August 31, 2010 | Short Order

Eataly Rollout Rivals a Harry Potter Book Release

Joe Bastianich does the play-by-play and Mario directs the angle.

        The rollout of Eataly in a soaring 42,500 square foot mostly marbled space just steps from Shake Shack has rivaled a Harry Potter book release. In this launch though a carefully juggled hierarchy of press has been sworn not to silence but to shout out.  Time got a preview tease from Mario in February. The Post’s three page preview (50,000 sq.ft., it said) last Wednesday came with numbered maps and molto visuals. FloFab broke the “opening soon” story in Diner’s Journal (32,000 sq.ft, she wrote) with restaurant details: There would be white tablecloths in Manzo the steak house. “Mega Mario” and a lot of grocery shelves got prime space from Rob and Robin in New York last Monday.

“From your lips Mom to God’s ear,” Joe Bastinich seems to say as Lidia speaks. Photo: Steven Richter

        After the print powers met their deadlines came the inevitable masses. The crème de la crème of the blogosphere and some skim milk too got invited to a duo of walk throughs last week.  As soon as I saw the mob scene, flashing and snapping, at the entrance I wanted to go home. But the Road Food Warrior was already focused on shooting the pastries.  Finally Joe Bastianich took the mike, and introduced the money from Italy. I’m guessing. I can’t help hoping B&B partners – Mario Batali and the Bastianichs, Mama Lidia, son Joe -- haven’t mortgaged any homesteads for this joint venture with Eataly’s Italian creator Oscar Farinetti.  He took the mike, leading the milling mass past the ATM (“So the Italians can change their euros.” He points out the kiosk for La Stampa into a vast open tasting space and I decided to stay.

       Two hundred staffers welcomed, sliced, served, cleared up and waited to handout the swag bags: Counting part timers, the staff is 350. No wonder Mario keeps saying: “This could really fly or everything could go wrong.” 

Esca’s fish whisperer, David Pasternak, is a force of nature. Photo: Steven Richter

       At the seafood tasting station, David Pasternak from B&B’s Esca was on a high from a trip to New Orleans and a day of bow and arrow fishing as he slivered local striped bass to sprinkle with minced pistachios.  “Imagine, you’re in the boat and the fish are swimming alongside and you have a bow and arrow. These guys are amazing.”  Bass, olive oil, pistachio, a few crystals of salt. I shivered. Then I slurped up a big fat oyster with Calabrian hot sauce --- a “Flower,” said Pasternak said, from Long Island.” FloFab tastes the tuna.  I took another fat juicy Flower, a Well Fleet and then two more.

       Ruth Reichl has arrived. Pasternak set about making a trio of crudos for her, telling the bow and arrow story again.  When I ask if Steven can have a trio too, he makes one for each of us. The chef standing next to him yawns. This, I presume, is the guy who will be accessorizing the crudi when David goes home to Esca.  Tastings will be $18 for crudi, salumi or cheese, and $22 for meat and cheese combined. Definitely not for Shake Shack ilk. Still it’s New York. The early responding crowd might be huge (if they’re not all at the beach this week). What will happen when the stars take a day off or a month to tape their next television epic? When the vegetable concierge goes home? When the locavores get a load of all these imported groceries and the newly prudent big spenders head for Trader Joe’s? “Nice products and I’m glad I live nearby,” a food world professional emails me. “But it feels like the Italian Trade Commission booth at a food show in the Javits Center.”

Mario presents a pizza hot out of the oven. A waiter stands to pour Barolo. Photo Steven Richter

       I help myself to prosciutto and two little chunks of parmigiano. “The last thing you want to do is give an Italian the microphone,” I hear Mario say. “Let’s get some pizza.”  We hustle after his orange shorts to the wine bar and pizzaria. ”This 300 lb guy arrives this morning from Naples. He asks me what do you want?’ “I told him I want pizza by 6.”  He fetches a pie hot from the oven. Very soggy. Definitely Neopolitan. Too bad Nancy Silverton the B&B partner at Mozza Pizzeria and Osteria in LA isn’t in charge of pizzas.  Hers are amazing. Still it’s not often the waiter pours Barolo to go with your pizza.

No way can we resist the lure of this gorgeous bread display.  Photo: Steven Richter.

        Silverton, the bread master who created La Brea bakery, is supposedly in charge of the bread. Mario sticks his hand in the oven – it’s still hot.  He checks out the yeast box.  The bread will be better when the yeast gets into the walls and everywhere,” he says. “That takes a while.”  The bread department is gorgeous. “Take whatever you want,” says Mario.

       I scoop up an olive bread and ask the head baker for whatever is crustiest. My hair is soaking wet. I wonder if the air conditioning is too weak for all this milling and eating. The stalwarts are moving on to groceries and the wine shop when we cut out through the espresso bar area. (Opens at 7 starting Wednesday. Groceries at 10). I ask for an almond pastry from the lone clerk standing at the display: It firm and yet crumbly. 

       The doors open at 4 p.m. today.  I’m still waiting for the menus promised last night.  Will you be there?

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