Attention, hungry shoppers: In-store dining is officially hot.
Once depots of desperation, eateries inside retail establishments have become bona fide dining destinations.
In fact, a surprisingly serious crop of restaurants is sprouting in some of the Big Apple’s unlikeliest — and toniest — retail establishments.
Not in the mood for a $400,000 chandelier at SoHo’s Swarovski Crystallized boutique? Opt for the $26 wiener schnitzel at chef Kurt Gutenbrunner’s in-store Café Kristall. Don’t feel like splurging on a $3,000 suit at the Armani boutique on Fifth Ave.? Hit the second-floor Ristorante for a taste of la dolce vita in a plate of truffle-stuffed ravioli.
Department stores, whose restaurants can feel like Ellis Island with plates, are upping their game too. At Bergdorf Goodman, subject of new docu “Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s,” the 7th-floor BG restaurant has been a longtime ladies-who-lunch haunt. Flatiron’s ABC Carpet and Home and star chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten just unveiled ABC Cocina, their latest collaboration.
Not to be outdone, Macy’s last month unveiled Stella34, a stellar Italian that’s actually worth a visit on its own. Bloomingdale’s handed its high-profile ground-floor eatery to celeb chef David Burke. And even stodgy Lord & Taylor has tried upping the charm with a Sarabeth’s Café.
Which retail restaurants are worth a trip even for non-customers — and which aren’t worth a break from browsing? The News shopped around to find out.
Café Kristall at Swarovski Crystallized
70 Mercer St.
The scene: Sedate retreat from SoHo bustle, with its own entrance in the rear of Swarovski’s swank boutique. But so under-the-radar it can feel abandoned.
The crowd: Loud Europeans on cell phones; pink-sneakered Chef Kurt Gutenbrunner himself, who pecked at a Blackberry in a corner of the restaurant.
The room: Weird hybrid of insane opulence ($400,000 Swarovski “column” chandelier) and Home Depot parsimony (tired furniture, tatty wall hangings).
The food: Gutenbrunner’s high standards shine through signature dishes like wiener schnitzel ($26) and lighter options like quinoa and tofu salad ($11).
The vibe: Forgotten train station in remote Austrian hamlet.
Armani Ristorante at Giorgio Armani
717 Fifth Ave.
The scene: Dark, sleek dining room whose hushed ambience whispers of money. You can enter through the store, but take the private elevator on E. 56th St. for the full effect.
The crowd: Diners who look like they can actually afford Armani in the hushed main dining room; shoppers who’d buy knockoffs on Canal St. in the less-formal lounge.
The room: Signor Armani designed everything from the chairs to the flatware, and the Ristorante shares the label’s very Italian, ’80s-groovy sense of luxury. Insist on a window table for primo Fifth Ave. views.
The food: Sandro Romano, former chef de cuisine at The Modern, delivers knockouts like burrata with pickled heirloom radishes ($17) and ravioli with quail egg yolk and black truffle ($36). Take home a box of Armani chocolates ($35 for 16) from the adjacent Dolci boutique.
The vibe: Privileged perch makes teeming masses on Fifth Ave. seem very far away.
David Burke at Bloomingdale’s
1000 Third Ave.
The scene: Frantic upscale diner.
The crowd: Execs from Bloomberg across the street on weekdays; sweatpants-clad tourists on weekends.
The room: Long, narrow space split in two. Burke makes up for it with jazzy striped banquettes, bright orange walls, and a terrific collection of jack-in-the-boxes lining one ledge.
The food: Mostly ho-hum basics like hummus ($9) and Caesar salad ($11), but you can’t go wrong with burgers like the Double Juicy Burkey with onion, cheddar, and bacon ($21). Finish in less than 25 minutes and you’ll get a t-shirt and your picture on the wall.
The vibe: Frenzied and crowded, but tourists probably think the commotion captures the real New York.
Tommy Bahama Restaurant at Tommy Bahama
551 Fifth Ave.
The scene: Margaritaville via Paramus at the latest signature restaurant from the beach-lifestyle clothing label.
The crowd: Tommy Bahama shoppers and brand loyalists, along with a small local after-work crowd.
The room: If Ikea had a Key West collection, it would look like this. But Tommy Bahama’s faux-cabana decor does a good job of shutting off the outside world.
The food: A well-executed menu is the biggest surprise here, including short-rib sliders with pineapple slaw ($14) and delicious jerk pork tenderloin ($25). Portions are massive, too.
The vibe: It’s tempting to snicker at the tropicalia shtick, but more fun to give in, sip a Cruzan Citrus mojito ($12), and pretend you hear waves.
Sarabeth’s Café at Lord & Taylor
424 Fifth Ave.
The scene: Rest-home cafeteria meets 1950s bus depot, hidden behind racks of cut-rate Anne Klein and Kay Unger separates in fifth-floor rear.
The crowd: Lost-looking tourists, elderly regulars, depressed-looking Lord & Taylor employees. “We don’t see that many people under 40,” a forlorn host told me.
The room: Two windowless, airless rooms with weirdly spaced tables and grandma furniture make this an exceedingly somber place to dine. Most patrons sat in silence or stared at the walls.
The food: You can never go wrong with Sarabeth’s cuisine, and her tomato soup ($6), chicken Cobb salad ($8.50) and truffle cupcakes ($4) almost make it worth enduring the dour atmosphere.
The vibe: Tragic country Starbucks in a David Lynch movie.
ABC Cocina at ABC Carpet and Home
38 E. 19th St.
The scene: Prosperous hordes descend on hippie-chic home emporium for market-driven haute-Latino cooking from star cuisinier Jean-Georges Vongerichten and executive chef Dan Kluger.
The crowd: Diners toting expensive linens in ABC’s signature bags; nonchalant locals; Europeans in flowing scarves; Vongerichten himself, prowling week-old restaurant like worried mother hen
The room: ABC’s signature heiress-goes-grunge style. You can take home everything from the felt-covered bar stools ($695) to stoneware salad bowls ($125) to handmade linen table runners ($395).
The food: Vongerichten’s globehopping alchemy produces flavor bombs like housemade chorizo ($7), short ribs with habanero relish ($14), Maine lobster rice with fresh basil ($38)
The vibe: Once again, ABC and Vongerichten achieve the improbable: A white-hot scene with lust-worthy food… with rugs for sale just feet away.
*Winner: Stella34 at Macy’s
151 W. 34th St.
The scene: Bright, busy new bistro carved from former textile storeroom on the sixth floor.
The crowd: Tourists abound, but a surprisingly high percentage of locals, whether Macy’s execs or midtown proles. We ran into hooky-playing friends who work for Lord & Taylor.
The room: More L.A. than New York, in a good way. Soaring ceilings, glorious natural light, space between tables. Open kitchen and two wood-burning pizza ovens add nice touches.
The food: Home runs across the board from exec chef Jarett Appell, including exemplary caponata ($7) and perfect pastas. This is also the only place stateside to sample exquisite Vivoli el Gelato from Florence. And espresso kicks it.
The vibe: Miracle on 34th St. — a restaurant inside Macy’s that’s worth a visit on its own. Service is spot-on, too. One waiter responded, “At your service, sir” after filling water glasses.
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