Mario Batali's Big, Brilliant Eataly

Kim Hastreiter

As a lower Fifth Avenue dweller, I've gotten to know my neighbor (and friend) Mario Batali pretty well over the past decade. I'm always running into him on the street when he's on his way to one of his nearby watering holes, schlepping bags of gnocchi home for dinner or  playing ball with his sons in Washington Square Park. His local spots -- Otto, Lupa and Babbo -- are my hangouts and, in my opinion, serve the best food in the city for sure. Naturally, I've been eagerly awaiting the opening of Mario's newest project, the 35,000 square foot Italian artisanal market, Eataly

I knew it would be better than anything we New Yorkers had seen before, and as it's finally ready to open its doors (next Tuesday!), last night Mario gave us a little preview tour of his newest food palace and, holy shit, is this place ever AMAZING. It's as over the top as Mario is himself. He has raised the bar and created an emporium that will change the face of food shopping in America. This will become a retail and grazing mecca for foodies worldwide. And quickly -- Mario told me his big worry is crowd control, even in such a large space, and I can see why. People are going to come in droves for the stellar ingredients -- from fish (with a little restaurant stand run by the Esca fellow) to meats (Mario proudly pointed out the daily raw meat -- i.e. carpaccio -- section) to cheese (people will be making mozzarella to sell in front of your eyes, to bread (ovens are behind the counter) to olive oils (the most amazing selection), to pasta (more varieties than i have ever seen in one place) to pizza (Mario introduced us to the guy making the pizzas who just arrived in New York from Naples yesterday!) to coffee. Mario swears their baristas will change the way New Yorkers drink their coffee and right in the middle of the coffee bar is a whole station of iPads with every Italian newspaper on it available for perusing while downing espressos.

Mario also gushed about his vegetable station, which comes complete with a small vegetable mini restaurant. We ran into our friend and food concept artist Jennifer Rubell there who's working with Mario for a few months in the vegetable section executing the coolest idea. If you buy veggies at Eataly you can request any kind of prep for these veggies and they will do it for free. That means they will peel your beets for you (I hate that job), peel and julienne your potatoes on the spot, dice three heads of garlic (if you want) or chop carrots celery and onions for sofrito. Isn't that amazing?

After the tour Mario had us do a tasting at the veggie bar and at the pasta bar. In each section (meat, fish, pizza, veggie pasta, wine) there are little tables where you can grab food to eat. We had the most amazing lasagna (OMG), tomato crostinis and soup, seafood penne, veggie frito misto, and sautéed wild mushrooms with polenta chips. We could have kept going but were so stuffed, and after three glasses of yummy wines we rolled ourselves home. I dreamed about the lasagna last night. Can't WAIT to go back.

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