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Food Court Gourmet

No need to brave the teeming throngs only to score a slice at Sbarro: These hopping food malls are as haute as can be.

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San Francisco’s Ferry Building Marketplace and New York’s 45,000-square-foot temple to artisanal Italian food, Eataly, are exemplars of a new concept in culinary design that fuses retail with dining to create bustling, gourmet entrepôts. The latter is a collaboration between Slow Food proponent Oscar Farinetti and a trio of New Yorkers, Lidia and Joe Bastianich and star chef Mario Batali. There, the greatest design challenge, says Alec Zaballero of TPG Architecture, was “massaging” five restaurants, a cafe, a wine store, and the countless mini-departments into the historic structure, a 1903 property in the Flatiron District.

In renovating the interior, TPG benefited hugely from the existing fabric, with gems like original terrazzo and sugar-cube-marble-mosaic flooring. “The design aesthetic was a celebration of the history of the space,” says Zaballero. “We salvaged materials as we found them, refabricating historically approved facades, and when we didn’t have original features we used polished stained concrete.”

This is not an intimate dining experience: The occupancy is 1,400 and eating areas are designed to merge with the retail scrum, which adds to the churning buzz of the place. “Imagine an Italian hill town market,” says Zaballero. “It has that sort of spontaneity and creative chaos.”

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    An Introduction to Restaurant Design

    Eating has always been a sociable event, from primitive campfire cooking to reclining on lectuli at lavish Greek and Roman banquets. However, although taverns and inns had always existed, the restaurant as an institution didn’t fully emerge until the 17th century. The word “restaurant” initially appeared in the 16th century, meaning a restorative broth, but by 1771 the term had mutated to refer to an “establishment specializing in the sale of restorative foods” as well. Like so much in culinary history, the Parisians owned the sophisticated version of the concept as American and British visitors marveled at the phenomenon.

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