New York City is a world unto itself. It's a relatively small island filled with a lot of everything from everywhere. You can find almost anything you can imagine in this city. What I find most interesting is that you can be here by yourself and not be lonely. And, on the opposite side of the coin, you can be surrounded by literally thousands of people and be left alone.
I have often imagined that when we start our official Pizza Quest tour here in NY we may never finish. It would be like a black hole, or a Twilight Zone episode where Peter takes us into the city to one pizzeria after the other and we wake up one day to realize we're now stuck in a perpetual pizza quest - tasting our way through the city and surrounding boroughs. If we ever got to the end of our journey there, we would probably have to start it all over. I have heard that the Golden Gate Bridge is never finished being painted. It's so large, that when the crews make their way across the bridge painting it, and finally reach the other side and "finish" - they have to start the process over again at the beginning.
There's even another, perhaps more sinister obstacle we would face on our trip through New York. We may never get to that imaginary "End" of our search for that perfect pizza in the first place. We will surely face this manipulative demon day in and day out. We will run smack into a never ending supply of quest-worthy "detours" that would inevitably become quests on their own. Trust me! We went to Cayucos, CA and couldn't get out of there without numerous side trips, taco quests, cookie connections and that town only has about 137 people!
One day, we'll get to NYC with our quest crew. I'll just have to inform my family and prepare them to move there with me.
So, what's the big deal here Brad? Why all this talk of the BIG APPLE? Are you beginning a quest there? No, not yet. But Eataly caused me to realize just how all consuming and compelling New York City can be.
Mario Batali, Lidia Bastianich and her son Joe have put together a concept that may only be possible in this city. I finally had a chance to drop in and wander around this new venture of theirs. It's hard to believe. It's decadent, but yet it's about simple things - quality ingredients, good food, and a celebration of gathering and eating. When I visited it in the summer of 2011, and our economy was not looking it's shiny best. In a way, it struck me as hard to balance reality and this over the top expression of a gourmet food market. But this is NYC. You have to realize just how many people are here. That justifies a different reality that allows Eataly to exist. Where you may be lucky enough to find a great butcher, fish monger, a fine cheese shop, or bakery in cities and towns everywhere, it's something special when they happen to all be in the same location. This happens organically on occasion, as one good restaurant becomes successful, it draws another, and another and you begin to have a great neighborhood, village, farmers market, or gathering place. We really do gather around food either in our cities and towns, or at our dinner tables or breakfast nooks.
Eataly is that neighborhood where all these unique, quality artisan vendors come to sell their goods. It is like what Anthony Strong, of Pizzeria Delfina, so proudly proclaimed in one of our early webisodes about his Castro neighborhood in San Francisco. It had become known as "The Gastro" because of the gathering of so many dedicated food purveyors, restaurants, bakeries who had settled in and it become a place to go to eat, graze, shop, or just get together. In a city like NYC there are certainly many great neighborhoods with all of these elements, but at Eataly, they have taken the concept and brought it into one place, under one roof. The space feels like a remodeled old rail station, or warehouse. It's clean, bright, and has high enough ceilings to make it feel open, but not too cavernous. I could even say I found it cozy at the same time. The city is like that as well. It's gigantic, but you find coziness in the smaller parts, the nooks and crannies - the neighborhoods. Eataly's design also lends to a sense of discovery as you wander through the space, turning corners, and uncovering what else there is to find.
I have one lament though. As a visitor swinging through NY, you can't take advantage of a big part of the experience, which is access to so many amazing - quality ingredients to take home and cook with! But, you can browse, sit, eat, taste, sample and drink within this great public gathering space. I don't think you can even appreciate what Eataly is until you've had the chance to experience it all, eating in but also taking the food/ingredients to go. It is a great place to visit, but perhaps a greater lifestyle type of place. I read one review saying how someone was frustrated eating in what was essentially a public market. This was exactly the aspect that I loved so much about it. I was there alone, but I felt part of the shared experience.
We all know it's one of life's gifts to sit in a quiet little restaurant with a candle on the table and enjoy the ambiance along with some great food. There's definitely a time for that. And, there's a time for Eataly -- a time to celebrate a gathering of ingredients, foods, artisans, and friends in a very open and sharing way. You can't help but be excited in here. I would love to rent an apartment in the city sometime just to be able to swing by here to pick up some of these amazing ingredients to take home and make a meal with. In all likelihood, that may well result in a taste or two of some fine wine or other small plates along the way.
So, what did I eat in there? Well, this is Pizza Quest, right? So, I had to try the pizza, of course! I really wanted to have some fish, but, well you know with the Pizza Quest thing, I didn't feel there was much of a choice. I could have played off the whole fish taco thing, but I figured the best place for my Eataly journey to end that day would be the pizzeria "La Pizza". But, as you can see from the photos of the fish store, that's a place I'll definitely be back to explore when I can do it justice.
I had the Messesse Pizza. It had a nice fresh tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, spicy salumi, and a little fresh basil to top it off. Their pizza, as they advise you, is made very thin and is meant to be eaten with a fork from the middle outward to the crust - a traditional Napoletana style pizza. The pizza was balanced, bright and delicious. The crust was very thin in the middle and had a nice chew to it out near the cornicione. I was very happy! I will be back.
I live in California. I realize that my Eataly Quest may take some time to complete. And, I realize that it may be much like my dream of our Pizza Quest in NYC - a never ending journey - which is great because that is what life is all about and I think it's exactly what Mario and the gang were striving for.