Great food halls should make you weak at the knees. The Harrods Food Hall certainly does this for me (odd for a country not known for great food until recentlyâ€¦) and so does the food hall at the La Grande Epicerie at Au Bon Marche in Paris. New York doesnâ€™t really have anything that comes close to either of the two food halls in London or Paris. Sure they have great food or gourmet stores such as Dean and Deluca, Balduccis, Zabarâ€™s, Citarella, etc. but none with the size, scope and impression of Harrods or Au Bon Marche. The closest I have found to date? The new Whole Foods store in the basement of the new Time Warner Center at the southwest corner of Central Park. By New York standards it is quite stunning.
Located directly below a huge Williams Sonoma shop, descending the escalators to this food mecca gives a first time visitor a quick birds eye view of the vast space. The produce section rivals some of the best I have seenâ€¦ on a recent visit there were spectacular artichokes, several kinds of peppers, yellow, red and green tomatoes, beautiful asparagus, berries of all sorts, prepared fruit salads or peeled fruit in plastic containers lined up neatly in chillers, tons of varieties of staples such as onions, potatoes, etc. What is interesting is the breadth of produce on offer. There is no farmstand feel here, offering what has just been picked, instead, it screams: â€œif itâ€™s grown anywhere on the planet and you need it for a recipe, we will probably have it, regardless of priceâ€¦â€!!!
Next is the dry goods section that features some plebian as well as unusual finds from salt, mustards, pickles, grains, tuna, olive oil, etc. Several aisles are chock-full of choices. The selection of anchovies, capers and salt had me reeling and I wanted to just get one of everything. Next up were spectacular meat sections that already had portions pre-wrapped as well as meats prepared and ready to be thrown straight onto the grill or into the oven. When a store offers several sizes of chickens, plus several breeds, plus farm vs. range, etc. you know you will find something that suits your needs. The seafood section was gorgeous as well but again, as with the meat the selection was edited and meant to satisfy a target market that appears to truly value convenience.
The highlight of the store, however, is a section that offers prepared dishes that are sold by the pound. This section belies the needs of the vast majority of shoppers at Whole Foodsâ€¦ they are instant or convenience food junkies. While they may be buying â€œgourmetâ€ and paying $6.99 a pound for everything from Chinese stir-fry, couscous to baked beans, most people have prepared foods in their carts. These are busy city folk that want to eat better than a TV dinner but canâ€™t be bothered to make it themselves. They flock to Whole Foods by the thousands every single day. On a busy Saturday the lines at the check out counters can exceed 100 type A individuals waiting to pay through the nose for prepared foodsâ€¦ I really liked this store and was impressed, but it isnâ€™t quite in the league of the best Food Halls on the planet.