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Italian restaurant, Baffo, offers a casually elegant dining experience in Chicago’s Eataly, a 63,000-square-foot food emporium that features a little bit of everything for food and beverage enthusiasts.

Shop, Eat, Socialize

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By Jessica Lee January 2016

The popularity of the food emporium, a space that is part high-end retailer and part upscale dining, is rising across the country.

Tourists and locals alike flock to these hip gastronomic spots to shop for epicurean gadgets, grab a quick bite, and sit down to a gourmet meal.

At Chicago’s Eataly, patrons can explore an expansive 63,000-square-foot space outfitted with an Italian bakery, a gelato stand, a pizza and pasta restaurant, a microbrewery, and much more. Opened in December 2013, Eataly Chicago is the second domestic location of the Italian marketplace and one of 31 locations worldwide.

Those looking to dine in a more traditional setting make their way to Baffo, Eataly’s formal dining room. Located off of the market’s first floor, Baffo can be accessed from a separate street entrance or from within Eataly. As the sister restaurant to Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich’s New York City flagship Babbo, Baffo boasts high-end Italian cuisine with a modern twist.

Eataly Chicago general manager Jason Goldsmith describes Baffo as casually elegant.

“Eataly is for everybody,” Goldsmith says. “We don’t have a target audience, we don’t have a target shopper, and we don’t have a target diner. Food is something that should bring us together, not divide us, and Baffo is meant for all of us.”

The choice to place Baffo on the side of Eataly, and not within the sprawling marketplace, was a conscious one. Goldsmith notes that at Eataly’s New York City location, the fine-dining establishment is located right in the center of the store. This makes for a more chaotic dining experience that many patrons were not interested in.

“[Baffo] is really for people who like to have a more tranquil meal with a higher level of service than what’s expected in our marketplace,” Goldsmith says.

Even the décor of the 60-seat restaurant sets itself apart from the marketplace. Dark wood and dim lighting make for an intimate space with an ambiance that suggests a high-quality experience. The interior of the marketplace is much brighter with open spaces and light wood accents. Waiters within Eataly wear T-shirts and jeans, whereas in Baffo they don crisp white dress shirts and black pants.

“We wanted to make sure the visual queues were there so that when people enter Baffo, they understand they are entering a different area of the store,” Goldsmith says.

Check averages at Baffo fall in the $65 to $70 range per person. After examining credit card transactions, media communication, and interactions with guests, restaurant manager Kevin Gil has discovered a large percentage of Eataly patrons are tourists. These numbers vary with seasons and conventions, but Gil notes that the local Chicago clientele increases weekly.

Most guests of Baffo come in specifically because they have placed a reservation with the restaurant, but Gil encourages patrons to explore the marketplace once they have finished dining to get the full experience of Eataly.

Hours vary within the marketplace. From 8 to 10 a.m. patrons can roam the ground floor where coffee, freshly made pastries, and cold-pressed juices are served. Starting at 10 a.m., the second floor is opened to guests so they can shop the grocery store.

The restaurants on the second floor open at 11 a.m., though Goldsmith notes that Eataly doesn’t stress the restaurant hours too much, stating, “If the focaccia is ready, then we start selling focaccia—even if it’s before the time.”

Le District says ‘Bonjour’ to the Big Apple

New York City’s Le District opened in March and is inspired by French markets such as the famed La Grande Epicerie de Paris. The 30,000-square-foot space is divided into sections based on the type of product and features a café district, market district, garden district, and restaurant district.

Owned by HPH Hospitality, Le District flows linearly and is designed to emulate the streets of a bustling French village. The entire market is located within Brookfield Place, a large shopping center in Manhattan’s Financial District.

The flagship restaurant, Beaubourg Brasserie, offers casual and classic French fare. Designed by ICRAVE, the 200-seat restaurant is accessible through the market as well as an entrance on the pedestrian street outside. Beaubourg uses soft accent pieces such as a natural wood terrace, light gray upholstered chairs, and hanging stringed lights to create a relaxed atmosphere that is the exact opposite of the quick-paced marketplace just steps away. A recently expanded outdoor patio offers customers the chance to dine on freshly shucked oysters and sip chilled rosé from comfortable lounge seating—with an exceptional view of the waterfront.

“We wanted to expand the bar out into the patio and provide very different experiences for hanging out at the bar or inside having dinner,” says Mariela Alvarez, ICRAVE designer. “We wanted to keep [the restaurant] more casual, and we wanted to keep the patio brighter and more energetic.”

Laurent Vasseur, director of operations for HPH Hospitality, says there’s a mix of clientele at Beaubourg. Tourists tend to visit during lunch hours, enjoying long, leisurely meals. The local business crowd conducts quick meetings in the space, and the terrace serves as a low-key spot to enjoy drinks and food over longer, more relaxed respites.

“The community in lower Manhattan is growing and changing so much, and we have heard from locals that Le District offers exactly what they needed in this area: a place to shop, meet, eat, and explore,” Vasseur says.

He believes the ever-growing popularity of all-in-one marketplaces like Le District stems from the fact that customers once had to choose between quality and convenience.

There is a definite trend toward marketplaces and food halls becoming more popular in the U.S.,” Vasseur says. “Our customers tell us that they appreciate the convenience of the marketplace being a one-stop shop that offers gourmet, quality items you can’t find at a corner store. You can stop in for a quick cup of coffee on the way to work, grab a sandwich or salad on your lunch break, come for a full meal or glass of wine on the Terrace after work, bring home an entire meal for your family, and shop for everyday grocery staples or hard-to-find French delicacies all at the same place.”