Thursday, February 3, 2011 | Category: Reflections, Travel Stories, Travel Tips
I’m going to show you the real New York — witty, smart, and international — like any metropolis. Tell me this: where in Europe can you find old Hungary, old Russia, old France, old Italy? In Europe you’re trying to copy America, you’re almost American. But here you’ll find Europeans who immigrated a hundred years ago — and we haven’t spoiled them. Oh, Gio! You must see why I love New York. Because the whole world’s in New York! — Oriana Fallaci
I was in New York City last weekend. A native New Yorker, I need to go a few times a year, and I am reminded of another quote each time I go. This one is from the writer Sherwood Anderson, who said: “I think you know that when an American stays away from New York too long something happens to him. Perhaps he becomes a little provincial, a little dead and afraid.” Maybe so; I don’t want to find out.
Anyway, my friend Sharon and I flew up last Friday night for a girl’s weekend. We had tickets to a play at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. (That’s not true, really — we had tickets to see Alan Rickman. He could have stood there and said nothing for two hours and we would have been happy). And I had a mission. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about a certain little Italian comestibles shop called Eataly.
We checked into the Hotel Mela (which means “apple” in Italian; I loved that) on West 44th Street. A super friendly boutique hotel that opened in 2007 right in the heart of Times Square, Hotel Mela is comfortable, features amazing staff, offers free Wi-Fi, has beautiful Egyptian cotton sheets and is remarkably well-priced for a hotel this cool. Best of all, it sits directly across from one of my all-time favorite hangouts, Café Un Deux Trois, which I discovered when I worked a few blocks north in the 1970s. A pleasant surprise was that the Café is now open for breakfast as well as lunch and dinner, and it was oh-so-continental to start the day with a steaming cup of caffe au lait under the chandeliers.
And let’s face it . . . I came to eat. So Sunday morning we set off to be at Eataly when it opened at 10:00. The fact that I could even think about eating again after the fabulous dinner we ate with friends Barbara and Geoff on Saturday night in the tiny and tres chic Aurora (Soho) was another thing. It takes practice and, I’ll admit it, I’m well practiced at over-eating good food. Not to mention good wine.
But back to Eataly. Twenty-third Street and Fifth Avenue (right where, as I once said in a poem, “Fifth and Broadway do-si-do . . .”) will never, ever be the same. This was not even a neighborhood when I lived in New York (and I lived just 4 blocks away!). The only reason you’d go over to this corner was to catch a cross-town bus. Especially on a Sunday morning. My, how things have changed!
Getting there early was a good idea. The entrance that we chose opened into a little Italian café . . . authentic coffee concoctions (made from Torino-based Lavazza, of course) were paired with yummy pastries, and couples and families were coming in slowly and filling up the seats. It was friendly and bright and relaxing and we were off to a good start. As the morning went on, the crowds grew more intense and, while I’m not big on crowds, there was something enjoyable about this. Maybe because we were all here to have the same experience. Maybe because there were so many different languages being spoken (including a whole lot of Italian) and it was transporting. Maybe because the places is just so smartly designed and the products are so irresistible that you didn’t care. We stayed for nearly five hours.
Eataly was created in 2007 in Torino (Turin), Italy, the brainchild of Oscar Farinetti, an appliance/food store impresario who had a dream to create an experience that combined the elements of a lively Italian marketplace with a resource where customers could eat, shop and learn. His first 30,000 square foot enterprise began the journey to make high-quality Italian foods available to everyone. Today there are Eatalys throughout Italy (Torino, Bologna, Milano, Asti and Pinerolo) and Japan (Daikanyama, Mitsukoshi and Gransta); the New York City location, which opened in 2010, is the latest venture.
Joined by business partners Mario Batali, Lidia and Joe Bastianich and the Slow Food Movement, Farinetti’s Eataly NYC is a singular experience, sometimes overwhelming but always amazing. The store’s 10-point Manifesto begins with the statement, “We’re in love with food” and sets the tone for the tour. These people are passionate about food and passionate about sharing it with the public. They believe in selling quality products (which means they don’t always come cheap) and offering quality service. I wasn’t disappointed.
Where to start? What’s your pleasure? Fish? Buy it for later and enjoy the raw bar while they wrap up your gorgeous selection. Vegetables? There’s a produce market like none you’ve ever seen and you can be seated to enjoy fresh-made soups, bruschettas and more. Pizza and pasta? Of course. A little wine and cheese? Go straight to La Piazza for your tastings. Looking for some bread or sweets to take home? There are almost too many to deal with. There’s a selection of house wares in the back, including the always amusing Michael Graves-for-Alessi selections. Restrooms? Of course. And, as the sign says, they’re in the back by the beer . . .
While all the individual tasting areas were more than tempting, Sharon and I opted to have the full Eataly experience and put our names in for a 12:15 seating at Manzo, the formal dining room. I’m happy to report that this meat-centric restaurant has something for everybody, even mostly-meat-avoiders like me. The service was impeccable and the food was to die for. We each started with an appetizer — a roasted beet salad with hazelnuts, poppy seeds and smoked ricotta for one, and then crispy baby artichokes with oven-dried tomatoes on a bed of arugula with a dressing of whole mustard and olive oil. We could have stopped there. But of course, we didn’t.
Sharon had the Girasoli di Mortadella with Pistachios and Scallions. There’s nothing quite like a stuffed pasta in the shape of a sunflower to make you smile! And I opted for the Angolotti del Plin with Brown Butter and Parmigiano. These closed-up little guys were stuffed with a combination of chicken and mortadella and the shaved cheese on top was so sweet it almost made me cry. Stop there? Not on your life! Bring on the Torrone Semifreddo and café! Sure, it would have been cheaper if we’d just gone over and ordered a slice . . . but really, who knows when I’ll get back here? I have no regrets, just another pound or two to work off before the next Weight Watchers weigh-in. I only wish I could have stayed for one of the Lidia Bastianich-inspired cooking classes. Next time . . .
And with that, we went back to the hotel to wait for our car to the airport, armed with a few gift selections and good memories of the theatre, the restaurants, the hustle and bustle of it all and Eataly. You should go. Sign up for the mailing list and take a cooking class. Travel to Italy without the passport. Mangia bene!