This past Tuesday, August 31 was the opening of the 50,000 square foot Eataly in NYC. Eataly is a dream come true for all us Italians, Italian-Americans and Italophiles. Eataly is a mega Italian market where you can shop for imported and domestic items with an Italian bent and dine at numerous restaurants. The concept behind it was created in Italy by Oscar Farinetti. The first Eataly opened in Turin (Torino) in 2007. Since then, Eatalys have opened throughout northern Italy, as well as one in Japan. The Eataly in NYC is backed by Oscar Farinetti, but also by the 1st family of Italian food in America, The Bastianichs (Lidia and Joe) and the one and only Molto Mario Batali.
I have heard so much about the opening that my friend Giorgio Klinar of Sotto Zero Gelateria and myself decided to wait in line to be one of the first people to enter Eataly. The doors were scheduled to open at precisely 4:00 P.M. Our trip into Manhattan was smooth. We parked in a parking garage and walked one block north to the corner of 23rd Street and 5th Avenue with 30 minutes to spare before the 4:00 P.M. opening. Eataly is located in the Toy Building in the Flatiron neighborhood. It is actually situated diagonally across from the often photographed Flatiron Building. Upon walking up to Eataly, we noticed that there was a line, but it was only about 30 people long. We found our way to the back and began our wait. As we waited, the line got longer and longer, until it started wrapping around the block onto 24th Street. In the meantime, a flock on press swooped down on the line and began snapping photos, taking video and asking questions.
At 4:00 P.M. on the dot the doors were flung open and the masses started to pour into Eataly. The entrance we went through was by the Lavazza Café. There were so many people milling about and oohing and ahhing. The space is really quite nice. We made our way down the corridor that led to the main open area of Eataly. As we walked we passed shelves upon shelves of Italian goodies. We also passed a gelateria on our left, an area on the right making espresso with Caffé Vergnano 1882’s coffee beans (I preferred this espresso over the one served at the Lavazza Café); there were also dessert counters and a panini station. I was also pleased to find a rosticceria, which was serving up rotisserie chickens. According to the cook manning the counter, porchetta will be featured there on the weekends.
This corridor took us to La Piazza which is the area where you can sample a variety of foods depending on your taste. There are high tables that you can stand at and order from a few of the “restaurants” in this area. I use the term restaurant very loosely. These “restaurants” are more reminiscent of a mall food court, albeit an awesome mall food court. You can also purchase fresh hand stretched (before your eyes) mozzarella, as well as, a diverse selection of salumi and cold cuts. Hanging out in La Piazza was my culinary hero and one of the reasons I am the foodie I am today, Molto Mario Batali. We approached Mario and struck up a conversation about how awesome Eataly was. He was a real gentleman. He posed for pictures with Giorgio and me.
We parted ways with Mario and continued our discovery of Eataly. We checked out the vegetable section. The amount and diversity of products was astounding. Next to the vegetable section is a “restaurant” that focuses exclusively on the preparation of vegetables. From there we moved on toward the back of Eataly, where we found the bakery. The breads all looked marvelous and so fresh. Inside a glass enclosed area, there was the brick oven that made all these wonderful breads. Next to the bakery was the Rossopomodoro pizzeria serving up la vera pizza napoletana. There were two beautiful brick ovens that were spewing forth gorgeous looking pies. Next to the pizzeria was the pasta “restaurant”. This section of Eataly is where you can find all types of olive oils and dried pastas.
Next up was the macelleria or butcher shop. I perused the meat case and was in awe at all of the beautiful looking meats. Directly behind the butcher shop is Manzo Ristorante (no relation to the Manzos from The Real Housewives of New Jersey). Manzo means beef and that is what the restaurant does best. It is a restaurant dedicated to beef. This is the only restaurant that is semi enclosed. It has white tablecloths and all the accoutrements of fine dining. It is the only “restaurant” that will eventually take reservations.
Across from Manzo is the fish section. Here you can purchase the daily catches or you can stop at the fish “restaurant” for a plate of fritto misto. This restaurant is run by David Pasternack of Esca (another one of Batali and Bastianich’s restaurants).
We worked up a bit of an appetite exploring Eataly. We had dinner plans that evening at Cesare Casella’s Salumeria Rosi, so we just wanted a little snack to hold us over. We decided to head back over to La Piazza. We moseyed up to the Salumi e Formaggi counter. We were greeted by a nice gentleman by the name of Georgi, who is one of the managers. He gave a menu and we chose the mixed salumi and cheese platter. We also ordered two glasses of wine a barbera (full bodied with a nice long finish) and a dolcetto (a bit bubbly and medium bodied with a short finish).
We watched as our platter was assembled before us. In a matter of minutes, it was presented before us. In addition to the platter, we were also given two slices of house baked bread and three plates. The plates contained candied citron, which was sweet and spicy; a honey that was sweet and nutty; and a mostarda of figs, again playing on the sweet and spicy. These plates were great accompaniments to the salumi and cheeses on the platter.
The salumi on the platter were Speck Alto-Adige, Prosciutto di Parma, Prosciutto San Daniele, Prosciutto Cotto (cooked ham) and sweet and hot Soppresata. The formaggi were Caciotta, Rochetta, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Taleggio and Gorgonzola. The meats and cheeses were all so good. My favorite salume was the Speck. It was smoky and salty and, of course, my favorite thing, it was porky. My favorite formaggio was the Rochetta. It was creamy and milky. The flavor was not too strong it was a perfect partner to most of the meats.
As we were eating, we had the opportunity to meet with Joe Bastianich, as well as Oscar Farinetti. They were both friendly and warm.
Upon finishing our platter, we settled our tab and did one more lap around Eataly before heading for a shot of espresso or should I say two shot each of espresso. We wanted to try out both of the brands that were available. We first stopped by Caffé Vergnano. The espresso was perfection. The crema on the top was thick and rich. The espresso was served with a small ginger cookie and a shot glass of water, very reminiscent of the bars I frequented in Italy (Note: bars in Italy are a bit different than what we are used to here in the States. Some bars there do serve alcohol, but these are not wild and crazy places.)
We then moved onto the Lavazza café, where we ordered two more shots of espresso. This espresso was not as good as Caffé Vergnano’s. The crema was dull. This espresso was served with a small piece of chocolate and a shot glass of water. My hands down favorite coffee at Eataly was Caffé Vergnano.
Before we left, we saw Lidia Bastianich sitting on a stool greeting guests as they were entering Eataly. We approached Lidia to give our compliments. She was so sweet and open. We then took our leave of Eataly.
When we exited, there was a long line to get inside. Eataly lives up to its name and then some. It was truly a culinary experience. It feels as if Manhattan has a “real” Little Italy again. You know, it’s funny, but Italian was the predominant language I heard throughout our visit. For all you Italians, Italian-Americans and Italophiles, go to NYC and discover Eataly for yourself. It’s a slice of Italy without the airfare, time change and suitcases! Enjoy!
Living to eat,