Eataly: The Good and the Bad

My first visit to Eataly was overwhelming to the senses, underwhelming in its food. I met up with my friends Steph and Mo for lunch, and found myself conflicted. I was amazed at the selection of fresh produce — I’ve never seen sea beans in real life — and confused by the absence of any kind of order to the madness. Was that the line for pizza or to be seated for pizza? Are those the same thing? I ended up grabbing a mushroom panino from the cafe end of Eataly, and we ate lunch outside near Madison Square Park after being unable to find a place to eat in the dedicated seating area. The sandwich was good, but not great. Certainly not representative of a food market that reportedly cost eight figures. I really wanted to go back, to see if I could get a handle on the place.

On my second visit, just a few weeks later, I arrived a bit earlier — there were still crowds, but it wasn’t as wild. I sat down at the Verdure counter, which features an all vegetarian (and some vegan) menu, and suddenly found myself in another world entirely. This could have been a small restaurant, one that I would eat at every single day if I worked in the area. While I was eating, another customer came and sat down next to me. The server behind the counter greeted him warmly: “Welcome back, sir!” This when Eataly had been open for less than two months.

Although I could eat my way through the entire menu, I went with one of the specials: sunchoke carpaccio. I actually had my first sunchoke (aka Jersualem artichoke) at another Mario Batali venture — Otto — years ago, before this blog existed, in a salad. At the Verdure counter they sliced them thin, and topped them with an almond gremolata and dressed them with a highly acidic vinaigrette (definitely lemon juice, maybe some vinegar as well) . The result was magic — nutty, salty, sweet, with the bite of the acid and the horseradish rounding everything out. I don’t know if it was quite worth the $12 price tag, but it was certainly delicious.

I’d like to go back to Eataly, just to see what interesting produce they might have, or what specials might be on offer at the gelato station. Although I was initially impressed with the selection of cheeses and pastas, I can find great examples of both of those much closer to where I live. Sure, there’s something to be said for the accumulation of all of these Italian products in one place, but that’s not enough for me. What will bring me back is the amazing menu at the Verdure counter. There’s only one question — who wants to brave the crowds and meet me for lunch?

Eataly — 200 5th Ave

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7 thoughts on “Eataly: The Good and the Bad

  1. Eataly was ok – I had no high expectations and I neither hated it nor thought it was the next best thing. Decor is nice bright and white – the coffee was pretty good and I appreciated the nougat, praline spreads and what not I could pick up – they tasted very good. I went a midweek afternoon and while crowded it wasn’t obscene. I was a little confused as to how to get around and found the food next to restaurant areas a bit impractical. Am I eating here or shopping here?!

    I was hoping it would be something more in the vein of Harrods Food Hall – a place to see food on display in all of its finery and/or shop..I think better signage and demarcation is needed..I totally missed the Verdure counter and ended up eating in Manzo where only one vegetarian pasta dish was to be had (my friend and I are vego’s..), because we couldn’t figure out the pizza queue or other food area queues. It was nice and we had a fun time – I will go back not least for a decent coffee and more praline spread…goodness it was yummy. And maybe to find that Verdure counter you mentioned..but I will definitely be there at an inhospitable time. Crowds are not my thing…though Tony Bennett and David Rasche were there (separately not together), despite the crowd.

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    1. @saer – i know what you mean — even though i eventually managed to buy some produce on my 2nd visit, it wasn’t easy to figure out how. i had to get my veggies weighed and stickered at one station, and then was directed to another station to actually pay for them. the verdure counter is definitely worth seeking out; it doesn’t have the super long lines that the pizza place does.

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  2. I had that same, exact salad at Otto and I also loved it. I still can’t allow myself to fork over such high sum of money to Eataly beacause I’m still a small business support at heart. 😛

    Also, the bread isn’t as amazing as I thought it would be. Still love Amy’s Bread, Orwasher and small bakery carbs. But that’s just me. 🙂

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