Travel, Etc. --> A Visit To Eataly Chicago
A Visit To Eataly Chicago
Not sure what you're in the mood for? Visit Eataly!
Reviewer, Jeff Ruby, of Chicago magazine, called Chicago's new branch of Eataly "A glorious, infuriating and very tasty circus." After our visit last week, Linda & I decided that we couldn't agree more! With 63,000 square feet of Italian food and wine spread over 2 floors, it includes 8 restaurants and 5 different bars, including wine, coffee, panini sandwiches, gelato, and all things Nutella, plus Rosticcere serving rotisserie chicken and freshly carved chicken paninis.
After a harrowing drive up I-65 (have you ever been caught in two solid, slow lanes of traffic filled with semis, behind a police-escorted oversize load), we arrived a little frazzled at 11:30 on a Thursday morning. We were ready for calm and a white tablecloth restaurant, and instead, the scene was loud and chaotic, reminiscent of a morning we spent at an open-air market in Rome. Baffo, Mario Batali's white tablecloth fine dining restaurant was only open for lunch Friday through Sunday. So quickly adjusting our expectations, we began our exploration to find something to eat (and drink) before shopping.
The dining choices, all located on the 2nd floor, were staggering. All of the dining locations are open concept, with the seating often centered around the kitchen areas. La Piazza, located in the center of the floor, serves a variety of Italian small plates, and wine-by-the-glass. Surrounding it are the specialty food concepts, including Il Pesce, featuring an Italian approach to seafood, located right next to the amazing-looking fresh fish market; La Carne, a meat-centric restaurant, conveniently located near the butcher shop and meat counters, where you can sample Piemontese beef from north eastern Italy; Le Verdure, an eatery that specializes in Italian vegetarian dishes and soups (and even it was crowded, but we moved on); Birreria, a complete brewery and brew pub; Vino Libero, which is billed as Eataly's Enoteca and Aperitivo bar, wine and appetizers.
And finally, our choice, La Pizza & La Pasta, located next to the full bakery and featuring wood burning pizza ovens and plenty of fresh pasta. We happened to be lucky enough to be seated at a table that was a little more isolated near a window overlooking Wabash Street, where it was quiet enough to conduct a conversation. We started with the Formaggi Misti, a cheese plate featuring a triple cream, goat cheese, and parmesan, and the most amazing, lightly sweet orange chutney with rustic bread and glasses of Feudi San Gregorio Greco di Tufo, an excellent southern Italian white.
We followed that by sharing a wood oven Capricciosa pizza that featured fresh mozzarella, mushrooms, prosciutto cotto, artichokes, olives, basil and tomato sauce. The crust reminded us of those from Pizzaology in Carmel. We paired this with glasses of Valle Reale Montepulciano d'Abruzzo. Everything was excellent, almost enough to make us forget that this is fundamentally a giant food court. Don't go for the atmosphere.
Feeling more relaxed, we started browsing the diverse selection of all things Italian...from books, to sauce, to more pasta shapes than you knew existed, to housewares, cheeses, sweets and even fresh vegetables and fruit (obviously not from Italy!) We made some interesting purchases, including the orange chutney which is called Mostarda, and a lot of interesting pastas.
It is easy to see that Eataly, with such a vast selection, could only exist in a densely populated, urban environment. The most surprising thing is that there are 27 Eataly's, world-wide, with the original one opening in Turin, Italy in 2007. Today, there are 10 in Italy, 13 in Japan, 1 in Dubai, 1 in Turkey and now, 2 in the US. The NYC and Chicago franchises are owned by Mario Batali, and four partners, whose products are heavily featured. We even bought a jar of Mario's pizza sauce and it was very good.
Next time you are in Chicago, it is certainly worth a stop. We plan a trip to Baffo to try the tasting menu at dinner next time we are in the city. One word of warning, the nearby parking garage referenced on their website didn't actually have any parking available, at least not at lunch.
July 30, 2014