Pastries at Eataly; a map shows the region where each originatesFor the past few weeks all the talk among New York foodies has been about the new Italian food emporium, Eataly. The original Eataly is a giant complex outside Turin where just about every artisan Italian food can be found all under one roof. Celebrity chef Mario Batali made it his mission to bring Eataly here to America's shores, and it finally made its big, splashy debut last week.
Eataly. Eataly. EATALY!!! Have you been? What did you think? What did you buy? Isn't it marvelous? I could die of joy! Meatgasm!
Me, I kept wondering, "Really, an Italian food store in Manhattan? What's going to be there that I can't already get at the dozens of other Italian and artisan food markets here?" But I'm a sucker for novelty so I waited for the Labor Day crowds to disappear and visited the place myself, where I actually did find a few surprises.
So here's the dream of Eataly in a nutshell: celebrate Italian food, in all its regional variety, with a combination of imports and house-made specialties. Both the Italian and the New York Eatalys have been created under Slow Food's consultation, which means there's an emphasis on preserving culinary tradition, local sourcing, and sustainable practices.
I'd heard all about the fresh pasta counter, aisles of dried pasta, rows of sauces, a roast meats counter, a charcuterie counter, produce section, fish counter, butcher counter, artisan cheese and hand-pulled mozzarella, pizza counter/restaurant, bakery, cafe, beer section, and separate wine store. Here's what I didn't expect to see.
1. Chairs and lamps from Kartell. What? Does this have? To do? With Italian food?
2. Funky monkey tableware and butter boats. Classic Italian stemware and chic white cafe dishes, that makes sense. But this kitschy business I was not expecting. I would have scooped them up for my son if it weren't for the grown-up price tags (around $60 each).
3. Whole octopus. You can get octopus tentacles from just about any fishmonger here, but I rarely see a whole octopus. It's hard to tell from the picture, and maybe you have to be a food geek to love it, but that cephalopod is gorgeous.
4. Fresh squid ink pasta. Speaking of cephalopods, I've bought dried squid ink pasta before but it's hard to find fresh. I'll have mine with scallops in a cream sauce. The squid ink is more about adding color than squid flavor. I love the drama of black pasta.
5. Sea beans. And speaking of sea food... I found these in the produce section. Actually, sea beans are not seaweed, nor do they grow in the ocean. They grow (as bushes) near the seashore. I'll put mine in some ramen soup.
6. Cheap gas station cookies. A friend of mine likes to make fun of me for buying LU Biscuits. "Ha ha, in Europe those are the kinds of cookies you buy at the gas station!" Ha ha, so I love cheap Euro cookies. (Also, I believe they call it petrol.) I felt vindicated when I spied these chocolate biscuits next to canisters of more respectable ($20) cookies. There is nothing Slow Food about them and the package's offer of "Beato chi si Ama in Regalo un trattamento benessere con solo 3 prove d'acquisto" (free wellness treatment with only 3 proofs of purchase) seems an odd match for cookies. But I love them just the same.
7. Local, organic milk. What are you going to wash those cheap cookies down with? Organic NYmilk, of course.
8. Signpost. Eataly can be disorienting for the new visitor, especially if there are crowds. How clever of them, then, to install a signpost here to guide you to your desired destination. I could have used a few more of these throughout the store.
9. Wine bar. Somewhere amid the talk of cafes and pizza I missed the news about the wine bar. Yes, in the middle of this emporium, you can enjoy a glass of wine along with salumi and pecorino, sliced for you just a few feet away.
10. Mario Batali and Martha Stewart. As luck would have it, Martha was filming a segment on Eataly while I was there! Every time I saw them they were surrounded by a camera crew and Martha producers. You don't want to mess with those Martha producers.
Look, there he is again next to the mozzarella!Ponytail, check. Cargo shorts, check. Orange clogs, check. I swear it's him.
What would you buy at Eataly?
Images via Adriana Velez