Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Big Apple Bites: Eataly

Where do I begin
To tell the story of how great the food can be,
The sweet love story that is older than the sea,
The simple truth about the weight it put on me...
Where do I start?

Forget the first hello! How about with last weekend's trip to New York City and the 4 pounds I piled on.

Daughtress is interning in Manhattan this summer and Hubmeister and I decided to swoop down on her for a visit. Hubs grew up on Long Island and I had been to NYC on a few occasions, so it wasn't virgin territory. What was new to us was vacationing in triple-digit temperatures. I don't know why I packed any makeup because it melted off my face. Leave it to us to leave an area known for sweltering temps for one that is even hotter. But the food (and seeing the lovely Daughtress, of course) were worth it. Here's a taste of one our dining excursions...

I posted about this Mario Batali-backed food emporium last year when it opened. The concept seems to have taken off because this place is a friggin' Italian madhouse.

Picture a grand food court. Noisy atmosphere. Crush of people. It's a scene you would expect to find at noon in most malls in America during the Christmas shopping season. The difference here is that the coffee shop features Lavazza, not Starbucks; the frozen treats are gelato, not ice cream; the baked goods are cannolis, not tollhouse cookies; and the food looks really topnotch, not like greasy mall grub.  

Interspersed with counter-service offerings are several sit-down Italian restaurants, many with bar seating overlooking the cooking areas, and each featuring a specialty such as seafood, pasta, pizza, vegetables, meat, you name it. 

The dining setup is confusing to the uninitiated, due in part to the lack of defined space for each restaurant, creating a free-for-all atmosphere. The absence of enclosed spaces, and no clear directions about where to go or what to do to get a table, produce an air of chaos and confusion. We wandered around and saw what looked like a hostess station at one of the eateries, so we figured we weren't supposed to plop down at any open table. But we did see several other folks committing this faux pas, totally unaware of it until they were asked to remove their keisters from the recycled plastic chairs and put their names in at the appropriate hostess station. Embarrassing. As we dined, people were stumbling haphazardly into the restaurant space, with one brazen lady approaching our table and asking to see my menu. What the heck! Did she think she was in Fort Lauderdale?

After we checked in with a not-so-friendly hostess, whose greeting consisted of "name, how many?", we waited an hour for a table. If you like roaming around with huge crowds of people, you won't mind the fact that there are no waiting areas. By chance, we happened upon a few chairs stacked near a window and tried to remain inconspicuous sitting beside a group of extra highchairs.

While I am "loathing," here's another bugaboo:  The hostess doesn't call your name when a table is ready or give you a buzzer -- she tells you to keep checking in with her. This procedure is totally stupid and a royal pain, especially when the line at the hostess stand is always 15-people deep and pushing your way through the sweat-drenched masses is not on Frommer's list of Top Ten Things to Do in New York City.

Okay, enough about the atmosphere and operational snafus. You know not to expect cushy environs or serenity. The food, however, was worth these annoyances. (Read:  You must be a foodie to put up with this crap.)

We chose the pizza and pasta eatery, where I saw Neapolitan pizzas (go elsewhere if you are looking for Brooklyn-style New York pizzas) landing on tables right and left.

If Mario and partners Lidia and Joe Bastianich are putting their stamps of approval on the pizza recipes, you know they've got to be good. And mine was. Simple and satisfying, the Pizza Margherita had a crispy crust and no trace of sogginess. The few quality ingredients -- tomato sauce, mozzarella, basil and dough -- gelled harmoniously, none overpowering the others. Fresh and simple ingredients topped the thin and delightfully blistered crust. The only herb in this pizza was a sprig of fresh basil, and the pie was absolutely delicious. My minor criticism is evident in the photo below, which screams, "More cheese, please!"

Daughtress and Hubmeister both ordered a pasta dish of ravioli stuffed with meat, then tossed with butter. You could really taste the veal in this dish and appreciate the freshness of the handmade pasta, which came in the shape of petite squares. The waiter indicated menu items that featured homemade pasta because not all dishes do. Portions were adequate -- not overwhelming -- and my dining companions had no trouble downing slices of my pizza while cleaning their own plates.

The only accompaniment with our orders was a basket of fabulous Italian bread and plain olive oil for dipping. Again, simple and flavorful. You don't need to add a ton of seasonings to good olive oil. This Italian oil was fruity and tasty enough to stand on its own.

A limited beer and wine list is available, so Daughtress enjoyed a glass of Italian pinot grigio while Hubs and I swigged refreshing Morettis. Prices ranged between $10 and $20 for our entrees.

After watching Mario for years on TV talking about the peasant food of Italy and the simplicity inherent in Italian cooking, I feel I was able to appreciate his philosophy first-hand.

Here's a tip if you hate crowds but still want to try the food at Eataly:  Buy a takeout panini or some fresh bread, cheese and cured meats, and head across the street to Madison Square Park.  Hubmeister and I enjoyed this nice little park after our meal.  Ahh...serenity now!

Eataly on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

  1. Insanity later!! Thanks for the post!! :)