Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Trip to Eataly

It was a cold Sunday afternoon in New York and we wanted to warm up with a proper Italian coffee, so we went to Eataly, the new mega-market with the best of all things Italian that opened August 31. More than two months later the place still had that new-store buzz.

The Lavazza café by the front door off Fifth Avenue was mobbed with tourists and locals. In a line that stretched into the pathway of customers wanting to go deep into the cavernous 50,000-sf space, a man in front of me was being photographed with different people. When it was his turn he was still involved with these pictures. The cashier finally asked for my order when he shouted for his drink. It was “The Fonz,” Henry Winkler.

"The Fonz" mingles with fans while waiting for coffee.

Waiting in another line for our drinks to be prepared, a tall stylish Italian woman with long blonde hair and plump red lips approached Winkler. Unable to speak English, she could only say the word “photo.” He obliged and when finished she smiled and struggling to speak as if both star struck and fumbling for the right words in English, she could only say, “Bravo, bravo.” Winkler took his drink to go.

Piemonte on left with espresso crema

Maria and I both wanted a bicerin (pronounced beet-chureen), a hot chocolate, espresso and cream foam drink. They were sold out so the cashier suggested a piemonte, a long espresso drink with cocoa and topped with whipped cream and dark chocolate flakes. Maria ordered an Espresso Crema espresso topped with frothed skim milk and in her case, sweetened with Italian orange syrup. You can rarely go wrong on a cold day with drink of coffee, chocolate and cream. But when using the best ingredients and having it prepared by skilled baristas, even when overwhelmed with customers, what you get are crafted drinks with balanced and rich flavor.

Waiting in line for gelato.

After our coffee we went inside the massive market. It was maddening and awe inspiring. There are areas for packaged goods, such as marmalades and panettone (the wonderful Italian sweet bread). There’s a gelateria, a Venchi chocolate counter, a second branded coffee stand selling espressos and coffee to go (Caffe Vergnano). And we’re still in the front room (opening picture).

The Rotisserie area

Further inside, the center of market, are the restaurants and fresh food stands. There are separate stands for fish, meat, poultry, fresh pasta, vegetables, along with corresponding restaurants. You can literally have a full-course Italian meal by going from one specialty restaurant to the next. But you would have to wait in line for each and every restaurant and spend a fortune. There are standing areas for drinks and Italian cheeses and salumi.

Inside the fresh pasta counter there are trays of fresh white and black truffles casually resting as if it’s just another tray of macaroni, with the addition of three-figure price tags. You can request truffles in the restaurants as well. I seriously doubt there is another retail outlet of any kind in the U.S. that has as many truffles on hand.

Past the fresh food and restaurants is the market, where you can do your grocery shopping. If you find that cutting your own vegetables can be difficult and time consuming task, just take them to the “vegetable butcher,” who will cut and prepare them for you. Fine Italian wine and crafted beer is available. Nearby are an Alessi cookware stand and places to buy Italian tableware.

Shelves of dried pasta.

In short you can buy all the fresh, prepared or packaged food you need to stock your fridge and pantry; have it prepared by staff members, or not; buy the cookware to prepare what you buy; and the tableware to serve what you bought and made; all under one roof. The added benefit is that all of the products are the best of what Italy and America has to offer.

The pasta restaurant

If you become overwhelmed with emotion from all of the fantastic food and you feel that you have to go to the source immediately, there’s a travel agent on site who will book your flight to Italy.

Eataly is the result of a partnership of Lidia Batianich, Mario Batali, and Lidia's son, Joseph Bastianich. These are chefs and restaurateurs who have combined celebrity with the chops to back up their public accolades. Another partner is the founder of the Eataly food concept, Oscar Farinetti. He wanted to create a food market based on quality local ingredients, a commitment to the slow food movement and value. He opened his first store in Milan. There are now five Eataly stores in Italy and three in Japan. The store in New York is the first in the U.S.


For a place with such high-end products from Italy and the U.S. and with what must be astronomical rents, there is value. For example the coffee drinks at the Lavazza Café run from $2 to $4.50, extremely competitive with other high-end coffee establishments who often do not have professional baristas and the same quality ingredients. The fresh pasta, the best looking and most diverse offering I’ve ever seen, is also competitively priced. At the other end of the spectrum, the $25 panettone is well overpriced.

We returned to Eataly Thursday evening to get a quick pasta fix before attending an event. Even though it was only 5:30 p.m., the pasta restaurant was full along with several of the other eateries. We chose the only place that had availability at the bar, Manzo, the Italian steakhouse, the most elaborate restaurant. Fortunately, it had pasta and some exceptional wine by the glass.

The seafood restaurant

For my pappardelle with sausage and radicchio trevisano, I had a robust Barbaresco. Maria chose a Rosato Refosco—a young, fruity wine from the Bastianich winery in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of Italy—with her Tajarin Al Sugo D' Arrosto, thin pasta with a veal roast pan sauce. It’s one of those wonderful simple, regional Italian dishes that had me asking, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

Alessi cookware

Afterward, we went to the Lavazza Café for the bicerin. It’s a layered drink with hot cocoa on the bottom, espresso and cold cream on top. The barista explained that the proper way to drink it is to try to get a taste of all three layers without mixing it. Not an easy task but well worth the effort. Hot and cold, sweet and savory a really great way to end a nice, light meal and head into the night.

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