Eataly opened up last year in Manhattan to great fanfare but not terribly sympathetic reviews. This immense food hall specializing in Italian food reminds one of the food halls of Harrod’s. Located on 23rd street between 5th and 6th Avenue, Eataly has had a positive impact on the surrounding Flatiron neighborhood which has suffered a bit in recent years. Eataly is the brain child Oscar Farinetti, Lidia and Joe Bastianich and the irrepressible Mario “Crocs” Batali.
Last Thursday, Thérèse and I visited Eataly for the first time to form our own opinion. The verdict: We loved it! For hardened New Yorkers who haunt Little Italy or Arthur Avenue (“Little Italy in the Bronx”), we share your concerns that the ambience of Etaly is not that of an Italian trattoria or vintage salumeria. Furthermore, the mozzarella di bufala that we recently purchased on Arthur Avenue was vastly superior to Eataly’s offering. Ditto for the Parma ham and the salumi al Finocchio.
With this introduction, you are probably scratching your head and wondering why we “loved” Eataly. The answer is quite simple: It’s all there! While Eataly may not provide the best mozzarella this side of the Atlantic, it makes up for it in reach. Eataly covers every region and has a comprehensive offering of fresh made pasta, cheese, salami and cured meats, fish, olive oils and fresh vegetables that simply dazzle. Furthermore, it is far more than a grocery store. You can sit down, grab a glass of wine or a Birra Peroni and have a nice snack of bread, salami and artisan cheeses. In fact, many young people were doing just that and I was pleasantly reassured to learn that not everyone had become a vegan.
Thérèse and I shared a lovely porchetta sandwich and then, feeling guilty, decided to go vegetarian. We followed our sandwich with a bruschetta covered with a pea and garlic spread and topped with fresh peas and mint. You literally had to spoon the peas off the bread unless you felt more comfortable eating them off your lap. We were then served a delightful plate of fresh grilled vegetables with a warm faro salad, endives, radicchio and a nebbiolo vinagrette. Simply an elegant flavor profile that even made me reconsider my “red meat” status.
What sealed the deal was a most pleasant conversation with an Italian from the “old country.” His English was no better than our bumbling Italian, but he smiled deeply when Thérèse said that he must feel terribly proud to see Italian food so well represented in the middle of Manhattan. Indeed, he should be!
As we were leaving, we picked up a batch for fresh puntarelle (almost impossible to find) and the equally difficult guanciale (pork jowl). More on that later. All-in-all a great day at this inspirational food Mecca.