Day One, Eataly
I had already read some cynical comments about this Italian market. Having been to the markets in Italy, I agree that there’s really nothing like walking through one. It’s a cultural experience as well as a food high. And I’m sure a lot of people shared my first thought–yet another place to buy bread and cheese in New York? But a food-minded friend had just returned from Eataly, and she told me that she loved it. “Don’t listen to that, just go,” she said. “You’ll see what I mean.”
And as we walked through the doors on Sunday night, I saw exactly what she meant. Eataly is a feast for the eyes, and if you love to cook—or your mind just tends to race with the possibilities at the sight of such beautiful food–you will truly believe that you’re in heaven. (Bring someone who also appreciates food, because you will want to walk around fondling the jars of sundried tomatoes and talking to yourself, and you don’t want to look like a crazy person.) Directly in front of us were baskets heaped with picturesque red grapes, and piles of tangerines. The lemons were so perfect I was tempted to touch them all, just to see if they were real. Against one wall was an array of exotic mushrooms, and tiny, precious baby artichokes. All of this, before I even reached the shelves of cured meat and buffalo mozzarella.
And as I wandered on through this food playground, without even trying, I found myself standing in front of a case of delicate, fruit laden, ornate looking pastries. I froze, paralyzed by indecision, and the familiar, irrational fear that I might never see pastries again. This was purchase number one, and I agonized over it while the man behind the counter laughed at me. Understandably, since I could have chosen a name my first child in less time. Fortunately, the options included a miniature Napoleon, and a baby apple tart.
This expansive Italian market and eatery, opened in August of 2010 by Oscar Farinetti, Lidia and Joe Bastianich, and Mario Batali, James Beard award-winning chef of Babbo and El Posto in New York, is a food geek’s dream. If you never tire of perusing exotic sauces, collecting jarred vegetables you may or may not ever use, exclaiming over aged vinegars, if you hate tearing yourself away from the shelves at the newest cheese or gourmet shop in town (even though your pantry is overstuffed with fig jam and flatbread crackers) you will enjoy Eataly. One thing that the proprietors did right, and perhaps the most important thing, is the attention to layout and visual presentation.
The selection of pastas and olive oils alone entertained me for more than half an hour. All told, I spent several hours there marveling, shopping, and eating in the pasta shop. We took home cheeses, prosciutto, pastries, and bread, and all were difficult to choose, in part due to the overwhelming selection, and in part due to the excitement of seeing so many rare opportunities to indulge all in one place.
I shouldn’t have been surprised by the quality of the choices, or by the spectacular food displays.
Recently El Posto has received excellent reviews, and it appears that Batali has hit his stride as a chef, and as an entrepreneur. Meanwhile, Eataly’s creator, Farinetti, who ran a retail electronics company UniEuro in Italy until 2003, had already opened Eataly’s predecessor–a similar market in Turin, Italy–in 2007.
And chef and cookbook author Bastianich, best known for her television series Lidia’s Italy, runs a dynasty of her own and has already partnered with husband Joe Bastianich in other successful ventures with Batali–fifteen restaurants, in fact.
Copyright © 2010 Sara Daly