This past Saturday afternoon I visited Eataly. NYC's latest "indoor food market". Other NYC indoor markets include the home of Food Network: Chelsea Market as well as the lower east side's, Essex Market. But Eataly is different...
Eataly is the Batali/Bastianich huge, ginormous, everything-Italian mega-mart.
Foodie Anticipation. A foodie buzz is in the air. I'm sure you've noticed the vast amount of press regarding the arrival of... *drumroll please* ... Eataly! ..So I was super anxious to check it out.
Promising 'hearsay' highlights included: an all-vegetable restaurant, a vegetable butcher and mountains of exotic, high quality produce.
Lets take a step inside Eataly: My review and 10 tips for visiting..
UPDATE 12/30/10: I'm in love with Eataly's vegan products. Still hate the live lobster tank, but seriously, I'm an Eataly Addict. It is the only place in the city I can find the best Basmati Rice Milk ever, perfect Italian wines and proseccos, Kamut pasta, amazing olive oil, spices, sauces, jams and more (all in one place)! I made my family Eataly gift baskets for Christmas. And YES! the crazy crowds from the opening weeks are much died down. Here is the only rice milk I have ever LOVED!... (perfectly pairs with almond butter & banana toast!)
UPDATE 9/10/10: I wanted to update you on the products/goodies we bought on our trip. ALL have been amazing so far! Batalli/Bastianich know their stuff. The rice milk: love! Wine/prosecco: awesome. Snacks: lovely. Pasta: fabulous. Ginger Soda: unique and bold. Here's what I made with those fab tiny peanut potatoes.
Everything we bought at Eataly was awesome! And I am craving every item I have already consumed. More of that fabulous prosecco and that amazing Farro pasta please..
So yes I will be back to eataly .. but as you'll read below: NOT on a weekend. :)
The Foodiest Place on Earth? Many articles refer to Eataly as "Disneyland for Foodies"..
Well the only way I'd compare Eataly to Disneyland is that the lines were long, the food was somewhat inflated and much of the crowded space was taken up by tourists. Batalli (or one of the Bastianich's Lidia or Joe), if I had seen them (love all 3 of those foodie talents, btw), would've been like Mickey Mouse, sort've. One sighting and the crowded halls of Eataly would've become a disco hall of blinding flash bulbs. Everyone clamoring to take a photo with the foodie-superstars, like kids rushing towards Mickey. But really, I wasn't seeking a celeb-sighting at Eataly. I wanted to leave feeling like I was magically, culinarily inspired.
And even amidst the chaos - I was.
OK, OK let's get a few things straight. I made a few big mistakes when visiting Eataly for the first time. Mistakes that made my visit a bit more hellish than it needed to be:
1) I went on a Saturday. Afternoon. Beautiful day.
2) To further specify, I went on a weekend. Bad idea Kathy.
3) Eataly is still fresh and new. Everyone is excited to check it out. Crowd magnet. But really, I was dying to check it out, so this last point had to be ignored.
Taking this in Consideration.. Every negative comment I have referring to the "mad-chaos" - and the somewhat disorganized flow of events inside Eataly would probably be greatly improved if I had say, gone on a Monday. Around 8pm.
Eataly TIP #1: Unless you like (or can tolerate) massive chaos, DO NOT go on a weekend. (At least until the opening-season crowds die down).
FYI, I'll review my ten tips in full - at the end of this post.
As a vegan customer, I knew when I stepped inside Eataly I'd be faced with a whole plethora of non-vegan things: meat, cheese, gelato, seafood and on and on. But I figured that the vegan-friendly delights would make up for it. And in some ways they did...
Some of the Eataly products I purchased:
..but while Eataly may be an Italian Foodie Haven. It really isn't a VEG haven.
Eataly Fun Fact: This isn't the first Eataly, there are several "Eataly's" thriving in Italy and one in Japan.
Welcome to Eataly. Upon entering Eataly, with it's minimalist sign out front. Gold and white lettering, black awnings, I could see behind the glass windows, swarms of people. Chaos. Pure chaos.
We stepped inside and immediately it felt as if I had entered a crowded nightclub. Wall to wall people. Shoulders rubbing, purses bumping, strollers clashing, food carts slowly rolling down the slim aisles trying to find a clear path. Eataly is popular!
