While all roads may lead to Rome, New York has always offered a clear shortcut to the cuisine of Italy. Now joining the city’s offerings comes Eataly, the gourmet food superstore importing a festival of Italian food and culture to the old Toy Building at Fifth Avenue in the Flatiron District.
A few years ago, Oscar Farinetti, the driving force behind UniEuro, one of the largest consumer electronic retailers in Italy, opened a food and wine market in his native Turin. Now, he has partnered with the star power of celebrity chefs (and slow food proponents) Mario Batali, Joe Bastianich and Lidia Matticchio Bastianich, members of the Batali, Bastianich Hospitality Group, to develop this new retail food concept. Eataly New York opened this summer, in celebration of small farmers and hand-made quality – especially of cheese, wine and pasta.
The new venture captures the essence of a bygone era with the feel of a village marketplace in an old Italian hilltop town. No open sightlines and wide traffic patterns here. Rather, the plan leads the customer in an exploration of the nooks, crannies and delectable surprises within. It’s a journey in discovery that begins at the original folding iron gates of the entrance to the historic 1908 landmark building. Original bronze moldings frame a grouping of interior show windows. An awning-covered produce stand greets entering customers, followed by a “veggie butcher” who will slice their eggplants and trim their artichokes.
In the center of it all is La Piazza, a quintessentially open Italian plaza where connoisseurs mingle around wrought iron marble-topped standing tables, sipping wine, tasting cheese and salami and devouring fresh oysters.
This tasting court, at the heart of the T-shaped 50,000-square-foot floor plan, is adorned with four original half-cupolas, anchoring the four corners of the open space. Each of these stunning architectural details, carved from solid blocks of marble, houses a basic Italian food classification, from a raw bar and fresh mozzarella to salami and wine by the glass.
Past La Piazza are Pesce Il Fresco, a seafood counter with overhead lamps specifically color-balanced to display fish in all its freshness, and Ristorante Pesce, a seafood restaurant in the artful hands of executive chef David Pasternak, serving up everything from littleneck clams on the half-shell to sockeye salmon seasoned with Hawaiian sea salt.
La Panetteria bakes fresh bread on site in genuine wood-fired ovens from Italy; and La Pizza and La Pasta – operated by Rossopomodoro, an Italian-based pizzeria with worldwide locations – offers fresh ravioli, lasagna and more, along with authentic Neapolitan-style pizza. The state-of-the-art, glass-tiled European wood-burning ovens are as big an attraction as the cheesy, saucy slices.
TPG, the New York-based architects of record for the project, peeled away layers of history from the old building – including carpeting, wood flooring and various surface materials – to uncover such period treasures as hand-laid marble mosaic floors, plaster moldings and solid marble columns. Found conditions were readily integrated into the design concept, so industrial functionality is juxtaposed with decorative carved marble and beautifully preserved terrazzo floors.
“This was a complex project in a 100-year-old building,” says Alec Zaballero, retail design principal at TPG. “It’s logistically creative chaos, where adjacencies are carefully planned and hot beds of activity are strategically positioned. It’s a diverse shop of shops that serves as a cohesive ambassador of Italy and the finer points of Italian life and epicurean culture.”
New Yorkers who traditionally savor Italian cuisine, from the multi-star offerings of Babbo and Esca to the corner pizza slice, have another true taste