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11/19/2010

5 Reasons I’m Confused by Eataly

When I want authentic Italian food, I just go to the Olive Garden.

I kid!

It’s no secret that I love to cook -- and eat -- Italian food. It takes me back to my roots. Well, at least half of my roots. So obviously, when I heard about Eataly, Mario Batali & Lidia Bastianich’s artisanal marketplace/upscale eatery, modeled after a shop that started in Torino, Italy, I needed to check it out for myself.

Eataly opened at the end of August in the Flatiron district, right across from Madison Square Park. One of my absolute fave restaurants in the city is Otto, another Batali hot-spot, so I waited for the buzz to die down a bit and I booked a trip.

Passport not required.

Sadly, I haven’t been to Italy yet, though my friends and I have recently made a pact to go for our 40th bdays (which, for the record, won’t be until 2013). We’ll be on a quest to eat and drink our way down the boot. Yum. But when we go, I really hope it’s nothing like this. Eataly is total sensory overload.

After spending almost an hour and a half to buy 13 items, I was left with the distinct feeling that this Epcot international pavilion-on-steroids wasn’t really for locals. It felt more like a money-pit for tourists. I guess they are trying to be authentic, but alongside an ATM from a bank that I assume only exists in Italy, are kitschy things like day-glo orange Crocs.

Just like grandma used to wear.

Anyway, I really enjoyed the honey, prosciutto, sopressata, taleggio, and sun-dried tomato pesto sandwich I made for lunch. So much so, that I made a second sandwich with the left-overs the next day. But the handmade thin spaghetti and jarred marinara sauce, topped with basil and freshly-grated parmigano reggiano that I made for dinner was just... ok.

Eh. No great shakes.

I hadn’t planned to get jar tomato sauce. I was expecting something homemade. Fresh. But it was really the only thing they sold. Kind of a head-scratcher, no?

Here are 5 more things about Eataly that just confused me:

1) Traffic Flow: This place would be great if there were no people inside. Everyone here looks lost and annoyed. Including the staff. Eataly could actually learn something from Ikea with their one-way aisles that force you through all the departments in the store with clearly marked paths. Or maybe they need an Italian cowboy to wrangle the herd. Because it’s total chaos in there. BUT on the upside, if an assassin is on your tail, and you need to lose him/her quickly, just get swept into this maze and sail away to sweet freedom.

2) Atmosphere: Would it kill them to get me in the mood with some music or something? If there was any, I couldn’t hear it over the hustle-bustle. I can’t imagine coming here to have a romantic dinner, or any dinner, for that matter, in their 7 mini-restaurants & cafes. I mean, who thought it was a good idea to scatter random tables inside a grocery store? But if you did eat here, I think it would elicit the same warm comfort you’d expect from a prison cafeteria. You’d be jostled and smacked in the head with a tray, while hungry people stuck in undisciplined lines secretly whittle a shiv in the hopes it will land them in solitary confinement, and out of this over-crowded hellhole.

3) Product Names: There’s a dizzying array of interesting products on the shelves, but someone should remind them that Eataly is located in America. We don’t read Italian. So it might make sense to slap some labels on the shelves to help dummies like me translate the food I bought. Because apparently, a log-shaped white cheese with a goat on the wrapper isn’t goat cheese. Go figure.

4) Prepared Foods: Here’s an idea… have some! Not everybody feels like waiting on 7 lines to buy 7 ingredients, only to go home and cook them all. Some people like to just heat and eat. Is the “vegetable butcher” who can take the time to cut your veggies to order, then too busy to box them up into a mixed green salad? Or what harm could it do to make a lasagna bolognese, slice it up into chunks, and charge $14 a serving? Somehow, I think they could swing it.

5) Sweets to Go: This was the most disappointing area of all. I was hoping to take home something sweet -- a pint of gelato, a cannoli, tiramisu. Or maybe all three! But I went home empty-handed in the dessert department because the only treats they had looked like they were meant to be consumed in the congested store. No thanks. So I wound up ending my meal with a jar of Nutella (that I already had in my pantry) and a spoon, which honestly was the most heavenly thing I ate all day.


As I was leaving, I heard somebody on the sidewalk call this place "Shitaly."

I wouldn’t go that far, but the whole experience was pretty disappointing. I found myself racing through the store, elbowing into people, like I was playing Supermarket Sweep. Except I couldn’t move very fast and I had to pay the bill at the end, which, incidentally, came to a whopping $102.31. For 2 sandwiches and 3 bowls of pasta. That I made myself.

It reminded me of online dating. What seemed great in pictures was a letdown in real life.

Maybe I’m missing the mystique. I’ve been off the market for a while. If you’ve been to Eataly and you two hit it off, tell me about it below!


tags: city life, food, shopping

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I tried getting in there, but the line was out the door. Didn't seem worth it. Although your sandwich sounds delicious!!! :-)

Anonymous said...

what would they call it if they opened an american eatery in italy? eatus?

Anonymous said...

I made the mistake of trying to eat there. We waited over an hour to stand at one of those marble tables near the meat and vegetable sections. And you're right, people kept coming through with their shopping baskets. We ordered a cheese plate. At least there was wine. But not something I'll do again.

Jenny From The 'Brook said...

Anon #1: Thanks, it was delicious!

Anon #2: Haha.

Anon #3: I may have been the person who knocked into you -- I must've accidentally bumped 5 diners on my way from the cheese section to the bread section. Not pretty.