If it were not for the glorious tall ceilings, echoing vast construction and classy marble architecture I would have felt quite claustrophobic and uncomfortable to the point of wanting to leave. But my passion to peruse took over me and I submerged myself into the mass chaos that was Eataly on a Saturday afternoon. I tugged my hesitant husband along behind me - and we trekked deeper into this land of Italian culinary delights.
Eataly TIP #2: Mainstream customers, don't bypass the front counters (like the gelato, panini and espresso bars - and even the 'jam section') There is a reason that they are so crowded. As for vegan options, they are quite limited in this section - sadly. But do check out the wall of jams and jellies at front - many vegan options to take home and enjoy.
Italian Goodies. Upon entering I saw the packed Gelato counter. I darted towards the wall of fine jams, jellies, tapenades and sweets. Chocolates, cookies, crackers, teas, coffee. The fine Italian goodies in the store are vast. Cherry jam, plum jelly, rosehip spread. I scanned the labels and smiled. Nice.
Eataly TIP #3: Grab a hand cart at the door, that way you won't have to go back to find one once you see a tiny bottle of jam you want to buy.
After a bit of browsing, my husband navigated his way back to the front door and grabbed a plastic hand cart (because I made him) and if you're going to shop, you really do need a cart. I wish they had small-sized carts (like Sephora) but I didn't see any. Larger carts, more purchases?
The extra-large hand and rolling (plastic) carts made the slim aisles painfully clogged with people - making it was nearly impossible to move about at a reasonable speed. Slow and unorganized, was the flow of traffic.
The LaVazza espresso/coffee counter looked quite promising. A giant shiny espresso machine towered above the happy folks sitting at the very small cafe bar, sipping espresso. The fluffy, colorful, decadent pastries in the counter window looked amazing - none of them were vegan of course. So I ogled and moved on.
We passed a wall of reasonably priced ($2.60) rice cakes, which intrigued me. The "4 cereal" variety had quinoa, millet, buckwheat, amaranth and rice. I picked up a round of them - it was the first purchase into our hand cart.
Eataly TIP #4: Keep your eyes peeled for low price "finds" like the vegan exotic rice cakes, mini jars of jam and some of the pastas/cooking ingredients in back. If it's under $5 - give it a second look. Pretty much every product in Eataly appears to be high quality, so looking for low prices will be your key to shopping success.
My husband snagged a mini bag of almond biscotti which he later tasted at home and announced was one of the best packaged biscotti brands he had ever tasted. Success.
You can even peruse Italian kitchen ware, lighting and more..
Tourists. Lots of them. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against tourists, but when you have folks crowding around the bread counter taking family photos you start to get a little frustrated.
The bread line was long, and winding. I was a bit disappointed that I didn't see any exotic grained bread like spelt or farro or quinoa.
Bread-Tasting. It was good. Chewy and crisp on the outside, soft and airy on the inside. But I think the $5.80 price tag was a tad inflated.
The bread was super yummy, but it didn't live up to the nearly $6 price tag for a medium sized seeded round. NYC is a mecca of bread/bagel shops - many with better deals than Eataly.
However the pasta selection is inspiring! Farro, kamut and whole wheat grains everywhere. So many varieties, textures, flavors and brands of pasta. We purchased three different kinds. A Kamut, and two varieties of Farro pasta. Farro Vegan Mac 'n Cheese will be delicious!
Eataly TIP #5: Stock up on PASTA! One of the finest pasta selections I have ever seen in my life. I loved the exotic Farro and Kamut varieties.
We also dropped some canned tomatoes, a ginger soda, a Honeycrisp apple, peanut potatoes, apricot boxed nectar juices, veggie seasoning bouillon cubes, Rice Milk and a few more small produce items into our cart. End price: $51.
A few of the goodies we bought:
Eataly TIP #6: Try to make it out of Eataly spending under $50. There's no need to go overboard on your first trip. You'll want to think long and hard about spending $20 on that jar of marinated mushrooms.
