Mario Batali recently described his New York City food hall Eataly as a "temple," as a place where "food is more sacred than commerce." And while a preview of the place last night revealed there will be a heck of a lot of commerce in this place, he may be right. When it comes down to it, Eataly is nothing short of epic, a giant Slow Food mecca of all things Italy. At its core, it's a fancy Italian grocery store with individual retail departments offering the best of everything (pastry, bread, a butcher, a fishmonger, pasta, cured meats, cheese, hand-made mozzarella, etc.), some of which are directly connected to their own sit-down restaurants with waiter service.
And then! Gelato! A coffee bar! Panini! Pizza! A wine store! A bookstore! Housewares! A cooking school by Lidia Bastianich! A planned rooftop beer garden! All with bi-lingual signage everywhere explaining Eataly's philosophy. "It is not just a market, but a food experience," one sign reads. Everything for everyone! The only thing that's missing is pony rides. In Vegas there'd be a roller coaster involved.
So is Eataly an insta-smash hit in the making? No price points or menus were revealed (which will be a huge factor), and certainly when the place is really humming, there's almost no way it won't approach clusterfuck levels, but the dedication to quality is astounding.
Mario Batali, Joe Bastianich, Lidia Bastianich and other partners led last night's tour, stopping at each section to offer samples and explain specifics. Said Batali, "This isn't a giant food court. This isn't a selection of restaurants under one roof. This is a retail store where we peddle the greatest of Italian products…. You ask any Italian and all of the smart Americans where the best meal they ever had in the last ten years was, and it was never in a restaurant. It was always in the house. And with these products, and this ideology, we're hoping that's what we're going to bring to New Yorkers." Home cooking, peddled by a man with dozens of restaurants.
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Photo by Daniel Krieger