Upon walking into Eataly, the mammoth new food experience from Joe Bastianich, Lidia Bastianich, Mario Batali and Oscar Farinetti, you might actually think you were in Italy. Besides the produce, nearly everything is imported, and the 50,000 sq. ft. bi-level space is filled with rows upon rows of dried pasta, nougat, olive oils and anchovies piled 12 feet high. You're welcomed with a smart espresso bar as the space opens into seven "restaurants," 14 food stations and a full "piazza" with a raw bar, fresh-cut prosciutto and marble-top tables. But this is not the Italy most Americans imagine—the Italy of quaint Tuscan towns and pushy grandmothers. This is the Italy of Vespas and stilettos. And as Mario Batali hopes, "It could be the cornerstone of Italian gastronomic culture."
Next to the espresso bar is a wall of five iPads, each programmed to display news from Italian newspaper La Stampa. Paired with the signs displayed in both English and Italian, Eataly seems to be designed as a haven for Italian ex-pats. But as Farinetti said during the two-hour tour last night, "Eatly is a market, a restaurant and a school." The goal is not to come and eat Batali- and Bastianich-created meals, but to learn about the food and try it out yourself. Batali told the crowd, "If you ask the Italians, and the smart Americans, where they had their best meal, it was never in a restaurant. It was always in the home."
That's not to say you can't get a good meal at Eataly. Plates of porchetta with crispy skin, house-made mozzarella, raw oysters and oozing thin-crust pizza flowed freely at the opening party, offered with paired wine and beer at each station. And we retained just enough of our semester-abroad Italian to understand Lidia Bastianich when we overheard her telling the pastry counter to give the journalists food so "loro no scrivono male." ("So they don't write anything bad.")
While the packaged goods are mostly imported from Italy (and most are at import prices), the meat and produce is all local. Vegetables come straight from rooftop farm Brooklyn Grange (of Queens), and come November beer will be brewed right on their 300-seat rooftop microbrewery, which will be run by Dogfish Head. "Guest brewers" from Italy will also set up shop every month to create seasonal brews. And we're guessing the crowd once that opens will be enough to rival their neighbors, Shake Shack.
Eataly will be open starting August 31st at 200 Fifth Avenue.