Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Mucking Around Mario Batali's Eataly

After getting a pretty sweet tour of midtown in my uncle's roaster, hunger once again took over and we looked for the nearest place to eat before the rest of the dinner crowd came in. Being near the very first Shake Shack and the Flatiron building, Uncle Nelson suggested we hit up Eataly, the largest artisanal Italian food and wine marketplace in the world, which also just happen to have restaurants conveniently located inside the huge space.

This multi-million dollar project was dreamed up by culinary American-Italian bigwigs Mario Batali, Joe Bastianich, Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and Eataly founder Oscar Farinetti.

I had been there once in February, also with my uncle, but only in passing, since the place was packed to the rafters with hungry New Yorkers and tourists escaping the cold winter air and wanting for a good Italian meal. We ended up at the Shake Shack, warming our fingers by the lamp heaters, while waiting for our Shack Stack. But that's a totally different story.

Getting there at around six-ish meant that we had a good chance of finding ourselves a table somewhere, and as luck would have it, we ended up at La Piazza, at the very heart of Eataly. It's standing room only at the tasting piazza, with marble tabletops to give off the feeling that you were eating somewhere in Venice.

Our server was incredibly helpful, as I had gotten a bit lost with all the apertivos to choose from. Uncle Nelson ending up doing most of the ordering, my only contribution to the meal was requesting for Riesling.

We started with The Classic ($11) - traditional mozzarella di bufala with basil and extra virgin olive oil. The mozzarella is made fresh every day, with heft and pliability, with the basil giving it a nice bite and a bit of spice. There were bread bins all around the piazza, so customers could grab a parcel to bring it back to their table and enjoy with their apertivo.

Our server cam back with our Grande Piatto Misto Di Salumi & Formaggi ($22) - an assortment of the best cheese and salumi in Italy. What a feast for the senses! There were at least three different kinds of prosciutto, mortadella, another cured ham and salami, as well as creamy blue cheese, parmigiana, ricotta, Taleggio and a couple more that were really good. I loved mixing and matching the salumi and formaggi with the figs and orange rinds that were drizzled with honey - it helped offset the sharpness of the cheese.

After being happily stuffed with formaggi and salumi, we walked around the 50,000-square-foot space,  admiring how Eataly was put together, and all the thought that went into it's construction. You can buy everything from books on Italian cooking, to fresh rustic bread, fresh pasta, Italian cured meat, fresh mozzarella, olive oil, salumi, and good ol' Italian wine.

The sprawling marketplace has six restaurants, which are almost always full, with a wait time of 45 minutes to and hour before being seated. There is Manzo Ristorante, their steakhouse; La Piazza, the tasting or apertivo restaurant; Il Pesce, the resident seafood restaurant what specializes in fresh fish, a daily selection of oysters, and some slammin' fresh crudo; La Verdure, that serves fresh, seasonal ingredients, obviously all vegetarian; La Pizza & La Pasta, where you can have Neapolitan pies baked in sparkly gold-tiled ovens, which were made by actual Neapolitans; and Birreria, the beer garden up on Eataly's roof.

Two of Uncle Nelson's Chilean friends were in town as well, so we passed the time at Lavazza with another round of cappuccinos while waiting for them. After an interesting conversation about spiritual evolution and the books of Don Miguel Ruiz, I was introduced to a very energetic Raimundo and his laid-back business partner, Atilio, both of them architects who had partnered up and started their own practice. After a bit of chit-chat, we then head for the rooftop where Birreria is.

Birerria is more like a rooftop Italian beer garden and microbrewery with the best skyline views! It offers the highest quality beer, or so I'm told, as well as most of the dishes that are served downstairs at Eataly. I'd definitely want to be mucking around Eataly again soon, as well as try out the other mini restaurants that seem almost impossible to get into without waiting for at least 45 minutes. How cray cray is that?

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