Now that I don’t really read The New York Times and Gourmet has folded, it’s harder to hear about new places in New York to check out for great food. I rely more on word of mouth or other insider information. Lately, one place kept coming up again and again; even Corby Kummer, his food-royalty-self raved about it: It’s the new Mario Batali food hall called Eataly.
Now, I’m a fan of food halls to begin with. I would not think of visiting London without going to Harrod’s Food Hall just to see what’s new and have a snack. It always struck me as odd that New York hadn’t figured out the glory of the food hall (the closest we Americans have come to it is the farmer’s market, but that’s not really the same). I recently heard about the new Plaza Hotel Food Hall by Todd English; it’s in the basement area that used to be the laundry room (the laundry has since been outsourced). I checked it out a few weeks ago, and it was OK. But it wasn’t what I would call a real food hall. Too cramped, dark, and hard to maneuver through.
So, this weekend I had a chance to go—and better yet, a reason to go; I needed to pick up lunch for some friends—to Eataly. It didn’t take long for me to get my bearings and realize I was in an Italian food heaven for a cook like me. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I like local food, but I also love the distant food, too—the food that stirs memories of travels. Once in Vasto, Italy, I ate some hand-pressed olive oil, and I have never found a taste even close to it since. I long for that taste.
At Eataly, there was salami, prosciutto, porcini pepper spreads, fresh mozzarella, and sauce with my mother-in-law’s grandparents’ name, Barone, as the brand. And breads… My happiest moment was when I asked if any of the breads were organic, and the friendly woman at the counter looked at me and said, “Of course, they are ALL organic!” I cried a little tear. And then I bought bread.
Eataly is like a giant indoor farmer’s market and grocery of the best of the best Italian foods, with food stations for eating. There are giant pasta stations both to eat in and take home. There are fresh-cut meats and prepackaged meats, a bountiful and beautiful fish shop, all sorts of cheeses and sauces and fruits and vegetables. I think there was alcohol, but I don’t really notice that sort of thing anymore. However, as we walked by the pasta display, there were two bowls filled with golf ball–sized white and black truffles. My husband did a double take. “Yes, those are truffles!” I confirmed. While his back was turned, I loaded my cart with all sorts of goodies (none of them sweet). And while I was paying, he ran back to get a pair of Mario Batali signature orange crocks for his dad for Christmas. Lou’s dad, who is no longer able to get around much, loves nothing more than to watch and read about Italian cooking. He’s always talking about Mario, even though he hasn’t left his small town in upstate New York for years.
I used to be a big fan of Balducci’s before there was Whole Foods. It was the original place in New York to get real Italian foods, as well as unusual and perfectly delicious vegetables and fruits of high quality (not organic, unfortunately, but back then you couldn’t get it anywhere). It was a sad day when Balducci’s closed. And I am a fan of Whole Foods. But Eataly is a different thing all together. It’s a temple of Italian food. An edible temple.
Even my husband liked it.