At Le District, 11:20am on Tuesday morning is the calm before the storm.
Wait staff crisscross the market floor, a manager in a sleek pencil skirt pingpongs attention between her phone and the unmoving door. Chefs prep leisurely, their knives click-clacking against cutting boards. The sole patron is a college student sipping coffee at the bar, her eyes glued to a laptop.
According to American diners, French food is intimidating. Served exclusively on special occasions, bolstered by fancy (pricey) wine pairings, purchased from austere, heavily-accented snobs: there are rules to French cuisine. To break them invokes implicit humiliation; better go somewhere more low-key. This haughty, fastidious reputation was overdue a revamp. Le District is just the place to do it. The French-inspired market, restaurant, and bar in the Financial District wants everyone—yes, everyone—to discover the joie de vivre of French food.
“We are a playground for foodies,” says Lucie Rizzi, Director of Sales, Marketing, and Special events at Le District. Here, anyone who eats, cooks, or celebrates French food is welcomed with open arms.
“In France, you have a market once a week. Every shop comes to sell their bread, their meat.” More than grocery shopping, the market is a leisurely social experience. “You can eat there, or grab food and cook and home.” Le District is New York City’s market, where shopping and eating converge. As we meander through the stations, Rizzi recommends I order a glass of wine to get in the mood for food while I shop. She doesn’t have to ask twice.
Le District minimizes the “posh” factor of French food by encouraging customers to enjoy a bite on site, and to buy as little or as much as they want. Whether you’re looking for a French Morning (or Afternoon) in Downtown New York, or catering a dinner party, there is no pressure or pretense. “The goal is to have really awesome food, that people can come and enjoy.”
At heart, Le District relishes the interactive pleasure of eating, sharing and teaching cuisine. With 12 food stations to peruse (each manned by a seasoned chef), the possibilities to experience their motto <<Eat, Shop and Play with us>> are endless. And half the fun of French food is trying out techniques for yourself. Le District is only too happy to answer questions, offer instructions and make recommendations. “In France you have your butcher, to ask questions, ‘what’s good today?’,” says Rizzi. “We want you to ask questions. We are in the food business because we all love food.”
While Le District has its origins in French cuisine, it is proud to call New York home. Shelves are stocked with products from both countries. “We don’t want to be a French place where you can only find French products,” says Rizzi. “We’re both classic and reinventing the way that French are seen [outside of France]. There’s definitely a French influence, the way we curate our products and make the bread and the charcuterie, but we are a New York market.”
By noon, the storm is underway and Le District is bursting with activity and energy. Lines for the salad station and bakery twist through the store, slabs of meat steam on grills, and the round bar in the middle of the market is alive with chattering friends and coworkers on lunch break. The earlier French peppering of conversation is drowned out by English, Wall Street chattering and questions about food, posed to the chefs. In the midst of it all, the college student remains at her laptop. She works peacefully, sipping from her second steaming café au lait.