I love exotic food and am open to trying just about anything. But if you ask me what my last supper would be, I might have to go with something incredibly basic: a sandwich mixte, or what the French call ham and cheese on a baguette, usually with a light layer of demi-sel butter. Regardless of where I’m headed, at least I know my last taste will be heavenly.
Fortunately for my tastebuds (for my waistline, not so much), a new French mega-market and dining room akin to Mario Batali’s Eataly opened up next to my Battery Park City apartment last February. Named Le District, it has enough to satisfy any Francophile's craving. In addition to the huge selection of French cheeses, meats, and pastries, there are whole sections dedicated to bean-to-bar dark chocolates in packing almost too pretty to open, sea salts in bridal shades of white and blush, and enough speciality cooking oils and vinegars to make even the most seasoned New Yorker give up restaurant-going in search of the perfect recipe for truffle oil.
Like a high school language class, the market has classic Edith Piaf chansons on repeat, transporting me to the “open-air market” that my 7th grade French teacher, Ms. Lawrence, asked us to imagine as we practiced ordering fruits and vegetables (so much more romantic in my mind than actual grocery shopping ever was when I lived in Paris).
Since Le District opened back in February, it's interesting to watch them settle in. They’ve relaxed the music selection, playing more modern songs like Marie LaForet’s cover of “Paint it Black,” by the Rolling Stones.
And I'm beginning to enjoy the quirky customer service moments that help make the brand authentic (their motto is "New York with a French Attitude"), even if it's unintentional. My first encounter at the bar, for instance, consisted of my asking the waiter about the cheese plate, and his replying, “it’s a plate of three cheeses.”
Just yesterday, a Saturday, I arrived promptly at 8am to buy ingredients to make Easter brunch only to find big locks on the front doors, despite a sign advertising a 7:30am opening time. Could it be that Le District was actually closed for Easter, like in France, I thought? But I quickly came to my senses and reminded myself that it’s the kick-off of tourist season in NYC, something their big American parent company would be capitalizing on. A nearby security guard, who could tell I was sorely in need of some caffeine, kindly explained that sometimes they open at 8:30am, other times 9am, but never 7:30am as advertised. “I keep telling them to update that sign,” he told me, shaking his head.
When I returned two hours later for my pour-over coffee fix, I told the girl at the register that the permanent sign on the window listed the wrong opening time. She shrugged, in reply, with smiling indifference - as if puffing on an imaginary cigarette in one hand and swiping my credit card with the other. Yes, she truly embodied Le District’s tagline: "New York with a French Attitude."
Top three treats
If you only have time for three goodies, here’s what I’d recommend (as told through song by Edith Piaf: one of France’s most successful American exports).
Judging from the line I saw yesterday at Magnolia Bakery, the macaron has a long way to go before replacing the cupcake as NYC’s mini dessert of choice. But at Le District, the pink macaron reigns supreme.
In a city where everyone seems to be going paleo or gluten free, finding restaurants who celebrate quality bread seem harder and harder to find. But Le District’s bread game is strong - and rivals my memory of most Parisian boulangeries. (A sign it’s time for another trip? Peut-etre.)
Yes, I’m eating a nutella crepe for dinner and I regret nothing. (Save your judgement for the food court upstairs.)