Thursday, May 31, 2012

Tour of Eataly: Now that's Italian!

 Nadine Kam photos
Cheese and Parma ham are among the ingredients that lure diners to Eataly, a wonderland of Italian drink and edibles.

The last time I was in Madison Square Park, last summer, my husband Chris and I were focused on getting to Shake Shack.

"Oh look," he said, "Eataly's right there."

It was one of those situations where you don't even think of veering from track, while thinking there's always time to return. But in New York there are so many distractions that other destinations keep popping into your head and before you know it, trip's over and we totally missed this Italian phenomenon.

One of the largest artisanal Italian food and wine marketplaces in the world, Eataly is the work of Oscar Farinetti, Mario Batali, Joe Bastianich and Lidia Matticchio Bastianich. The 50,000 square foot space in the Flatiron District is a wonderland of cured meats and cheeses, fruits and vegetables, fresh meats, fresh fish, handmade pastas prepared on the spot, or packaged to take home with you to create your own Italian meal, without much fuss on your part. Most of the heavy labor has already be done!

It's the equivalent of having a daily Italian festival of food and wine. There was so much to see on the ground floor that I didn't venture upstairs. There, private dining awaits at the rooftop restaurant and brewery Birreria, offering unfiltered, unpasteurized and naturally carbonated cask ales and an Italian menu influenced by Austria and Germany.

Eataly is at 200 5th Ave. Call (212) 229-2560 ‎ or visit Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays, and noon to 9:30 p.m. Sundays.

Here's a quick tour of the marketplace:

At the Salumi i Formaggi bar, a platter of prosciutto di Parma and salumi with assorted cheeses, fig mustard and almonds in honey. The Grande Piatto Misto di Salumi i Formaggi is $22.
At the crudo bar, I had this trio, a special of the day featuring sockeye salmon with its own crackling, diver scallop topped with Sorrento lemon oil and ume frost salt, and black bass with radish and what we know as sea asparagus (which they call sea beans). This was $18 and the fish wasn't as good as I've had at home in Hawaii which just reaffirms my philosophy of not eating raw fish anywhere else but at home or Japan. Though the scallop was delicious.
Central to Eataly is La Piazza, a place to meet friends in a standing table enoteca, with marble cornered facades reminiscent of Rome. Order a glass of wine and venture around to the various boutique food stations to pick up edibles here and there. It's pretty pricey, though.  

The longest line was for gelato.
The prize, a small cup of pistachio gelato, the equivalent of two scoops for $4.50.
 Perfect olives, $9.
 At the marketplace, you can pick up fresh fruit and vegetables.
If you like the prosciutto served at the Salumi i Formaggi counter, you can take home packaged meat as well.
Get an assist from Mario Batali if you're cooking an Italian dinner to impress friends.
Fig mustard and almond honey to enjoy with bread, cheese and cured meats.
Provenance is important, and shelves of fruit preserves, jams, syrups and honeys show where the jars come from.
 Plants chosen by bees give their honey a distinct flavor.  

You can also go home with sausages.

 Mushroom selection in the marketplace.

The second longest line was at La Pizza & La Pasta, home to pasta meals and classic Neapolitan pizzas with their charred crusts, sweet San Marzano tomaotes and creamy mozzarella.
Fewer people were interested in vegetable selections offered in Le Verdure. Here, you can order bagna cauda and vegetable-centric entrées.
Raviolis ready to be brought home.
Bread selection.
Fresh shellfish.  
A few of the desserts on display.

 Some of the chocolate available.

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