MARIO! MARIO! MARIO!
Mario! Mario! Mario! To say that I am a groupie is putting it mildly. I’ve been a fan from his Molto Mario days. I stood in line to get his cookbook signed at a Barnes & Noble in Freehold, NJ. I had a dozen things I wanted to say to him. Like how the soup at ESCA, one of his New York venues, was THE best soup I’ve EVER tasted. When it was my turn to meet him, I stuttered and stumbled like a teenager. Ridiculous. I admit it. I’m obsessed. I’ve watch the entire Spain! series more times than I care to admit and I mimicked his trip to Mallorca and Barcelona. Minus Gwyneth, Bittman and Claudia, sadly. So when Mario teamed with his partner Joe Bastianich and Joe’s mom, the revered Lidia Bastianich and they opened a huge emporium/restaurant…well, I was there. And again; Mario is simply the best. Unstoppable!
EATALY, as this huge space is called, is unique in New York. Located at 200 5th Avenue, there is a café, gelateria, pizza place, beer garden, fish restaurant and more places to eat than there are days of the week. Entering EATALY is to enter Mario heaven. Laughably, the first person I spotted wore his signature orange crocs, although they are not de rigueur by any means; just an homage to the master genius known as Batali.
When I entered EATALY I had two simultaneous thoughts. First, I was on sensory overload. Where to go first? Should I head towards the fresh fish or towards the lovely bakery that was seducing me with the smell of carbohydrates? My second thought was, is there really a recession? Because this overpriced emporium was packed in its second week of existence. My next thought was, “Wow! How many people does EATALY employ?” A lot. And so Mario is certainly doing his bit toward helping the US economy recover. What a risk he took, along with his famous partners Lidia and her son Joe Bastianich.
This space is nearly 50,000 square feet of prime New York City real estate. How did Mario find the confidence, the cohunes, to boldly open this Mecca devoted entirely to Italy, Italian food, and Italian products. Wherever his nerve came from, I’m glad he did it. EATALY will be my Italian home away from Italy. Whenever I need an Italy fix and can’t get there, I’m coming here. Here, I can have my choice of fine olive oil, balsamic vinegars, prosciutto, fresh produce, fish, parmesan reggiano, tapenades, sauces, pastas, gelato as close to the real thing as I’ve had in the states, espresso, brick oven pizza, and wine. I can bring home whatever I can’t find room to eat here. And I ate a lot. Pizza, salamis, gelato, bread with olive oil; everything was delicious.
The prices are absurd. Of course they are. Everything is imported. There is a flat screen tv showing Italian news. In Italian. But considering the price of an airline ticket to Italy and a hotel in Milan where I could go to PECK to purchase similar items, it’s a bargain. I will be there again. Soon. And often. And Mario…like a fine piece of Italian cheese; you get better and better with age.