at La Poissonnerie. (8) A macaron tower in the Cafe District. (9) French mustards, jams, oils and condiments in the Market District. (9) Brookfield Place, formerly the World Financial Center, is just south of Tribeca, along the Hudson River waterfront. Originally built in 1985, the complex became Brookfield Place in 2012/2013 and is a five minute walk from the 9/11 Memorial.  (10) Click on map to enlarge. 

Photos by Jeff Thibodeau (1, 4) and Daniel Krieger (5, 6, 7, 9).

Beverly Stephen, who wrote this guest post, can be reached at bstephenwest@gmail.com. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

5 comments:

  1. As an ardent Francophile, I went with a friend to Le District in anticipation of a French "Eataly". Both of us were sorely disappointed. This doesn't compare to Eataly. Le District is small. Yes, there are crepes but only if you want them with nutella. No crepes grand marnier, a staple on any French manue. Not even crepes w/ jam. There were a couple of savory crepes and then banana and nutella. The boulangerie offerings were tasteless, at least what we bought (brioche and some other bread). And on the shelves of the grocery section were things like College Inn chicken stock! I'm hoping Le District will succeed and expand but my first visit was not impressive.

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  2. Brilliant! Although, IMHO, nothing can beat the experience of enjoying all of those French pleasures in la belle France! This sounds like a fine alternative and will definitely be on my list to visit on the our next trip to NYC,

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  3. This post could not have come at a better time. i'm taking my daughter to New York City in a week and cannot wait to visit Le District!!!

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  4. Julie, thank you very much! Very timely, as I also leave to America for a conference end of August...
    I looked at the website, specifically the menu of the Beaubourg restaurant. (What should I say... against the its price list -- and specifically the wine its, going out in Cannes looks like a really good deal: -)
    Have a good weekend and all the best, Maya

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  5. We were so looking forward to a visit at Le District, and I am not exactly sure what we were hoping for, (a French Eataly, I guess) but a huge mall-type food court (and not even French) and a grocery store full of American products was not even close to what we were expecting. Downstairs we did have a nice (quite pricy) lunch, served by a bone fide French guy. So, there's that. Big disappointment, not going back

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