|Map of Eataly from the NY Times|
Before dinner at Babbo though, we headed over for lunch at Eataly, at 23rd Street & 5th Avenue. This is the newest creation from Batali along with partners Joe & Lidia Bastianich and is basically half a city block devoted to all things Italian. There is an espresso bar, gelateria, desert counter/cafe, cheese monger, salumi station, pizza bar, produce section, fresh mozzarella being made on premise, wine store, butcher, fish monger, and of course all the fresh pasta you can imagine. It's billed as market with restaurants, but it's so much more than that. One section called La Piazza features high-top tables with no chairs where you elbow your way in, then have cheese & meat platters served along side a glass of wine while you make friends. The place is packed - but what isn't in Manhattan? As long as you're ok with crowds, you'll love the amazing selection of artisan foods available here. Free samples are everywhere, but you're hard pressed not to come out of there without buying something.
Babbo was incredible. We weren't able to land a reservation, but you always have the option of eating at the bar or waiting for one of a half-dozen tables at the front of the restaurant. The servers, bar tenders & maitre'd were on their game and all made you feel special. We waited just over an hour for a table with a few glasses of good Planeta Nero D'Avola to keep us entertained. Fresh sardines and a winter vegetable salad with goat cheese for appetizers were both fantastic. Never tried sardines before and I always like to try something weird on the menu - they were great. Salty like the sea and melted in your mouth. For entrees I got the buccatini all' amatriciana - bucatini is the big spaghetti noodles with the hole in the center. The sauce was a spicy tomato with pecorino. Best pasta I've had outside of Italy. She got the goat cheese tortelloni with fennel pollen. I don't know how, but hers was actually better. Hand made pasta wrapped up an amazing hunk of fresh goat cheese that made you feel good all over. For desert she got the chocolate and pistachio semifreddo and I went with the maple & mascarpone cheesecake. Somehow I ordered the better desert, which never happens.
Batali has a few other restaurants in NY that I'd like to check out, including Del Posto and the Spotted Pig, but all I could think about that night was planning a vacation to Italy and tasting what inspired the chef to do all these great things.