Normally when I go home for a visit to the U.S., I avoid Italian food in all of its incarnations in favor of the ethnic foods I miss so. And I’m typically based in Milan, so I do have access to more ethnic foods than were I in many other parts of the Belpaese, but there are still many, many things I miss and seek out when I am away. This time I was in the U.S. for two whole months so after a while I did get a hankering for pesto and other Italian delicacies. Fortunately, most of the things I miss from Italy are quite easy to make and the ingredients are ever more readily available. On this trip, for example, my husband found buffalo mozzarella that had been flown in from Naples and was fresher than any buffalo mozzarella he’s ever bought in Milan.
The day before flying back to Italy, we went to the inauguration of the huge Eataly emporium that just opened in New York City’s Flatiron district (in the old Toy Building for those of you who know New York). We came (a bit late to avoid the long line), we saw (chef and partner of the venture Mario Batali in his kitchen whites and famous Crocs), we conquered (the crowds). Eataly is a giant market of artisanal Italian products that has ties to the Slow Food movement. There are various other Eataly emporiums in Italy (especially in and around Turin as that is where the Slow Food movement started), but the ginormous New York store is the first one in the United States. The store sells produce (grown in Brooklyn, from what I understand, not in Italy), pasta, oil, gelato, meats, cheeses, coffee, fresh bread and much more. Each area seems to have its own restaurant or “food court” where prepared foods can be tasted.
I went to the opening with a group of Italians and their take on it was that it was incredibly “commerciale.” It was too much of a madhouse to actually buy or try anything on offer, but I do have to say that if I were an Italy lover in the New York area, I might pay occasional visits to Eataly just to hear Italian spoken and get a feel for being in Italy. Inside there’s also a Rossopomodoro pizzeria, which is an Italian chain offering pretty good Neapolitan-style pizza. Eataly even has something I’ve never actually seen in Italy: a vegetable butcher. You buy your veggies and then specify to the “butcher” how you’d like them prepared. A rooftop beer garden at Eataly should also be opening any day now.
I found things to be a bit pricey, but I guess that is to be expected. The boxes of Barilla pasta that normally cost around $1.25 or $1.50 in regular American supermarkets are $2 here, but there is such a wide range of pastas that I’d probably come here and pay that if I were looking for something more obscure than penne or fusilli . And the displays are quite enticing.
If I’d had my camera, I would have taken pictures of the Eataly slogans plastered all over the place, which seemed to poke fun at Italian-style customer service. Near the checkout counters I saw slogans, such as “Italy isn’t perfect and either is Eataly” and “The customer is not always right and either is Eataly.” I didn’t buy anything (I was returning to Italy the day after, after all), but I wonder if the cashiers are as grumpy and demand exact change like they do here?