Monday, October 24, 2011

Eataly in NYC: an Italy that works

I am known to often complain about Italy. I believe that it is a completely dysfunctional country, and I am not one of those who find dysfunctional things charming, quite on the contrary. There is a reason why I left it 15 years ago and I have no particular desire to go back. As my friend Signor Smith says in his blog Desperate but not serious, (which tells incredible stories happening every day in Italy), I believe that many tourists find Italy beautiful simply because after visiting it, they have the chance to go back home and live somewhere else. A place where 5 hours or rain flood what in theory is the capital of the seventh most industrialized country in the world, and where 8 inches of (announced) snow block roads for weeks is not a developed country where it is worth living, at least in my opinion.

Also, I find the attitude of most Italians towards non-Italian food extremely annoying and laughable. In a nutshell, most of them even refuse to conceive the idea that non-Italian food may be tasty and - God forbid! - even better than Italian food at least on occasion. And because they know that Italian food is the best there is out there, they see absolutely no reason to even try non Italian food. It is the fool's fail-proof argument: if you know that something is bad even before trying it, what's the point in even trying it?

It was therefore with great skepticism that during my recent visit to New York I went to Eataly, the 36,000 square feet temple of Italian food that opened last year on Fifth Avenue. The fact that I think that Mario Batali - one of the investors - is as Italian, culinary speaking, as I am Chinese didn't bode well. I was expecting a lot of cool BS, or the classic pizza and mandolino type of representation of the Italian culinary world.

Boy, was I mistaken: Eataly blew me away.

There is absolutely no space for BS in Eataly. There are no compromises with the fake logo coolness a' la FIAT, no easy fixes: just solid Italian culinary traditions, with a lot of genuine products of brands which are not cool, just genuine and smashing good. They even had spuma, the soda I grew up with in Tuscany and that it impossible to find anywhere else!

Of course the fact that Batali and the Bastianich (powerhouses of Italian cuisine in America) are among the investors means that you will also find their branded products. But frankly, they are relegated far away from the center, as to say "hey, we need to put them here, because after all they are paying part of the bill". But the 99% of the space is just pure Italy. The part of Italy that still works, that doesn't invest only in looking good, the part that seduces you not because it is cool or trendy, but because it tastes good

You get to see workers making fresh mozzarella, or tens of varieties of fresh pastas in front of your eyes. The cold cut section made me drool, as did the bakery. You come away getting the feeling that whatever you buy there, it doesn't matter from which section, it is going to make for an excellent dinner. And that's no small feat for a huge place like that.

Unfortunately we didn't get a chance to try and eat in one of the many restaurants that are hosted in the supermarkets (a pizzeria, a vegetable, a fish, a meat place...), because our son Charlie Brown went crazy (maybe he doesn't like Italian food?!), but the plates I was seeing were amazing. Next time, maybe.

(*) Oone of the pasta brands that they were selling, at very high prices, was Garofalo, an Italian brand from Naples quite good and expensive. But you don't need to go to Eataly to find it: Costco carries it, and at much cheaper prices. And you don't need to go to Eataly to find Mutti canned tomatoes either, since they carry them at World Markets.
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7 comments:

Un italiano said...

Knowing that Italian food is the best in the world doesn't mean to be narrowminded. I really don't need to eat tofu to know that spaghetti are better.

Tuscan foodie in America said...

Hi Italiano...I guess you just proved what I had written...

from uk said...

I like the idea behind eataly so much, it's good to see you appreciate it. I never tried an eataly.

I plan to write something about italian food abroad, not something deep because I haven't such knowledge, but some thoughts. I hope to read your comments.

Tuscan foodie in America said...

From UK: go ahead and write that up! If we left food writing only to those that profess deep knowledge, we would still be stuck to pompous comments full of words meaning nothing.

There are only very few food writers that really know about food. A lot of them just pretend, and then attack the outsiders. Look at the Italian wbeiste dissapore, which offers the worst side of Italy on food. I even stopped reading it.

Not Just A Pretty Dress said...

I would love to visit a store like that. As you know, Brussels is full of Pasta Panzani and very few 'gastronomie'. I'm sure Charlie Brown loves Italian food, but maybe it was just tired of the food tour de force impoed by daddy...

BTW, I went to Century 21, fascinating place, even if you have to spend half day there if you want to find nice things...

Eleonora said...

I unsubscribed from "Dissapore" too. I had been meaning to for a long time, but the last straw was when I found out its writer(s) erect verbal temples to their restaurateur "buddies," NEVER pick up a check, and behave like snobs with everybody who isn't a 'somebody' in the foodie world.
So much for their slogan, "Niente di sacro tranne il cibo..."

Tuscan foodie in America said...

Not Just a Pretty Dress: I remember an Italian trateur in Brussels near Chatelain. I used to refer to it as the "jewelry shop", because the prices were INSANE, and the food mediocre.

Century 21 is a DOD (a Brussels' shop) multiplied by 1000. I remember finding a couple of Canali shirts a few years ago at, like, 20$. Now I had found a few Allegri raincoats and a few cool other things, although I didn't buy anything but the socks. But yes, you need to dig dip.

Eleonora: dissapore is one of the most arrogant and contentless websites I ever stumbled upon. They really reject any comment that is not in line with the mantra "Italy is the best", and their articles are poorly written, often from a grammar point of view, pretty much always from a content point of view.

It doesn't surprise me that they play "friends". This is how Italy works, pretty much at every level.

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