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Eataly – the Italian superstore headed by Italian super chefs Mario Batali, Lydia Bastianich and Joe Bastianich (Lydia’s son) – was and still is a place I will take friends and relatives to when they come to town. But I will likely do so with a caveat: go browse, marvel and salivate, but do not buy.

Eataly is an Italian foodie utopia. Walking through their extensive selection of meats, cheeses, pastas and wines, you can’t help but affectionately reminisce about afternoons spent wandering the markets in Rome and Florence, Naples and Turin. The smells and colors are intoxicating and for a few brief moments you think, “of course it’s reasonable to spend $19.99 on a sausage link. I’m in Italy and who knows when I will be back?” But then you smack yourself back to reality and remind yourself that no, silly, you are in New York! Maybe you should just buy the homemade pasta being sold at the outdoor market in your neighborhood. The panettone (my favorite!) is the same brand they sell at Fairway and World Market. And the wine, well, it’s overpriced. It’s just so easy to get sucked into the ambiance and sophistication that Eataly offers!

But just like the first time my pockets got plundered by a Sicilian cabbie in Rome, Eataly, too, will chip away at that beautiful veneer and jolt you back into a reality that isn’t all dolci and lattes. First, it is expensive. I mean, it’s New York, so of course it is. But you need to choose wisely. Those “buddha hand” lemons sure are spectacular looking and what a conversation piece they will be! But, really, do I need those? And the pasta selection is enormous and maybe for a special occasion, I could buy the orechiette pasta that I can never find in my local grocery store. But then again…maybe not. The biggest problem I have, though, is the customer service. And that’s really what crushes the joy of Eataly.

Take last night for example, a girlfriend and I went to wander and enjoy a glass of wine, maybe a slice of pizza, and then a beer at the (relatively) newly opened Birreria. We sat down at Le Verdure, where the counter was nearly empty and the customers in the table area were few. We were promptly and then aggressively told to leave when we explained that we only wanted a glass of vino. The waitress first told us she couldn’t serve us when we expressed our confusion and then the manager came over and told us we needed to find another place to sit. I was taken aback (in my head, I was still in lovely Italy!) and, well, they were unnecessarily rude, considering we were polite. They really didn’t have any other customers and we were planning to order, just not to the full extent they wanted us to. And, while it might be easier to offend my Midwestern roots, it’s harder to offend my girlfriend, who grew up in Brooklyn, and yet they managed to.

We did see Joe Bastianich in the Birreria, after we gave up trying to find seats elsewhere (La Piazza is standing-tables only), when he breezed by us in the bar. But by then the sheen on our evening had been lost and even a kind-of celebrity sighting wasn’t enough to resurrect it.

I recently read on Eater that Eataly may be expanding to Washington DC and possibly Los Angeles, and I understand people’s excitement. It really is a place to experience…just maybe not a place to shop.

See You in the City!

They try to visually replicate what you’d experience at markets in Italy. These stands greet you when you first walk into Eataly, from the 23rd Street Entrance.

La Piazza is standing-tables only and they offer wine, champagne, beer and a choice of small dishes.

Eataly has a whole range of pasta. While Americans usually choose their pasta based on what shape they prefer, Italians look for what will most complement the type of sauce being made. There are particular pairings that work better than others and the pasta really is the star of the show. Gourmet magazine published the best write-up I have seen about pasta choices and how to cook and serve pasta like a true Italian nonna.

The Birreria. The photo is a little dark, but so is the room. It’s got a cool vibe, though, and it’s an open rooftop in warmer weather. Unfortunately, they do not offer any Happy Hour prices.

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