Mario Batali Battles New York With Eataly

By Fabiana Santana

Joe Bastianich and Mario Batali in the piazza at Eataly, NY.

New Yorkers have been  eagerly waiting for Mario Batali’s Italian food mecca Eataly to open for months.  He and his partners Joe Bastianich and mom Lidia Bastianich teased food lovers with promises of imported cheeses, homemade gelato, an indoor piazza and authentic espresso. Well, earlier this month, the doors to Eataly finally opened and just as expected, Batali built it and they came – everyone came. Located at theT oy Building at 200 Fifth Ave. between 23rd and 24th streets, Eataly is a sprawling 50,000 square foot market style emporium where Italian food lovers can one-stop-shop for imported ingredients.

A two hour line stretched around the block on the first day Eataly opened it’s doors and once inside, guests carefully balanced glasses of wine in one hand and a basket filled with finds in another. On the third day, the line was slightly shorter, but still existed. Anthony Bourdain took his place in line and chatted up shoppers before Mario himself came out to gift the No Reservations author with a plate of sliced meat to hold him over while he waited.

The original Eataly in Turino, Italy.

The Torino version of the mega eatery  – which inspired Batali and the Bastianich family – isn’t equipped with the caliber of celebrity that Batali brings, so the Italian ex-pats visiting the NY version better be ready for the camera flashes that come with a Batali opening. In Italy, a Cinzano liquor museum is on hand as are rotating exhibits and lectures on organic eating. “There, they give you something else to do. It’s not just about coming and shopping. It is about the experience of being at Eataly,” said a Torino native in New York to study at Parsons School of Design.

“My grandmother is not overly impressed with Eataly because she shops at the local markets where everything is fresh and organic normally. So they really have to offer a lot to draw locals.”

In New York, things couldn’t be any more different. It is almost as if the food is playing second fiddle to the caliber of chefs that Batali has rounded up. Lidia herself sat in the cafe on opening night signing autographs and posing for pictures. She didn’t cook anything and the que to see her face to face was hours long. Esca executive chef Dave Pasternack is running the fish restaurant there.  Fans of Lidia’s pubic access television show Lidia’s Italy will recognize Pasternack from his guest appearances on her show and most proved it by approaching him with autograph book in hand. Batali’s dad is handling the salumi station with meat from his Seattle shop . So much for the locavore movement.  To be fair, the seafood and produce (which can be prepped by a “vegetable butcher” while you shop)  is local, but most other offerings – from the fresh brewed coffee to the aisles of cheese are all imported from various regions of Italy.


Shoppers on line to enter Eataly’s gelato cafe.

There is a  wine store showcasing only Italian wines, a gelato stand and an Italian cook book store, too.  A big draw is  a meat focused restaurant overseen by Batali himself.  The spot will features two kinds of beef: grain fed superbeef engineered at Carnevino by BBQ king Adam Perry Lang, and a grass-fed Itlaian Piedmontese beef prepared in the raw (think tartare, carpaccio and raw meat salads).

Pizza comes courtesy of Rossopomodoro in Naples, Italy, and Nancy Silverton is the baker in charge of fresh bread and focaccias. There’s even a pastry department preparing dolci al cucchiaio: tiny, half-size portions of luscious Italian deserts.

And in case you want to try your hand at making any of the dishes you sampled at the Eataly restaurants at home, visitors can buy everything they see in one of the 20 retail departments.

“[We hope] to transport the client into a setting that exudes Italian philosophy — the whole package of living well,” says Lidia Bastianich told the New York Post.

And lucky us, no passport required.