By now, everything that possibly could have been written about the opening of and inaugural weeks of Eataly, the Batali-Bastianich Italian grocer-meets-cafe-meets-fine dining megaplex, has been written. And rightfully so – Eataly stands apart as an institution that offers something completely unique to New York food culture. While other shops might have equally authentic Italian food products, they lack Eataly’s combination of quality and variety; while in this city, pizza and pasta restaurants abound, few sell the freshest cheeses, double-zero flour to make the purest dough, and San Marzano tomatoes in the next aisle over from the brick oven where you can sample any slice of your choosing first.
Eataly is a wine bar, a gourmet cheese shop, a pizzeria, a fish market, a butcher (and vegetable butcher), a cafe, a farmer’s market, a gelato stand, a super market, your local gourmet grocery, a meeting place, and a trendy, iconic New York City event, all rolled up in to one. So while I could continue to write about Eataly, analyzing its virtues and shortcomings, saying things that many far better writers already have said, I will instead say this: Go to Eataly. Pop in, or stay for hours. Have a quick gelato or espresso, or linger for hours over Sauvignon, charcuterie, and taleggio. Make your own judgements. Whether you love it or hate it, I dare say you will be entertained, and leave feeling well-fed. And just to offer a small amuse-bouche, here’s a quick peak inside the cavernous depths of this trattoria, from my own recent adventure to Eataly.
Oh, and just for the record – I loved it On the other hand, my mom, who joined me, is still reveling in the memories of the actual country of Italy, and found this lookalike to be just not authentic enough. That being said, we both thought the food was delicious, the products were decidedly off the boat, and nearly everything was shocking in being either blatantly overpriced, or inexplicably (and unexpectedly) cheap. Like I said, it’s worth a trip.
Entering Eataly is like walking into a pristine farmer’s market, where all the vegetables have been hand-picked that day at the peak of ripeness, the eggplants have been polished to a shine by the farmers, and the avocados have the perfect amount of give under your finger tips. But, buyers beware. The prices absolutely reflect the quality of this produce. This would be the place to go if you’re looking for the right foundation for a very special home cooked meal.
Every kind of fruit imaginable is laid at your feet here. There are varieties of apples I have never heard of, fruits that look like plums with tiger stripes but go by inaudible names… Walking through these aisles is an education in itself.
Just inside Eataly’s doorway, past the first few stalls of the produce market, is the “Vegetable Butcher,” who will clean, peel, slice and dice any vegetables you pick up at Eataly free of charge. So save yourself hours of prep work in the kitchen tonight, and have this lovely lady create your mirepoix for you.
Bluefoot Mushrooms, at a mere $25.00 a pound. No big deal…
Just past the fruit and vegetable stands opens up a large square room full of high tables where cheerful folks are standing, gathered round long-stemmed glasses of red and white wines and block cutting boards laden with boratas, bries, goat cheeses, pecorinos, and everything in between. Smatterings of prosciutto and other cured meats can also be spotted disappearing quite quickly into hungry mouths. The cheese counter requires a patient mind, but if you’re up for it, some treasures of Italian dairy farmers can be you for a relatively reasonable chunk of change.
And here we learned the art of weighing, measuring, and cutting cheese. And of getting asphyxiated off of the delicious smells wafting over the counter toward us… Anyhow…
Not too far past the cheese shops was a rottisserie counter, where shanks of lamb and roast beef and whole chickens were spinning lazily through an oven, crisping away as their juices tempted eager passerby’s. This chef was throwing together a hearty roast beef sandwich, which we strongly considered before deeming it all together too heavy an appetizer to prelude the near to a pound of cheese and cured meats we had just purchased. Guess it runs in the family!
The fish at the fish counter hardly look real, they are so perfect. But they are in fact edible, and you can have one filleted to take home with you, or have one cleaned and thrown whole onto a grill right there before you, so you can eat it without delay. One of the flashier selling points, I’ll admit. But to see people dining on perfectly grilled, gourmet whole Arctic Char smothered in olive oil and rosemary amongst post-modern shopping carts and crusty loaves of bread was senselessly charming in once again, an inexplicable manner.
