9.29.10 Mamma Mia!
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...
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.