Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Eataly Opens in Manhattan

On August 31st, Mario Batali and Lidia and Joe Bastianich opened a 'little' establishment in Manhattan at 23rd and 5th Avenue called Eataly. Billed as an Italian food Mecca, of course I had to go and investigate. I am a little embarrassed to say that I only heard about this nirvana of food the morning of it's opening. I mean, I should have heard about this as everyone and their brother knew it was coming to town. Even DH knew about it and told me it had been under construction for about a year! Eataly is a 50,000 square feet temple of food. There are 14 different areas to order food for immediate consumption. There is a counter for panini, pizza, pasta, there is a wine bar, a place for cured meats, and a full service restaurant among others. And if that isn't enough, tucked around every corner are Italian groceries. The 23rd street entrance, that I came in, is where you will find fresh vegetables. All manner of baby veggies and their adult brethren can be found, all elegantly displayed with leaves still attached though fully washed and otherwise trimmed. Next comes the dairy area. First you'll walk into a dairy case with your basic milks all labeled with their origins, and all top of the line, no antibiotics, mostly organic, largely local. To your right you will see self service cheese bins where you will find individually priced chunks of Parmesan, Grana Padano, softer Brie-like cheeses and many I could not identify (pedestrian that I am). I also saw a full bakery, meat counter and the most beautiful fish counter I have ever seen.
Now all of this you could have read in the NY Post along with all the other New York magazines or any food coverage, no doubt they have hired a lovely PR Director. But from the perspective of The Table of Promise, there are some other callouts that I noticed.

First off, Price Points. In every area I saw true opening price points. A bunch of baby carrots was $1.50. Not an intimidating price to see when you first walk in. In the cheese area you had both large and small chunks of cheese. I chose a piece that was a little more than a third of a pound and it cost me $7. That is pricey, but it is not like they stuck me and forced me into buying $15 worth of cheese. I probably would not have bought it had I had to buy more than half a pound. I saw this throughout the store. Olive oils and balsamic vinegars had high end options for sure, but you could also snag a good size bottle for around $7-$8. I appreciate that. It makes the whole thing much more approachable.

Secondly, Transparency. The meat are is nicely signed with origins of all the meats. I assume that they will be able to continue with their relationships with all the suppliers over the long haul. But they have initially committed to signage showing where all the meat is raised. The same with the fish which was impeccably fresh. I already mentioned the milk. I was impressed because it seems as though they had gone to great lengths to assuage the food conspiracy theorists like myself.
Thirdly, attention to detail. The veggies are artfully displayed. The fish were arranged just as though they were swimming (no long trays of pre-cut steaks here, it looked like they cut everything to order). The olive oils are separated out by region of origin. There is a separate display for Northern Italian Oils and Southern Oils, because they taste differently. The lovely young woman (who was also quite pretty) was a pleasure to speak with. She told my friend and I about the oils and her accent was pleasingly authentic. Even all the jars were aligned by label. This is what you get when you show up the first day. They also had fairly priced Barilla pasta, but with a lovely twist, they were all in Italian packages. I consider myself pretty immune to advertising, but I would feel pretty fancy walking home with an Italian box, even if it was the same pasta at my conventional grocery store.

Lastly, and sadly, I did not see any whole wheat pasta. Now, this is an Italian place. And I don't assume that the Italians respect whole wheat pasta all that much. I didn't expect a huge display, but one brand? A couple of shapes? Tucked into a corner? I didn't see any. I will go back and look again just to be sure.

Eataly is a lovely addition to the Manhattan food landscape. It was clearly created by a group that knows Italy and how to capture the energy and beauty of that land where I have never been. The whole establishment feels different than other places in Manhattan. I cannot think of any other place that it is like. It is a little Dean and Deluca, a little Chelsea Market, a little Balthazar. I can't quite describe it. I'll be back for sure. I can't say that it is a traditional grocery store, you can't buy tin foil there or even baking powder. But they do have all the real food Italian goods that you'd expect. Certainly everything you would need to make an amazing meal. I might not be stocking up, but a couple of nice oils and vinegars and a splurge on imported white pasta every now and then would be a gourmet distraction. I mean, there is no junk food there, it is all nice and slow.

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