Think Whole Foods meets Bloomingdale's, put an Italian spin on it, and you get a sense of the look and feel of Eataly, the gastronomical monster of a marketplace unveiled Tuesday night for its first preview. The 42,500-square-foot market, located in the Flatiron district, will open to the general public on Aug. 31.
Eataly is the baby of Mario Batali, Joe Bastianich and his mother, Lidia, of the Batali-Bastianich Hospitality Group. It is modeled after the original Eataly, which was founded by Oscar Farinetti in Turin, Italy.
Flourishes from that country abound at the new market, from an Italian bank ATM to dual-language signs to iPads displaying news from Italian newspapers.
Mario Batali, right, at the preview of Eataly on Tuesday.
The New York location houses seven restaurants featuring everything from salumi and hand-made mozzarella to a raw bar and Neapolitan-style pizza baked in two ovens imported from Italy. Only one of the restaurants—Il Manzo—has white tablecloths and will take reservations (and also happens to serve carne crudo, or raw beef, a favorite in Italy).
The other restaurants are incorporated into the retail sections, which serves as the heart of the market. One of the most anticipated elements—the 4,500-square-foot rooftop beer garden—won't open until November. Beers will be made unfiltered and unpasteurized, naturally carbonated and hand-pulled through traditional beer engines.
"This isn't a selection of restaurants under one roof," Mr. Batali said. "This is a retail store where we peddle the greatest of Italian gastronomy to people who want to eat it and know how to appreciate it. You ask any Italian and all of the smart Americans where the best meal they ever had in the last ten years was, and it was never in someone's restaurant. It was always in the house."
Still, Mr. Batali and company have brought much of the star power to Eataly from their existing restaurants. David Pasternack, the chef at Esca, will oversee the seafood restaurant; Nancy Silverton, of Mr. Batali's California restaurants, is heading up the bread baking; and Michael Toscano, formerly of Babbo, is the chef at Il Manzo (meat).
Some have wondered if there is a need for such a vast retail of Italian foodstuffs. Ihsan Gurdal, the owner of Formaggio Kitchen, which has a tiny gourmet food shop in Essex Market and two larger shops in Massachusetts, questioned the size of Eataly, though he said he was excited to see it. "My motto is less is more. If you start with this huge thing and products have expiration dates, it's a gamble," Mr. Gurdal said. "The size is definitely an issue. I think it's overwhelming."
Others, like Tim Zagat, the co-founder of the Zagat Survey of restaurants, said he believes there is a strong enough demand for Italian products. "We ask people what their favorite food is," he said. "In New York for the last 20 years, Italian food has always come in number one by far. People like to eat Italian food every day."
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I'm not a huge fan of Batali's very rich Italian food which can only be described as "Americanized Italian"... But if you're into butter and olive oil - definitely worthwhile. Now he adds a new layer of sophistication to his restaurant empire - a "food marketplace" called... Eataly. Let's hope the food is better than the name.