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The Early Word On Italian Mega-Emporium Eataly

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Krieger, 8/24/10

Eataly, the Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium of Italian culture from Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich, opened two weeks ago amidst a cacophony of buzz. Arguably the summer's biggest opening, the masses have been crowding the place since the doors were thrown wide, but reactions so far are split down the middle as to whether it's an Italophile's mecca or an epic ripoff. And hey, Mayor Mike is an early fan (if not for the food then for the sheer number of jobs it created). So do B&B Hospitality group have a winner on their hands, or is Eataly fated to become a giant shoe store called Feetaly by 2011? To the early word:

The "Mob Scene" News: Yelper Ryan M. likes what Eataly has to offer, but oh, those gosh darn crowds: "Look, I'm always happy for Midtown to get something interesting to spice up my lunch break, so on that end, Eataly and it's indoor shopping mall of Italian 2.0 lunch fare and groceries is a great option. That said, this place is total chaos. Service can be lacking (or flat out hostile), and you can only eat in the designated areas of the stall you have purchased from. A complete mixed bag. Will probably return some time due to lack of good Midtown options, probably on a day I can stomach everything that annoys me about the Batali experience." [Yelp]

The "Portion Control" News: Prior to being stood up by He of the Orange Crocs, Gael Greene tries both the more casual "Piazza" options, as well as the sit-down dinner at Manzo. On the latter: "We vote down the $75 six course tasting menu and a $65 five course Ligurian menu to craft our own – three antipasti, two primi and two secondi - for the four of us to share. Except for the marvelous oversize veal chop – deliciously pink, perfectly caramelized - and the salad of vegetables, portions are?measured. I found myself feeling cheated with just a tablespoon of carne cruda, the wonderfully flavored tartare with a quail egg from the Razza celebration, biting my half of one truffle bruschetta and passing the rest to my guy. Small pink curls of “arista,” Tuscan roasted herb-stuffed pork, with fennel salad and bagna cauda doesn’t quite make up for missing Mario flashes like warm calf’s tongue in a Barbaresco vinaigrette and brains with an oxtail ragu. Why didn’t I just go whole ox? I brood." [Insatiable Critic]

The "Nocturnal Emission" News: eGullet's Mitch Weinstein has a rave for opening night: "Okay, this is an Italophile's wet dream. A brief "tour" tonight included a delicious, if not unexpected, cheese and salumi platter served with mostarda, honey and candied citron. Two expertly prepared pastas included paccheri with grouper, shrimp and calamari as well as fusilli con ragu. Pizza certainly more than acceptable. A misticanza like few others in NY. I will be back as soon as I can to wander the aisles. Rows and rows of pasta, funghi, and tomatoes are calling me. And then I'll be back again." [eG]

The "Knick Knack Pasternack" News: A Tiger In The Kitchen samples dishes from Il Pesce, the seafood restaurant, and is very happy to see Esca's David Pasternack at the helm despite some hits and misses (with the crudo getting star billing): "We've barely warmed our seats when David Pasternak of the beloved seafood trattoria Esca surfaces to say "Hello." Pasternak, who is overseeing Il Pesce's menu, is working hard that night, running around, poking at fish, watching over his army of chefs in the narrow kitchen behind the counter...what blows our minds, however, is the pesce crudo ($19), a trio of raw fish tastings. Like the clams, this is all incredibly fresh -- the fish doesn't really need any dressing up. On their own, the pieces are sweet, firm, beautiful on the tongue. But the accoutrements -- they're not bad either. The mackerel with olive dribblings and the black sea bass with crunchy beans are delicious. But it's the sockeye salmon topped with Hawaiian sea salt that has us speechless. Briefly, we consider ordering another round." [A Tiger In The Kitchen]

The "Not Replacing Whole Foods Anytime Soon" News: Chowhounder comiendosiempre loves the selection of specialty products but can't see it becoming an every day place for food shopping: "We stopped by last weekend. The place, in the late afternoon, was packed. Packed. They had run out of a number of things, for example fresh mozzarella. I agree on the layout comments. It seems more thought could have been put into where various food items are. It seemed easy simply to wander and not get to what you need. There's little feeling of being in a cohesive space, or in a village market. Yet, in truth, this all may have been partly attributable to the crowds. On the product front, yes the prices are high. But, their olive oil selection is superb. Many brands I simply haven't found in the States, and we use a lot of olive oil at home. (Which is good and bad; the place is a good resource for finishing oils, etc., not for standby oils. DiPaolo or Fairway has them easily beat on that. Ditto many other bottled/canned items.) The dry pasta selection is likewise excellent. The mortadella we bought was great. And they have a rotisserie with some beautiful looking roast chicken and pork, where Mario also happened to be standing. We want to try one of those chickens. They looked outstanding. If you are in NYC it is worth seeing. Great selection of items. We will return, but it certainly isn't a place to "stock up" so to speak. But in a city like NY, it still may do very well even if regular customers only visit occasionally." [Chowhound]

The Twitterific News: A surprising number of Twitterers are not so happy: RVAfoodie cries foul, ""Eataly." Something about Mario Batali's new $12mil venture says "Ishtar" to me.". Lisa Kirchner also is less than pleased, "Eataly is like an Alice-in-Wonderland food superstore where everything is overpriced, the food is so-so and everything is a spectacle." tramvaj17 wonders what will happen to Little Italy now, "So does Eataly exist so the real Little Italy can be raised to the ground? Lidia Doing this too??? Who are these people? NYC is NOT Vegas." missdubs leaves still feeling hungry, "@ledagc i actually had to eat TWO dinners. one at eataly built for dwarves and another for real ppl at shake shack!" and lone dissenter Christy Harrison says, "@VerboseComa Totally agree that backlash is unwarranted. Eataly is only annoying in the same way as Whole Foods or U-Sq Greenmkt on a Sat.!" [Twitter]

- Zachary Feldman


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