Wednesday, September 26, 2012

My Visit to Eataly.

Eataly.  The beast that is Eataly.  Located in the heart of New York City on 5th Avenue, this grand indoor mega-market focusing primarily on Italian goods blew my foodie mind.  I had been told by several others in our party that I "MUST visit Eataly."  I was already in-the-know so to speak, having read about it on many different accounts through my food connections.  I was not, however, prepared for it in reality.  How does one describe walking into this culinary slice of heaven?

"Eataly, the largest artisanal Italian food and wine marketplace in the world, is finally here in New York. Two years after Oscar Farinetti opened his groundbreaking food and wine market in Turin, Italy, he has teamed up with Mario Batali, Joe Bastianich, and Lidia Matticchio Bastianich of Batali-Bastianich (B&B) Hospitality Group to transform a 50,000 square - foot space in the Flatiron District into New York City’s premier culinary mecca."

"The marketplace located at 200 Fifth Avenue (the former Toy Building) is the city's ultimate destination for food lovers to shop and taste and savor – an extravaganza includes a premier retail center for Italian delicacies and wine, a culinary educational center, and a diverse slate of boutique eateries. This gourmand's delight features cured meats and cheeses, fruits and vegetables, fresh meats, fresh fish, handmade pasta, desserts and baked goods and coffees."

That would be putting it lightly...

You see, from the outside, Eataly bears very few markings- only a large, simple sign draped in the massive entry window.  If you weren't paying attention, or knew what you were looking for, you very well may pass it by.  The building resembles most of the Flatiron District's buildings, made of stone and enormous, planted on the corner of 5th and 23rd next to Madison Square Park.  Outside, in the divide between the streets sit colorful, blooming Marimekko unbrellas shading calm lunch breaks and wandering tourists like myself.  Once you enter the building, it's a whole different story.

My biggest problem as I walked around Eataly was getting the chance to take proper photographs.  There are so many people and so many things to look at, it's virtually impossible to get a clean shot from a distance.  Just when you think, "ah, perfecto, I can snap a pic of the- whoops, here comes 30 more people spilling into the frame."  I can't blame them, in fact, I was one of them numerous times over, with cameras flashing left and right.  At times I felt like hollering, "everyone MOVE so I can take a cool picture of the cheese!"  Of course I didn't.  I moved with the waves of people throughout the different enclaves, breathing in the fresh pasta, meats, vegetables and herbs with glee. 

Let's straighten some things out here.  Eataly is loosely separated into sections that are all specifically devoted to their own product.  There are "market" areas and "eating" areas-- in other words, you can shop for groceries or you can grab a bite at one of their many food counters.  Here's a map:

Yes, I agree, it does look like a city.  So, contained inside these "city" walls are twenty (yes, 20!)  different individual markets, divided into these categories:

