"I have the simplest tastes. I am simply satisfied with the best." - Oscar Wilde

"I came, I saw, I ate." - Au Gourmand

Monday, November 8, 2010

Eataly - November 4, 2010

So, it has come to this: Mario Batali's already over-blown ego has blown up to the size of one city block.  Eataly is a Disneyland for - obviously not the chefs as they have better sources for Italian necessities, for example, as in flown from Italy in the morning and arriving at JFK at 4PM - for the lazy gourmets, misguided foodie wannabes, blind Mario-Batali worshippers, harmless Bastianichi followers, starry-eyed tourists, recession-free investment bankers and a handful of wary OCDs* toward novelties; all these people susceptible to the lure of a nougat with a $25 price tag.  *Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.
I said "lazy" gourmets and not "self-deluded" gourmets because the quality of the items on offer at Eataly did range from decent to spectacular:  A decent selection of balsamic vinegar and olive oil (as opposed to that purported specialty store in Grand Central), an adequate line-up of pasta in terms of sizes and shapes (somehow the staple Barilla was also prominently marketed), a wonderful, if limited, bakery, a few jaw-dropping cheeses (a ridiculously rich blue, a wonderfully traditional taleggio and a charming whisky wash). One exception was the vegetables, which was shameful for its lack of interesting choices and freshness and misspelling of honshimeji - a type of Japanese mushroom. However, all of these come at a premium, even in the absence of the free-falling dollar.

After the shopping, here comes the rides.  With plastic tables and chairs strewn around, it is nothing more than a food court for people - well over thirty in trench coasts:  You would not expect a real cote de boeuf at Disneyland cafeteria, would you?

After dodging the disbelief, not entirely successfully masked by our waiter with a professional smile, for ordering only one spaghetti al pomodoro and nothing else, we waited to sample the "super" al dente spaghetti in tacit skepticism.  The spaghetti were indeed "super" al dente when I would have preferred a simple al dente, mixed in a tomato sauce, so mild that any acidity of the tomatoes had been neutralized or, more aptly, neutered.  The place looked like a cafeteria and now it also tasted like a cafeteria.

Congratulating ourselves for our good common sense in having ordered only one pasta and thus having suffered only one mishap at the pasta corner, we moved to Il Pesche and ordered the special small scallops and grilled calamari.  The scallops were sweet and cool at the beginning, but the accumulation of the slight brine developed into an annoying aftertaste by the time the calamari had arrived.  The three grilled calamari were a sight to behold on a large oval plate, making us both nostalgic for the big grilled squids, charred slightly on the sides and the tentacles, sold at stands by the sea in Asia.  It seems impossible to get large fresh calamari in restaurants in the United States; they are most ubiquitously unrecognizable in shape and taste, concealed in batter and sauce.  Therefore, the three decent-sized calamari with the legs intact were a promising sign.  Lightly and correctly grilled with olive oil, the calamari was soft and chewy but not rubbery; however, it was plain without the required accompaniment, lemon.  While waiting for the lemon wedges, I dug into the side of one-third arugula, one-third parsley and one-third red pepper flakes, and belatedly realized the side was to top the calamari like a sauce because it significantly improved the dish.  Had I never had better calamari, I would have been happy with these despite the fiercely redundant red peppers, but I cannot wipe my memory of the joyous experience by the seaside.

Sometimes, knowledge is pain; ignorance is bliss.  Nevertheless, my quest continues.

Address:  200 5th Ave., New York, NY 10010
Phone:  (212) 229-2560

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