Friday, November 26, 2010
I visited EATALY for the first time on opening day: the day when the line spilled out onto 23d street and wrapped around the corner up 5th Avenue. I happened upon Cesare Casella (one of the collaborators), who gave me a nice little guided tour as to how the different sections worked, from the very preciously priced groceries to the in-house vegetable butcher to the individual ingredient-centric restaurant "stations" and the full-service one, Manzo. Only Manzo accepts reservations, and since we were simply dropping by after a lovely round of cocktails at the newly opened John Dory around the corner, we opted for a stint at Le Verdure (the vegetable spot) followed by entrees at Il Pesce (for fish). And despite the somewhat contrived name (although it is accurate to the phonetic pronunciation of the country by its natives), nothing at Eataly feels forced or gimmicky at all.
The hour was later than their typical busy rush, somewhere after eight o'clock. We were swiftly seated at Verdure and put our names in at Pesce to be transferred after the first course. While this worked out swimmingly for us, a prime-time attempt of the same could allow for some unappealing waits and an undesirable lapse in between plates. But if you're quite aware of how the seating functions and you're cool with that, it shouldn't be too much of a problem. As it were, a few lingering shoppers browsed the aisles for tiny bottles of ten dollar pistachio cream or imported hand-made fettuccine asciutta, but weren't at all distracting or irritating as might be the case earlier in the day when the joint is as packed as their imported sardines. They actually contribute a sort of vibrant energy to the hall, making everything feel a bit festive. Our waiter perpetuated that feeling, welcoming us with a sincere smile, a sort of dashing charm and an effortless knowledge of the menu and specials. He wasn't Italian, but obviously the Italians in charge schooled everyone rigorously so that when it got to this point, the bella figurawas as natural as spaghetti and marinara.
Onto our food, which was unerringly much better than I was expecting. The Verdure menu is extensive, especially considering that most of the options are not only vegetable-based, but vegan, thus containing no dairy, egg or even honey (the latter is something I will never understand completely, but that's somebody else's blog). There are salads and soups and roasts and grills, so in order to experience a bit of the variety, we went with the Piatto Misto, which boasted a trio of salads and a small cup of the soup of the day (ours happened to be a hearty minestrone heavy on flavor and chickpeas). Raw Brussels sprouts, one of those things one might make a joke about eating, worked here, leafed out and paired with crunchy sweet strips of red pepper and ribbons of carrots so thin that the bright store lighting shone right through. Next to that was a fine farro salad of cold grains, lightened with leaves of radicchio and frisee, and dressed in an invisible but robust vinegary dressing. Third was a melange of root vegetables roasted to a meaty chew atop a bed of baby lettuces that could've used a little more punch in the vinaigrette themselves, but the tubers picked up much of the slack. A stuffed squash with lentils and a cauliflower and cardoon gratin looked worth returning for. (There is the option of pairing the latter with shavings of white truffles for a mere $67. That would make an $80 side dish... a little out of my budget, but 'tis the season, to be fair.)
We held off on beverages to enjoy a glass of wine with our entrees at Il Pesce. The wine and beer lists are extensive and unique to each "department", thoughtfully matched to complement the foods and flavors on their menus. We opted for a Langhe Arneis, a very uniquely flavored wine with a huge nose, honeyed but crisp and perfect with fish. Memorably good. I don't think it was just luck for us that it went so well with our entrees. A grilled striper, simply adorned with capers and lemon, nothin' fancy, was crisp-skinned and pure-fleshed. Since the secondi are served true to Italian style, they are alone on the plate. There are daily contorni to fill out your mains. We chose a lovely roast of cauliflowers, which came an eclectic farrago of purple, white, green and golden types, roasted deeply to char the nutty florets and tenderize the stalks. Veggies get assertive here, which is how I like them. They're not shy with the e.v.o.o., especially not when they're blessed with the imported abundance at hand from the grocery.
A spiedino, also varies daily, continued my string of good luck with squid. The tenderest of tender tentacles and a few meaty shrimp comprised that day's skewer, served on a bed of nice, bitey arugula. We could've done dessert (and well you can, with an ample selection of pastry and dolci to be had at La Pasticceria, or one of the unctuous gelati from La Gelateria (interestingly, made from a local dairy's milk, which seems prudent). But it was getting late... too late for gelato, in fact, which closes at 10pm. And despite being tempted by the display and the rich Lavazza which can be had to accompany, dessert got skipped, mostly due the late hour. But also, for reasons yet not determined, because our waiter came back with the bottle as we were midway through our mains, after our glasses were nearly empty and refilled them both. I tried to intercept his pour by saying we hadn't ordered the bottle, but he winked and smiled and said that this one was on the house. Charming, in true Italian style.
200 Fifth Avenue (at 23rd Street)
Phone Number: 212-229-2560
Posted by webdebnyc at 3:36 PM