Books & Housewares



Coffee & Tea

Dairy & Granola

Dolci & Chocolate

Dry Pasta & Rice

Fresh Pasta



Olive Oil

Preserves & Honey



Sauces & Condiments


Needless to say, it's a food-lovers paradise.  I found myself spending a half an hour just examining the olive oils, and the dried pasta is endless.  There were so many items I'd never seen before, it made me feel a little overwhelmed (in a good way).  The only downer of visiting a place like Eataly while on vacation is that it's hard to take advantage of all the fresh foods.  I was in a panic, scrambling to come up with a reason to throw myself a picnic or a party that evening, just so I could buy fresh squishy cheese, prosciutto, chanterelle mushrooms and ricotta ravioli.  Alas, I had to refrain and kept to my "just-looking-but-dying-inside-a-little" plan.
On top of these wonderful markets, Eataly has thirteen (13!) restaurants.  All of the restaurants cook using the highest quality product that is sold, that's right... in store.  You can literally bounce from one restaurant to another easily, covering as many as you like in a day or you can just swing by a single counter for lunch and a glass of wine if you choose.  Check out your options:
Pranzo-  Lunch, a light midday meal between breakfast and dinner; luncheon.  Classic dishes celebrating a different region of Italy each month.
Manzo-  A more formal dining experience "that celebrates meat from the United States. Manzo offers both modern Italian preparations as well as traditional Piedmontese beef dishes."   The Chef also specializes in snout-to-tail meat specialties, a rare and unexpected treat.
La Piazza-  An enoteca in the heart of Eataly with marble countered bars and standing tables.  Cheese, oysters, wine, charcuterie plates and other small bites abound.  Take a peek into the world of the food artisans as they work, sample aperitifs, enjoy slices of Parmesan and enjoy a glass of bubbly.  Good for the casual nibbler.  
Il Pesce-  Indulge in a daily selection of oysters, as well as unbelievably fresh crudo offerings often seasoned with no more than Extra Virgin Olive Oil and sea salt.  The freshest of fish is served with a huge helping of mouth-watering WOW. 
Le Verdure-  Fresh, local produce dishes served with Italian rice and/or grains with a great view of the produce market itself.  The food is wholesome, filling and non-fussy.
La Pizza & La Pasta-  Pretty self explanatory.  Pizza and pasta using the most amazingly fresh ingredients- the lines are longest here throughout the day for good reason.  Yum!
Birreria-  I was awestruck when I saw this place for the first time.  An unbelievable rooftop restaurant and brewery that serves hearty fare (think sausages & kraut) in a convivial, comfy environment.  This place is open (and busy!) year round, thanks to a retractable ceiling.
Rosticceria-  Farm-raised roasted meat sandwiches.  Enough said.  Okay,  there is also a selection of savory antipasti to complement your meal.  You can even take chunks of their delicious poultry, pork and beef home a la carte if you choose.  A very popular lunch stop.
I Panini-  Some of the best panini sandwiches around.  The ingredients on these sandwiches are so fresh and so tasty, they don't even bother using condiments.  To make them even more irresistible, the bread loaves are carted down from Eataly's bakery just a few stalls down.  These bites put the plain old deli sandwich to shame.
Pasticceria-  Spoon desserts, pastries and cakes that are good for you.  These morsels are made with less butter, unrefined sugar and rice flour to improve their quality and taste, without sacrificing their flavor or traditional Italian flair.
Gelateria-  Gelato!  Organic, local ingredients that literally melt in your mouth.  Try the coffee, hazelnut or pistachio variety- take a pint home to share with loved ones, or keep it all to yourself.
Caffe Lavazza-  One stop coffee shop.  Their specialty: hot chocolate, a shot of espresso and a cool layer of cream.  So good.  Providing New Yorker's with their daily fix.
Caffe Vergnano-   "Vergnano began as a small grocer’s shop in Chieri, a small town at the foothills of Turin. Founded in 1882 by Domenico Vergnano, it is still run by the Vergnano family. Its coffee bar at Eataly honors Italian caffe culture with a stand up marble counter where you can enjoy an espresso and cornetto while chatting with the barista. It sources beans from the best, including Jamaican Blue Mountain and Hue Hue Caffe in the highlands of Guatemala. 50% of Hue Hue’s profits go back to the Guatemalan farmers and prisoners in Torino roast the beans as part of a social rehabilitation program."
If that wasn't enough for you, Eataly also has it's own cooking school, La Scuola di Eataly.  Offering a range of handcrafted seasonal and traditional cooking classes geared toward the food and wine lover, there are numerous course available year round for the homespun chef.  The day I visited, class was in session, so I poked my head in and observed a very astute group of individuals enjoying a glass of wine as the instructor chopped, sliced and diced her way through a recipe that they would soon all be attempting.  I couldn't help but feel a little envious.  The classroom resembles an at-home kitchen, with a warm, inviting atmosphere and ample space for experimentation.  I wanted to enroll right then and there.
I have to admit-- I did not want to leave this culinary circus.  In fact, I spent three hours just wandering the aisles, examining shelves, sampling foods, taking photos and talking to visitors.  I can only hope that I will visit again one day, hopefully with the hubbs in tow.  I was so sad that he wasn't able to be with me this time, although I'm sure we would've spent far more money and several more hours enjoying la dolce vita if we were both present.  I can't wait to take him back soon.
Eataly was nothing short of an "experience" for me.  As strange or amateur as that may sound, it is a true statement.  I've never been to Italy and even though I do plan on going in the future, this was by far the closest I have felt to it.  I've never seen such a well thought out marketplace filled with stunning produce, meats, pastas and various other accompaniments.  The staff is remarkably educated and informed on their particular expertise, bringing an authentic, real feeling to the entire place.  With it's sheer size and monstrously accessible food options, Eataly is sure to stand strong for years to come.  I highly suggest you buy yourself a plane ticket, bring a shopping bag, an empty stomach and whole lot of cash.  You're gonna eat your little heart out.   

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