I’ve Never Been to Italy…..

…..but I have been to Eataly!  This gastronomic temple of all things Italian opened in Boston two weeks ago.  It’s the newest outpost of this global enterprise, and one of only four in the US.  I’d been to Eataly in Manhattan and was excited to check out our local store, located in the Prudential Center.  All in the name of BiblioBites research, of course;  inquiring minds always want to know about the latest new thing in the Boston food scene!

Eataly was conceptualized and founded in Torino, Italy in 2007 by Oscar Farinetti, who wanted to make top-quality Italian food accessible to all in a European open-market style.  His main collaborators in this enterprise are celebrity chefs Mario Batali and Lidia Bastianich, who shepherded the opening of the Boston store.  (Check out their latest titles:  Batali’s Mario Batali Big American Cookbook; Bastianich’s Lidia’s Mastering the Art of Italian Cuisine).  One of Eataly’s prime directives is “eat, shop, learn,” and certainly it’s easy enough to do all three on any given visit.

The Boston store is about half the size of the NYC store, but this is a good thing!  It’s much less overwhelming, though the aisles are maze-like and can be difficult to negotiate when it’s crowded.  Shelves of specialty items are crammed next to cases laden with cheese, salami, fresh pasta,  foccaccia, gelato, and more.  If you want a snack there are two espresso bars, a cannoli cart (unique to the Boston store), pastry counter, and a crepe stand.  And should you need lunch or dinner, fear not.  You have multiple options for takeout and sit-down meals.  For the latter,  there’s La Pesce for fish, La Pizza e la Pasta for– pizza and pasta, and in the center of it all, La Piazza, a bar-like area serving drinks and small plates.  For takeout there’s an area devoted to salads hot and cold, vegetables, risotto, roasted meats….it goes on!  Takeout pizza is coming soon, as is a more formal restaurant on the third floor.

While there I lunched on a prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, and arugula panini.  One of the stated goals of Eataly is to source and sell high-quality ingredients, and the panini certainly illustrated that; the prosciutto was tender and not too salty, the mozzarella fresh and milky, and the bread toothsome and flavorful.  To go with my sandwich, there were house-made ultra-thin potato chips, which were so perfectly light and salty (think Lays on steroids) that I couldn’t stop eating them.  I tried coffee at both of the espresso bars– Lavazza and Illy– I preferred the Illy.  The coffee was surprisingly, screamingly hot, which I wasn’t expecting.  After I got over the shock, I did appreciate it, since I usually think that most coffee isn’t hot enough.

One of Italy’s main claims to culinary fame is its endless variety of pasta, and here Eataly does not disappoint.  There are at least twelve brands of dried pasta represented, from artisan varieties costing $7 or $8 per pound, to the familiar blue-boxed Barilla.  Pasta is sold in every conceivable shape; whole-wheat and other flours are also represented.  To go with your pasta there are several types of jarred sauce (tomato-based or pesto) and multitudinous varieties of olive oil.

If you’re not in the mood for pasta (is that possible?), there are ten or so kinds of risotto, and at least four styles of polenta.  Or, if it’s appetizers you need, in addition to the aforementioned cheese and salami there are olives galore, semi-dried tomatoes, breadsticks, and pickles of various sorts.  And don’t forget the sweets: chocolates, cookies, and (since it’s Christmastime), several varieties of panettone.

After wandering about for an hour or so, I was on sensory overload, and managed to miss the wine shop.  Next time!  There’s also La Scuola, where you can take a food or wine class.  In viewing the schedule, classes range in price from $10 to $150, but the vast majority are sold out through the end of February, the latest date shown online.

If you love Italian food, Eataly is absolutely worth the trip, but choose your day and time carefully!  My first visit was on a weekday morning; I arrived around 9:45 AM and pretty much had the place to myself, as you can see from the photos.  By 11 AM or so things were hopping and it was difficult to move in some of the aisles.  Lunch around noon entailed a wait, but it was only about 5 minutes.  However by 12:30 the lines were considerably longer.  On a second brief visit on a Saturday evening, it was so crowded I could barely walk anywhere.  The line for panini stretched outside the store, and all the other stations were similarly busy.  Eventually the novelty will wear off and the crowds thin out, but for now I’d advise a weekday expedition; and remember to bring your patience.  One oddity of Eataly’s layout is that you pay for any fresh food at the counter where you buy it, but boxed and jarred items are paid for at a set of registers near the exit.  So depending on what you buy, you could wind up standing in several lines before you finally emerge with your bounty!