A few months ago, the magical island of Manhattan got a little bit more magical. Back in September, the end-all-be-all of gourmet grocery stores opened in the Flatiron District. Now you might be thinking, “Does Manhattan really need one more gourmet grocery store?” We’ve got Dean and Deluca, Eli’s, Zabars, Garden of Eden, Citarella, and probably a dozen more. Does this little 22 square mile patch of land really need another place to buy overpriced cheese?? The answer is, of course it does! Besides, Eataly is so much more than a grocery store. In fact, it’s pretty much a religious experience. I’ve been waiting since the start of my blog to do a post dedicated to this city block long super store. And the day has arrived. Buckle up kids, we’re about to go for a ride.
It was a chilly Saturday two weekends ago and I sprang out of bed at 10am (an unheard of weekend feat for me.) When Matt looked at me in utter astonishment, I reminded him “we get to go to Eataly today!” In the blink of an eye we were bundled up heading towards the 6 train ready to soak up a little piece of Italy right in our backyard.
I’m sure it comes as no surprise, that I LOVE LOVE LOVE Italy. The week that I spent there was one of the greatest of my life, it was everything I had ever imagined it to be and more. I completely fell in love with the food, the people, and just the general joie de vivre that permeates everyday life in that glorious country. It’s so rich in history and culture. Walking around the tiny village of Perugia, I felt like I was living in a different time. It was totally enchanting. It also didn’t hurt that the annual Euro Chocolate festival was in town, and everywhere I turned they were creating giant chocolate sculptures and handing out free bags of the chocolate scraps. When I traveled to Rome at the end of my trip my love affair with this country was taken to a new level. It was after a six course meal with some of my best friends in the world at Ottello alla Concordia, right around the corner from the Spanish Steps, that I realized I had died and gone to heaven. Of all the places I’ve traveled, Italy is by far my favorite and I desperately want to go back.
Now, I know it’s impossible to recreate the feeling you get from being in a foreign country, but that didn’t stop Mario Batali and mother-son duo Joe and Lidia Bastianich from trying. Eataly is part market, part restaurant, part piazza, and part cooking school. All executed to perfection. When I first read about the plan for Eataly, I remember thinking that it would be total mess, a complete tourist trap, with a ton of kitsch, and without an ounce of authenticity.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. It’s organized impeccably and from the moment you walk in, the orange crock wearing folks at Eataly start to seduce you. They seduce you with their big, bright displays of produce and their vegetable butcher, who will (free of charge) wash, prep, and chop all of your vegetables to your liking. While he does that, you continue can continue to shop and continue to be seduced. You find yourself in the piazza area, where chic looking New Yorkers sipping imported wine, stand at tall marble tables and nibble on house-cured prosciutto and $23 cheese. No camera-toting Iowans here, or if there are, they’ve managed to blend in. While there are a ton of people, shopping, eating, and gawking at this palace of food, it never feels crowded. Instead the crowds evoke that busy market feeling that is such a European signature. Since it was before noon we skipped our usual wine and cheese routine in favor of coffee and croissants that we munched on while we continued to shop. We picked up meats and cheeses for an appetizer platter, some polenta for a side, and Italian chocolate for the chocolate mousse I was making for dessert.
Finally we got to the butcher, which is why we were there after all. I forgot to mention the purpose of our visit to Eataly was that we were having Matt’s parents over for braised short ribs. As I stared at the gleaming case of Piemontese beef, my heart got all warm and happy. What’s Piemontese beef you ask? Well, I asked the same question of the butcher a few months back and was met with this response. “It’s beef from the Piemonte region of Italy. We fly the embryos over from Italy and implant them in cows in Montana, that way the beef is fresher by the time it get’s here but still has the flavor and integrity of Italian bred beef.” Ok then…
I could have spent all day in that store, but I had ribs that needed to get braising. A few weeks ago I was bragging about my Christmas meal of braised short ribs and after seeing Matt’s dad salivate at the mention of these heavenly bits of beef, I knew we needed to have them over for some, and fast! They were super easy to make since the majority of the prep work was done for me by the vegetable butcher.
Once I got them in the oven, I made some shaved Brussels sprouts and polenta to serve alongside the ribs. When I made braised short ribs for Christmas I paired them with creamy mashed potatoes, but I thought I’d change it up this time. The ribs were absolutely amazing. Arguably better than the ones on Christmas. Not only, did I have blast shopping for the ingredients, but I really feel like the high quality of the raw materials came through in the finished product. It’s true what they say, the better the ingredients, the better the food. (Did I just steal that from the Papa John’s Pizza slogan?) Well, you know what I mean. And I leave you with this final piece of advice. If you are within a 100 mile radius of New York City, get yourself to Eataly ASAP, I promise it will not disappoint. Here’s some eye candy, braised short ribs on the left, chocolate mousse on the right.