There’s no pride like that of a butcher, and this one is throwing down the gauntlet.
Every cut of meat is perfect. Sure, you can get pork chops at Gristede’s, but they won’t be perfect pork chops. If Batali’s relentless optimism could be personified in one food-based form, this would be it.
And then there were the aisles and aisles of pasta, in every size, shape, and flour-type you could imagine. There were dried pastas, fresh pastas, filled pastas, noodles two feet long, and endless varieties of what appeared at first glance to be the same item, but had small, apparently crucial differences upon further examination.
I was pleased to see that the most popular brand at Eataly, Afeltra, which is depicted below, is the very same that my parents brought back from Italy earlier this summer because it is “what real Italians eat.” Another tally in the authenticity column!
And of course, behind any good pasta is one fine tomato. Or in Eataly’s case, several corridors full.
And then the bread. There’s nothing much but love here, with endless loaves of freshly baked carbs rising up in front of you. There’s a fig bread that tastes like dessert, and an olive bread that begs to be smothered in a soft, creamy, salty cheese. There are solid loaves of whole wheat bread that need a sharp rap with one knuckle to determine their viability for sale. There is a small square of bread that cuts out the middle man, and is made with olive oil baked right into the dough. A bread after my own heart. The best part is, the bread men will let you taste and sample each and every one of the different types of loaves before making a decision. Trust me, it can take a while.
Oh, and there’s focaccia. Obviously there’s a TON of pizza too, but you’ll forgive me for glazing over that area a bit considering the pizza-centric focus this blog has taken of late. We’re all a bit pizza-ed out. Consider this my cheese-and-bread olive branch.
Finally, what sets Eataly apart from typical Italian supermarkets, like Agata & Valentino for example, is that each section of the store integrates a cafe where patrons can stop and have a sit down meal. This begins, to some extent, with the wine and cheese tasting area, and evolves as you snake your way through Eataly. Mom and I were anxious not to commit to a particular cafe until we had seen all the options; as such, we wound up making camp at the last stop before the check-out, which happened to be “Vegetables” as it was simply named, or the “backroom” of the vegetable butcher’s station.
We took our seats at the bar, ordered two glasses of a delicious white wine, which I did not catch the name of, and wound up being a bit inflated at $14 a glass. I mean, you are essentially dining in a glorified supermarket, after all.
That being said, the food was absolutely perfect – the flavors were fresh, the vegetables were (obviously) at their utmost peak, and the execution was fairly flawless. But that may have just been the two hungry hours we spent wandering through a food-paradise catching up with us. Crusty bread wrapped in brown paper served with fragrant extra virgin olive oil was the only acceptable starter. And yes, those are bread crumbs in that oil.
We had the Insalata Del Giorno – the salad of the day – which was made of spicy arugula and candy cane beats in a light, lemony vinaigrette. The beats were like a cross between a ripe tomato and pickled carrot – tangy but soft and sweet, a surprisingly delicious.
Finally, we had an exceptional vegetarian lasagna. A lasagna that lacks meat usually doesn’t do it for me, but this one was light and almost sweet, filled with basil and slivered blanched green beans, and tons of fresh ricotta cheese, sprinkled with toasted pine nuts. It was pretty apparent that we were in the presence of the freshest made lasagna noodles known to man, making a delightful tower that we quickly gobbled down.
All in all, Eataly completely lived up to my (rather high) expectations. I was impressed with the selection, the ambiance, the quality and execution of the hot food, and found the prices to be on par with most of those in New York City. It’s a worthwhile place to stop in for some quick fresh produce, or to spend a lazy afternoon browsing, or even to grab some wine and cheese while catching up with friends or on a date. But I’m interested to hear what everyone else thinks of this spot – so check it out and then post a comment and let me know what you think! Does Eataly live up to the hype?