My sister and her husband were visiting the city recently, staying at the venerable Essex House. Assembly had begun on the day they left, making their hotel and Central Park South a chaotic mess of black SUVs, Secret Service, and extra security. After I put them into an Uber to LaGuardia, I strolled in the direction of Fifth Avenue, feeling a little peckish.
I could have sated myself at the Viand Coffee Shop, an old favorite at East 61st and Madison. But as I stood on the corner of East 58th and Fifth, admiring a handsome Prada jacket in the window of Bergdorf Goodman’s Men’s Store, I decided to eat away my feelings with some decadence.
Dining in a retail store conjures a definite “ladies who lunch” kind of scene, which is not me at all. But lunch inside an actual men’s store didn’t seem like it would threaten my delicate masculine insecurities too badly. And then it occurred to me that this would be one of a few recent dining experiences inside a retail store for me, as if there was some unintentional, recurring theme happening with my lunch habits. Going to a restaurant or bar inside a department store isn’t something that would generally occur to me, but it just so happens that I’ve had some great experiences as of late.
Hōseki at Saks Fifth Avenue
One such quiet, civilized, windowless escape hidden inside a retail setting is a tiny sushi surprise called Hōseki, located in the basement level of Saks Fifth Avenue known as the Vault, where the jewelry lives. I’d been very curious since it opened this past June, and I finally got around to trying it.
Created during the pandemic by restaurateur Maxwell Weiss and his business partner, Chef Daniel Kim, Hōseki is an intimate and chic six-seat bar, discreetly shrouded behind a curtain that feels like a mini VIP situation. Along with light beverages and a nice selection of teas, food service is a 12-course lunch of omakase sushi, selected and prepared by the chef. (“Omakase” literally means “I leave it up to you,” i.e., the chef.)
Hōseki does four seatings from noon to 4 PM, Wednesday to Saturday. At my seating, there was one couple that seemed like they were on a business lunch, keeping to themselves at one end of the bar. There were also two women, one on either side of me, each dining alone. The woman at my left had her service dog with her, a very handsome and well-behaved rottweiler named Loki, who was fantastic company. We had a lovely conversation as we watched our chef, a highly skilled young woman named Morgan, expertly prepare our courses.
I wish I could remember what each sushi course was, but I was too busy enjoying each one, watching Chef Morgan cut the fish and manipulate the sticky rice and other accoutrements for the next course, and chatting with my fellow diners. I can tell you this: I’ve eaten a lot of very good sushi in my years, but I’ve never enjoyed it this fresh. Each bite melted in my mouth. It was wonderful. This was my first time eating omakase sushi, and it was nice to surrender to the experience and let a skilled chef do the driving.
Though the chef designs the meal, concessions are made for anyone with allergies or dietary restrictions. For instance, one of my dining mates had a gluten allergy, which Chef Morgan happily accommodated. Not a meat eater? Not a problem. The Wagyu beef can be substituted for something else.
Whether shopping or not, Hōseki offered something unique: a beautifully prepared 12-course sushi lunch in an hour… in a department store.
On the second floor of the Bergdorf Goodman Men’s Store, discreetly nestled among the pricey, tailored suits of Tom Ford, Zegna, Giorgio Armani, and Ralph Lauren, sits Goodman’s Bar, a handsome and intimate drinking and dining affair right on the rotunda.
With two afternoon customers already seated at the bar, I took a quiet table in one of the banquettes that flank it. This place is instantly comfortable and cozy, with warm lighting and a pleasant, unobtrusive soundtrack that wouldn’t distract from conversation. The guy two tables to my right was also dining solo, lost in a book. The windowless setting of Goodman’s Bar has that casino effect, totally insulating you from the outside world, which can be a nice break.
Along with a select list of signature cocktails and wines, the all-day brasserie menu offers a dozen or so comforts, including caviar, oysters, a seasonal soup, a couple of robust salads, Parker House rolls, a chicken melt, beef tartare, and a gnocchi dish. I opted for the lobster roll, which ended up being one of the best lobster rolls I’ve ever had, accompanied by their thoroughly delicious house-made potato chips. I punctuated my lunch with a perfect café Americano.
Whether you’re eating your feelings, fueling up for an afternoon shopping splurge, having a quiet business lunch, or sipping a discreet cocktail with a mistress, Goodman’s Bar is a rather civilized oasis, tucked among some of the most beautiful men’s clothing in the world. Win-win. It’s a terrific spot.
Tommy Bahama Restaurant
I consider my friend Chuck Pollard to be one of the most stylish and tasteful men I’ve met in nearly 30 years in New York City. Spending time with him is always a bonus. When he recently suggested that we have lunch at the restaurant inside the Tommy Bahama store on Fifth Avenue, I thought he was kidding. A chic lunch inside the New York flagship of the OG of untucked tropical island culture seemed like quite the disconnect on the island of Manhattan. But onward we went in our very tucked-in tailored kits.
As I stepped up to the second floor of the Tommy Bahama New York flagship at 551 Fifth Avenue, my friend Chuck laughed as he saw my jaw drop a little. I was caught off guard with a well-deserved snob slap, as my face made it obvious that the Tommy Bahama Restaurant was not what I was expecting. Like my other retail dining experiences, this, too, was an oasis, but one bathed in light, as it occupied a windowed corner. You almost feel pleasantly transported to some place in the Florida Keys.
As we were escorted to our table, I surveyed the room and noticed a well-heeled business lunch crowd that looked as if it were part of the same secret society as Chuck. Everyone got the same intel that this was a smart spot for lunch.
The menu had an impressive selection of fish dishes one might hope for in your better East Coast restaurants. I went with seared ahi tuna, which was everything I wanted it to be.
Among the several things I learned about yet another delightful dining encounter within the walls of a clothing store, at the top of the list is to never second-guess my friend Chuck. The Tommy Bahama Restaurant was a great call.
The Tommy Bahama experience was yet another unexpected, pleasant surprise on what seems like my unofficial retail store restaurant tour. While retailers struggle with ways to get more customers through their doors, perhaps undeniable destination eateries are part of a winning formula. I’ll return to the places I just wrote about and, when I do, there’s a much higher likelihood that I’ll do some shopping while I’m in the building.