The Produce. I was most excited to check out the "exotic" and "first class" produce I had been hearing about. Sadly, I was disappointed. A few of the lettuce bundles were wilted (I'd blame the dry wooden not-so-practical-for-freshness presentation baskets and harsh lighting) and most of the produce was over-priced. And the crowds meant you could barely shop without being whacked by someone trying to pass by.
The bananas were ninety cents a pound. Honeycrisp apples $3 a pound. $3.99 for a cantaloupe. The Bluefoot mushrooms from France were $25/lb. You'll find fresher items and better prices at the Greenmarket.
Eataly TIP #7: If it's a M,W,F,S - skip Eataly's produce and head to the Union Square Greenmarket just a few blocks away.
The Vegetable Butcher. So much media hype has been given to the famous, "Vegetable Butcher". I must agree, it sounds like a creative idea and a sign of the times. But when I saw the VB stand - and no one using it, I was a bit disappointed.
..So if I buy some potatoes, you will clean them for me? So if I buy some fava beans, you will pluck them for me? OK. But, no thanks. I bought some tiny peanut potatoes, but I will wash and chop them myself. I did not see ONE person use the vegetable butcher's services.
But really, my only about Eataly: the prices. Grocery shopping for your daily goods here would be nearly impossible for the average Joe.
How Eataly Hits NYC Small Business. Anytime a mega-mart moves into town you have to consider how it affects the small businesses in the area. Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, Costco - they all swipe away business from the small businesses that make NYC beautiful. However, my guess is that Batali's Eataly will depend mostly on traffic from tourists, rather than locals.
..If a foodie NYC tourist can get a taste of bread, pizza, wine, veggies, gelato, pasta, sweets and coffee all in a one-stop-shop spot, many of them might do it. The smaller boutique bread, coffee, dessert and food shops could take a tourist hit from Eataly's presence.
Chelsea Market vs. Eataly. The main difference is that Chelsea Market hosts a variety of vendors: One Lucky Duck, Amy's Bread, 9th Street Espresso and more. At Eataly it is 100% Batali/Bastianich, 100% of the time. Which is fine, but it's not really NYC at it's most diverse.
The Vegan Restaurant: La Verdure. I was excited to check out the "vegan-friendly" restaurant. It's called La Verdure. Here's the menu..
But really, $21 for a plate of fried veggies?
The prices are pretty high to be dining in what felt like a glorified cafeteria with modern seating.
Wine. The only calm and serene part of Eataly (on my trip) was the wine store. It had a separate entrance so you had to leave Eataly first to get some wine. Lovely selection. Beautiful store. Excellent staff. Nice. We bought a half bottle of prosecco and a half bottle of red wine.
Eataly TIP #8: If you enjoy adult bevies, be sure to leave time for the lovely, well-stocked wine store.
Dining In. Though I didn't sit down to dine on this visit, it was clear that the lines were long.
Eataly TIP #9: If you see a few seats at one of the crowded food bars - snag it! Otherwise, be prepared to wait for a coveted sit-down table. And if you hate crowds/noise, plan on dining mid-week. (At least until the opening-season crowds die down).
So overall, I have mixed feelings about Eataly. Maybe I'm a bit spoiled as a New Yorker, but I left feeling a bit empty and almost relieved to be leaving. I didn't find the magic - or perhaps it was just too crowded for me to find it.
You'll find culinary inspiration on Aisle three. Nope. Nothing. I guess they were out of stock. But I'll be back and hopefully find that Batalli/Bastianich magic I craved.
So will I be back? Yes.
Will I go on a weekend? No way.
Note: Alce Nero is the brand of most of the products I bought and enjoyed.
Eataly TIP #10: Choose the Alce Nero products - I enjoyed each one I purchased, such as the rice cakes, rice milk, nectar juices and more.
10 Tips in Review:
1. Hate Crowds? Plan an off-peak hour visit. (Avoid busy weekends)
2. Don't skip the front counters - they are busy for a reason.
3. Grab a hand cart at the door.
4. Embrace low price finds. Under $5 bargains can be found.
5. Stock up on PASTA!
6. Try to keep a $50 budget foodies. It can be done.
7. Skip loading up on produce and hit the NYC Greenmarket.
8. DO visit the awesome wine store.
9. Dining in may be a lesson in patience.
10. Alce Nero products get my "thumbs up".