I’ve heard people say that Heaven is individualized. A little private paradise that is just for you. For some, that world would be white beaches with umbrella drinks and sun beating down with just enough wind that you somehow never manage to get hot. While that sounds wonderful, and I would never turn down an umbrella drink, my Heaven, I think, would be most closely approximated by Eataly.
I’ve mentioned Eataly before and attempted, truly, not to gush. But, because this post is entitled “Eataly,” I feel some gushing is more than warranted. I work near Eataly, and I go there often if I need a break and 30 minutes to relax from the craziness that is my job. For those of you who have been to Eataly, you’re probably thinking I am insane, no doubt remembering the endless flow of tourists that push through the area, holding their ever-full cups of gelato and elbowing you and evoking every bit of restraint you possess. I have experienced this too, not to worry. But Mario Batali, in his infinite wisdom, installed multiple areas throughout Eataly where you can grab a glass of wine and wander through the block-wide expanse and, after 5-6 sips of red, your tolerance for tourists grows exponentially. I actually came across this adorable drawing in Eataly last week, boasting, “Tutto Incomincio da Questio Disegno,” or “Everything Started from this Drawing.” Eataly is basically one big block full of Italian awesomeness, broken down into different sections, a/an: (1) espresso/coffee area; (2) chocolate/dessert area; (3) cheese/meat product section (my love); (4) cheese/meat sampling section where patrons stand at tables and eat copious amounts of prosciutto and homemade ricotta; (5) vegetable-only restaurant; (6) seafood only restaurant; (7) seafood product section; (8) “Manzo,” a meat restaurant with superb steak; (9) Italian market with sauces, olive oils, spices and everything else your heart could imagine; (10) homemade pasta section; (11) steak/other fresh cuts section; (12) bread section; (13) gift/merchandise section; (14) fresh produce section; and (15) pizza/pasta restaurant. It sounds like a lot, I know, but Eataly is really user-friendly, and with that wonderful glass of red in-hand it takes only ten minutes to take a quick stroll through the whole area.
Earlier this week, my boyfriend and I went to Eataly, on the Thursday before Labor Day. It holds a soft spot in my heart because we went there on our third date and he not only tolerated my extreme enthusiasm over the pasta, bread and fish, but almost seemed to like it rather than think it obnoxious. Anyway, we started by going to the espresso area and, instead of getting a cup of Joe, opted for a glass of the house red and a beer. The server was generous (as almost always) and poured me a glass of wine that was about 1/3 of the bottle. We then proceeded to the pizza/pasta section, put our names down, and were told that the wait was 30-45 minutes. While that may seem daunting to some, in Eataly 30-45 minutes is nothing, We took our drinks and began wandering. We started at the pasta section, taking in all the new offerings (truffle agnolotti and sweet pea ravioli were particular favorites this summer), meandered to the fish section where we saw what a monkfish really looks like (not too appetizing, but still one of my favorite fish), and finished off at the market place where we loaded up on truffle salt and other goodies. We were seated closer to 30 minutes than 45, and could have spent more than another 15 minutes taking everything in.
The pizza/pasta section is one of my favorites. I have to admit that I have only been to the veggie place once — where I had an amazing fig and ricotta bruschette with my best friends — so my opinion may be biased, but the pizza/ pasta is still objectively very good. This last time around we both opted for a homemade pasta variation. I had the lasagna bolognese and my boyfriend had the short rib tagliatelle. First, let me say that I generally do not like lasagna. My mother is an incredible cook, and if I grow up to be 1/2 the cook she is I will count my life a success, but even her lasagna does not woo me. However, I think my issue with lasagna is that I find it too heavy-handed on the gravy and cheese, so much so that I cannot taste any individualized flavor. While I will never turn away cheese, there’s a bit of a less-is-more mentality I like to bring to lasagna. Eataly’s is perfect. The lasagna noodles are homemade and so they melt in your mouth, the ricotta and mozzarella, while present, does not overwhelm the dish, and the bolognese is meaty, earthy, herb-filled and delicious, but does not drown the dish. I think the pictures I took describe it better than I ever could, and they are below. My boyfriend’s shortribs should not be overlooked either. They were so tender and moist and the homemade pasta was as perfect as the lasagna. Needles to say, we left satisfied.
I also need to mention another delicious discovery I made at Eataly last week. I studied in Italy for almost a year, and while there I stuffed myself with anything and everything offered to me. One of my favorite dishes is arancini. They are rice balls, essentially saffron risotto filled with mozzarella, bolognese and peas, then breaded and fried. If done well they are perfection and, even when done poorly, how bad can fried risotto and mozzarella really be? Eataly makes them at their lunch counter, where they serve a huge variety of sandwiches loaded with fresh ingredients like burrata, basil and heirloom tomato. The rice balls are tricky to get your hands on. I have been working near Eataly for about 6 months now and just managed to snag them last week. First, they only serve them during the afternoon/early evening hours, so if you get there after 5:00pm forget about it. Second, they start making them at 12:30 and tend to sell out very quickly. A couple of times, even though I arrived only a few minutes after 12:30, they were sold out. Other days I arrived at the correct time, only to be informed they were waiting until 1:00pm to start making them (why, I do not know). Finally last week, at 12:42, I hit the sweet spot. I ordered 2 arancini (I was told they were the size of golf balls, that is incorrect, they are more like 3 golf balls combined. I ate both anyway) and hurried back to my office before they could cool. They were worth the wait. Even though the oil started to stain the bag on the walk (run?) back to the office, the arancini were surprisingly not greasy. They were still piping hot when I bit into it and the risotto was creamy and made with just the right amount of saffron. Sometimes people over-stuff their arancini, so that you do not really enjoy the rice itself because you are too overwhelmed with cheese and meat. Eataly’s do not have that issue. There was certainly enough mozzarella to stretch and be satisfying, and the hearty bolognese gave it the meatiness I crave, but I also was able to enjoy each flavor with every bite I took. If you hit Eataly at the exact right moment, I certainly recommend grabbing a hold of one or more of these (at $3.50 each or 2/$6.00, it may be the best deal in the city!).