9.29.10 Mamma Mia!

Meat court 790 xxx
photos by george billard
I've now made two trips to Eataly, New York City's new temple of Italian gastronomy, and although I haven't actually eaten anything on premises, I'm able to give you my initial impressions. On my first visit, shortly after it opened in late August, I muscled my way through the throngs of gaping tourists and irritated locals in what looked a lot like an Italian airport, barely able to check it all out before fleeing to the relative calm of 23rd Street. Porca miseria, I texted G. What a mob scene! And for what? A small, bedraggled-looking produce section (and alleged "produce butcher" Jennifer Rubell nowhere in sight); aisle after aisle of dried pasta; very pricey imported salume (culatello for $65 a pound!); walls cluttered with the kind of boxed biscotti and candies you find at most corner delis...well, you can see I was underwhelmed. (And the thought of the carbon footprint on much of this stuff gives me pause.) Still, I did get a glimpse of what looked like a very impressive selection of fresh pasta. Pat La Frieda's meats caught my eye, as did whole fresh duck, sweetbreads and tripe—not a common sight in most butcher shops. And the seafood counter, curated by the master David Pasternak, was flawless. La Verdura, a counter serving vegetable-based dishes and the only menu I eyeballed, seemed very promising. Now if all those people would just fuck off...
Salumeria 790 xxx
the salumeria
My second visit, on a Sunday at 11am, proved more successful. The restaurants weren't yet open and there were no crowds to speak of. The place is 50,000 square feet, with a 300-seat, 6,000 sq ft partially enclosed rooftop beer garden on the 15th floor slated to open in November. There's a cooking school ("La Scuola") under the tutelage of Dean Lidia Bastianich, who, along with her son Joe and cohort Mario Batali, has lent her name, reputation and occasional presence to this ginormous, Italian-underwritten venture. Here's what all is going on there: a Lavazza coffee shop; a gelateria; a paninoteca poised to grill and press huge quantities; two wood-fired pizza ovens imported from Italy; a fresh pasta counter with two dozen varieties on offer; an Italian bank ATM (WTF?); a bakery (overseen by Nancy Silverton of La Brea Bakery); a butcher; fishmonger; locally-sourced produce; canned tomatoes, tomato sauces, olive oils, vinegars, jams, honey, and too much dried pasta and risotto rice; a planned microbrewery, headed by Teo Musso of Birrificio Le Baladin, Leonardo Di Vincenzo of Birra del Borgo in Rome, and Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head Brewery, including "guest brewers every month that come from Italy to brew regionally- and seasonally-specific beers"; and restaurants, including Pizzeria Rossopomodoro fronted by two guys from Naples; Il Crudo; Salumi e Formaggi; La Pasta; La Verdura, the vegetable bar/restaurant; Il Pesce, run by David Pasternack (genius); Il Manzo, a white-tablecloth Italian steakhouse with 80 seats, headed by Michael Toscano, formerly of Babbo. Plus other food stands: Paninoteca, Pasticceria (pastries and desserts), Rosticceria (roast meats) and Il Laboratoria De La Mozzarella. AND, Italian housewares, a book shop (inconsequential) and a separate wine shop. In a word, BASTA! A lot of it looks and smells amazing. I came away with delicious pistachio-studded mortadella; local stone-ground polenta; some soda water flavored with lemons from Amalfi; and a stinky piece of Castelmagno cheese that virtually cries out for a Super Tuscan. I'll be returning for a visit to the vegetable restaurant, a closer inspection of the bakery and, perhaps, a whole octopus, G's favorite. Below, a selection of his photos, taken as I was waiting my turn at the salumeria.
Making mozzarella 790 xxx
of course there's fresh mozzarella, but also fresh burrata flown in from Italy
Cheese 790 xxx
who could resist this Castelmagno?
Dessert court 790 xxx
the place has bad flow but there are lots of little seating areas
Dessert 790 xxx
tiramisu, naturally
Pasta 790 xxx
the fresh pasta is truly unprecedented
Bread 790 xxx
la brea bakery in los angeles is one of my favorite places on earth so I will try this one
Fish 790 xxx
if you've ever been to Esca, you know that David Pasternak rules the waves
Meat 790 xxx
note the tripe at the back


You are having much too much fun. Stay thin. With abrazotes fuertes from both of us.
JOE G. on September 29, 2010 at 3:42 pm —
I go to Eataly as often as I can. After living in and eating my way through Italy, this is a dream come true! I'm addicted to the focaccia with fresh tomatoes and mozzarella--in fact, I think I will go for a piece right now. Buon Appetito!!
Deborah Batcha on September 30, 2010 at 11:39 am —
Deb, I can understand being such an ardent fan. Yesterday, I had tiny scoop of fior di latte gelato there and was transported back to Rome, circa 1982.
laura on September 30, 2010 at 11:50 am —
Ate at Manza the other night and got agnelloti del plin stuffed with chicken and turkey, then glazed with brown butter. Really delicious. Also, Stan likes the veal agnoletti and the butternut ravioli. My chef instructor says he thinks the whole place'll be gone in 2 years.
Lisa on September 30, 2010 at 4:34 pm —
What's the difference between agnolotti and agnoletti? Ask your chef instructor...
laura on September 30, 2010 at 7:06 pm —
Agnoletti is a typo. Agnolotti is not : )
Lisa on October 2, 2010 at 2:44 pm —
Okay, I haven't been and am therefore reluctant to post a comment (who do I think I am, really?), but "Basta!" pretty much summed it up for me on many levels. This seems like that type of amusement park atmosphere that belongs in Vegas. or my worst nightmare. I agree, a large variety of quality fresh pasta is hard to find in the States, but, personally, I'd never be willing to push through throngs of tourists to get to it. Not to mention, I'd have a hard time giving my dollar to the Batali empire when there are some seriously hard-working Italian-Americans (a short subway ride away) in the Bronx who have been producing authentic products for some time now. Maybe I've spoken too soon or without enough information (this is the third article I've read on the place). And maybe, on my next trip to NYC this October, I'll stop by, peak in and fuel my shoulder shoving and eye rolling with a tasty gianduja gelato. :)
Michelle on October 3, 2010 at 9:43 am —
Yes, you're right, and another visit to Eataly yesterday only confirms this. There were hordes of people causing bottlenecks! And it took me way too long to find something as basic as tinned anchovies. And yet: I ate scrumptious spicy chickpea bruschetta and jerusalem artichoke carpaccio with almond gremolata; I came away with a little bag of sea salt infused with orange rind and lavender, a hauntingly delicious aged pecorino and more of that delectable mortadella studded with pistachios; and the nice fishmonger from Dean & Deluca has shown up behind the counter there. Still, I think it makes more sense to seek out smaller, more local purveyors. It's not as though Eataly really needs my business...
laura on October 3, 2010 at 10:17 am —