Living in NYC there is always a new food shop, restaurant, bar opening that is all the rave and hype. Sometimes I cave into the hype and sometimes I just really can’t be bothered because it can be foodie sensory overload! The latest craze in the city is the opening of Eataly, Mario Batali , Lidia and Joe Bastianich’s newest brainchild in their restaurant/food empire. Eataly is really hard to explain, it’s an experience to say the least and is an Italian superstore, mini mall, market and restaurant all in one. Let me first say that when I’m not upstate running Catskill Maison Bed and Breakfast I live in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. Riverdale is less than 10 minutes away from the Bronx Little Italy’s Arthur Ave, now that being stated I have daily access to some of the best Italian ingredients this side of the Atlantic (and it’s not expensive either). At Casa de Mozzarella you can get a pound of bocconcini for about $7 or $8 and it’s still warm, and you can eat a million samples while you order your salumi as well…Eataly the bocconcini is $14. A loaf of bread at the Madonia bakery is $3, Eataly $5. The cured meat and cheese selection is really large and quite good albeit you are paying 200 5th Ave prices; capiche? So the pastry is very very pretty but I’m missing the cannoli atmosphere (I like my 187th Street pastry shops), and the coffee selection is also large, but very overpriced. The fish and vegetables are very expensive and not very fresh, you can definitely get a fresher product at Whole Foods…Meat looked good, but $8.80 a lb for ground turkey? Are they losing their minds????? So for the shopping experience, this place is good for 3 categories of people. 1. The tourist who doesn’t know any better, there were lots of those even on a Monday. 2. Those who work in the area and need a quick ingredient or two for dinner. 3. Those who live in the area and are tired of Whole Foods or are too lazy to take a trip to the outer-boroughs to stock up on the same ingredients for 1/2 the price. For the rest of us mortals in the tri-state area, don’t bother to shop for food stuff there.
Now onto the dining experience – this is where it gets interesting. There are 2 casual/no reservation dining areas that resemble a suburban mall food court (but I’m sure with better food). In one area you can order fish or vegetables (God forbid you want pasta because you ain’t getting it at the fish/veggie section, so if you want fish and the person you are with wants a pizza you are SOL). The other area is for pizza/pasta. Pizza looked good (not as good as Zero Otto Nove on Arthur ave but good)…pasta looked uninspired (from the menu as I didn’t eat at either of these food court places). You can also get cheese and salumi at a stand up bar in the piazza (and the wine flows freely from everywhere…remember Joe is a vintner). This is not a fun dining experience (seriously it resembles a bad food court and on the weekend we heard it’s a madhouse, but there was an hour wait for pizza at 2pm on a Monday, so just imagine the 3 hour wait on a Saturday).
We chose to go to Manzo, the one restaurant that takes reservations (which are very difficult to get). We lucked up and got two seats right away at the bar, and were able to watch the food prep to boot! Major SCORE! The food is incredible here, its really really good…and the wines are fairly priced and great too. My mother and I shared the lamb heart (perfectly cooked and super tender) and the Arista (pork with fennel) was wonderful. For lunch I had the Fettuccine with tripe and castelmagno EXCELLENT! and my mother had the Agnolotti Del Plin with brown butter and parmigiano, and the depth of flavor in that dish was incredible, I wanted to lick the plate. The only downside of Manzo is the ambiance. There is none…its on the side of all of the madness and it isn’t sectioned off. So you are eating in what seems like the great hall of the Natural History Museum with the little kids running around the side of you…not what I would call a romantic, or rested dining experience. You are really just going for the food.
All in all, I’m glad I went, to say I’ve been, but I don’t think I will be returning anytime soon.