During a recent trip to Chicago to visit our daughter, we mastered Uber well enough to get us anywhere we wanted to go in the city. And I wanted to go to Eataly, Mario Batali’s 63,000 square foot Italian food emporium. Just inside the front door was a dedication to Ernest Hemingway that reassured me we were probably going to like the place. Of course, I am a fan of Batali from my daily, treadmill-time watching of The Chew, which he co-hosts. Also, David gifted me with a copy of Batali’s new America Farm to Table cookbook from Christmas. I had read enough about Eataly to be intrigued and, I must say, it exceeded my expectations in a way that any store as large as five Trader Joe’s might!
The motto above the door is one I certainly approve of! If we had know that we could have gotten a glass of wine and walked around with it, we probably would have. As it was, we really didn’t have any intention of eating a meal at Eataly, but the power of suggestion overwhelmed us. Inside the two-story building are eight Italian themed restaurants, the largest of which is La Pizza & La Pasta, where we eventually took a seat at the counter so we could watch the daily pasta dishes being prepared.
Lucky for us, there was no waiting. Probably because it was still Sunday morning, but David and I used the “it’s 5 o’clock somewhere” justification for ordering a glass of wine to go with a “pizza of the day”, which happened to be prosciutto!
Our very friendly server started us with a plate of oil and a brown paper package of freshly baked bread before helping us select a Valle Reale Montepulciano d’Abruzzo to go with our pizza.
We had a great time watching the preparation of the Daily Pastas and had no problem finishing the pizza, which had been perfectly baked in a stone pizza oven, also in view, and generously covered in fresh mozzarella and prosciutto.
Fortified and ready to shop, we walked around for the best part of an hour taking in the fish counter and it’s corresponding restaurant, Il Pesce, as well as the meat counter. I understand there is also a meat-centric restaurant called La Carne, which is in a remote corner of the second floor and a vegetarian eatery called Le Verdure, as well.
If you to to Eataly, I would probably suggest starting the the center of the second floor, La Piazza, which is the busy Italian city center where you can order a glass of wine and stand at one of the tables to enjoy items coming directly from the counters or production corners located right behind them: La Mozzarella, Il Crudo, I Salumi & Formaggi and Il Fritto.
We were off to investigate Italian wines! I have a new interest in Nebbiolo, red Italian grape variety that is being grown at Quarry Hill Winery, where I work part-time. Nebbiolo is most commonly used in Barolo and Barbaresco wines. I though perhaps I could learn a little more about the grape from the young guy working in the wine department. He was initially very interested in talking to me, but when I began asking some specific questions that were out of his range of knowledge and explained that I work at a winery in Ohio, he admitted he was also from Ohio – an OSU grad. He suggested we could sample some wines at the nearby Vino Libero counter, where 6 casks of wine were “on tap” and, once again, you could stand at a tasting counter and enjoy your wine with a selection of marinated olives, or salumi, or prosciutto di parma, or even spicy tuna.
I must say, the whole Eataly experience was a feast for the eyes. Even the signs for the Toilette were clever! We decided our trip home on Amtrack would allow for a small bag of groceries which we chose mainly from the selections of First Anniversary Celebration Sale bins that were prominently placed throughout both floors.
In addition to a particularly flavorful Provolone that we found in the cheese shop, we brought home some a small jar of a white truffles and mushroom sauce, a tube of Triplo Concentrato dei Comodoro tomato paste, and a box of Barilla Bucatini n.9 – my new favorite pasta!
Next time, and there will be a next time, we will plan on eating our way through both floors. Mario Batali may have created a culinary circus in Eataly, but who doesn’t enjoy a culinary circus?