September 25, 2010

Discovery of the Week: Eataly

I finally did it! I made the trek down to the FlatIron (23rd and Fifth Avenue) and discovered Eataly. Just a few short weeks after its official debut in NYC, the Italian oasis was still packed (even at the point when I left just before 10pm). And it was with good reason...

This new hot spot is a delightful dose of Italy meets Chelsea Market, complete with combination of niche stands sectioned off in a giant, open marketplace format that without enclosing, makes you feel as if you may actually be roaming the streets of Siena. A fish monger, churrascaria, espresso bar, gelateria, panini stand, formaggerie, fresh vegetable carts, pasta and EVOO galore -- it was a piece of heaven for this lil' Guidette itching to get back to the motherland. I felt like I needed a passport just to be there.

After dining, I dropped about $60 on nothing, but solely because I was enraptured in the culture. It was as if I had been transformed back to my days abroad. If I saw something I recognized, I bought it... and I didn't care the price. Clearly that translates back to, "Ooh - a $20 infused black pepper olive oil, that sounds delightful, I'll take it." And, "Yum, a $10 dark Domori chocolate bar. SOLD"! :-)

But don't let that sway you the wrong way. Prices were actually comparable to the likes of specialty retailers, like Whole Foods. Its just here, you're just getting a more specialized selection of foods. And considering the Batali and Bastianich names behind Eataly, it could have been far worse.

Now before I went shopping, I had the privilege of dining at one of Eataly's
three on-site restaurants, Manzo Ristorante. The most upscale restaurant in the megastore, Manzo is the place you go to splurge. A beef tasting menu starts at $75 per person (sans wine) and includes classic cuts of steak, as well as those items that likely taste good so long as you have no idea what they are - grilled beef heart, calf's brain, oxtail ragu, etc. But if you're feeling creative, you can create a tasting menu personalized to your own liking, like I did! From grilled shrimp atop a bed of capers and broccoli rabe, to maltagliati bolognese, to a flat iron steak... everything was tasty. My only setbacks:
  • the wait to get seated, though its important to keep in mind that this place is still relatively new. If and when the excitement dies down, you'll be less likely to have to wait 45 minutes for a table. However, if you're lucky, you can score immediate seats at the bar!
  • the time it took too eat. I couldn't decide if they are attempting to emulate true Italian service and offer the meal at a slower pace, or if they are still working out the kinks and just slow.
  • the cost. While I love a good splurge, I personally want a legitimate atmosphere to go alongside it. I think the hustle and bustle of the marketplace around Manzo may make it lose its luster. Why go to a fancy restaurant where you're surrounded by distractions when you can go someplace a little more intimate and truly enjoy the entire experience?
But its not just Manzo! Eataly also offers two additional restaurant - one for pescatore and the other for, none other than, PASTA!

Perhaps the most enticing part of Eataly though? The Piazza! Complete with high boy community tables, the Piazza was filled with young professionals lounging with free-flowing Italian wines and antipasta plates. Definitely a great spot for happy hour, or even a first date. I can't wait to get the #WineDown crew there to try it out. Expect an "eventual" review to come on that front!

Nutshell... Italy is Eataly!! Salute!