Monday, July 16

EATALY comes to Rome: from one Hungry Blogger

Some friends visiting from London came to Rome on route to moving to China, in a sort of reverse Marco Polo.  Let's face it: Marco may have seen some mighty fine pasta noodles in his day, but when it comes to a hot dish of Pici al Cacio e Pepe, you gotta go straight to the source:  Bella Roma.  And now, because of Eataly, you don't have to be confined to just mouth-watering Roman dishes, but you've got the whole breadbasket of Italy to choose from:  from De Cecco Pasta (Abruzzi) to Illy Caffè (Trieste via Brazil), to Nutella (Torino) -- showcasing a host of bilingual cookbooks to do more with it than just eat it from the jar with a spoon, alas - that presupposes it gets as far as your countertop without actually leaving the palm of your hand; something I've heard of but have never experienced myself) -- In short, if it's gourmet, and Italian: Eataly's got it.
On the way over to the fabulous reconverted gorgeous train station buildings of Rome's Stazione Ostiense (a stone's throw from the Pyramid - I love it when I can type stuff like that)we debated if it wasn't a bit like bringing coal to Newcastle.  I mean, you can get wonderful treats - I imagine at a fraction of the cost  (after all, their motto is 'High Food') - at your local grocer's.  My Vote?  Put it all in one place, with easy-on-the-eye merchandising and exceptional customer service (okay, make that so-so customer service, we'll still take it), and it'll be a winner -- if nothing else for the novelty of food courts that have nothing to do with the American-style of grazing, pigs-feeding-at-the-deep-fried-trough style.
Eataly, now open at Rome's Stazione Ostiense area
(right near the pyramid)
Judging from the crowds, I felt as though I were going to a Rolling Stones concert in the '80s; sadly, without the pot high.  You certainly needed to smoke something to numb the nerves after the long queues just trying to get into the parking lot.  I didn't care, really, new life had been breathed into a moribund area that up to now had been a holding pen for economic immigrants being offered open-air bathrooms with gypsies managing makeshift campgrounds.  You'd also find meandering tourists wandering around, wondering how to haul their Iuggage up to the track to the airport.  I absolutely loved all the hustle-bustle of people driving about who didn't call their cars 'home'.
Parking was actually easy as people were coming and going at a nice clip. So were the cars trying to run you down in the final 10m sprint to the entrance.  Gazing up in awe at its cathedral ceilings reaching up to the heavens and sparkling white dècor, Eataly may have looked like a modern shrine built in a post-war part of Rome, but the cat-and-mouse game with car bumpers brought you back down to the netherworld.  Real fast.
Once inside, fairly good bilingual signage conceived by seemingly ex-Ikea graphics teams seemed to do the trick nicely.  Although it was still a bit confusing...we couldn't tell if you could sit and order from anywhere, or if you could only order from the section nearest where you were seated (we believe that is the case - I don't know for sure, for reasons that shall follow).  The idea of mob seating and then waiting for orders to be taken was highly disconcerting to me and my fellow anglo-saxons -- It may work in New York City where waiters take tips quite seriously, but I don't know how it will play in the piazza...where no one stands in line, and waiters usually take the "wait" part verrrry seriously.  So, you had to either hover over a table and try your luck at grabbing it, or, in some places join a line being formed.  I would have preferred the "go up to the counter / get your food / bring to table" type of food court, but, of course, I'm used to food courts sporting stadium seating for the 24-hour grazer (in the good 'ol USA).  The problem with (or, actually, benefit of) places like Italy is that the dinner hour is quite precise (even though in Rome it's much more flexible than say, Milan).  So, it looked like all of Rome had descended on Eataly - all at the same time.  Let's just say, there wasn't stadium seating for these stadium crowds.  
Needless to say, after three of us cruised tables as if looking for a hot pickup in different sections and across different floors, drooling at the bit for some of the gorgeous meals being heaped on plates and delivered by young Italian versions of Mercury riding up and down the escalators, we called it quits.  We hoped it was opening week crowds, but...I have a feeling, it'd be best to go early or much much later - always.  Entire families seated there, young trendy couples, and everyone - everyone - sporting a smile on their face.  It looked like so much fun, we wanted to pull up a chair and join right in (alright, alright...that was our stomachs talking)...
All told, seeing thousands of people wandering up and down, in and out, it did bring to mind my favorite Berlusconi quote:  What economic crisis?  The airlines are overbooked, and restaurants are full...and he hadn't even heard of Eataly yet [well, if you don't count the heaps of monies paid out to politicians in bribes for contracts and illegal bids and buildings which the Italians like to call...'Eating' - an Italian speciality, so, Eataly works too].
We decided to drown our sorrows at a wonderful trattoria in nearby San Saba to enjoy a meal, but it was so over-crowded, we only did get served a delicious meal well after 10:30 at night...a full 90 minutes from our first sprinting steps (at the crosswalks) into Eataly.  I had never seen so many people at my locale.  We wondered if they were the 'Eataly reject crowd'.  Nonetheless, it did cause my friend to provide his own recap of our evening:
First, you take us to a place with tons of food and no tables.   
Then, you take us to a place with tables but no food.
I couldn't have said it better myself.

*note: colored areas are often live links

1 comment:

Irreverent Italy said...

The Italian Online Journal, Il Fatto Quotidiano went to try out the most expensive restaurant there and ordered a €20 Roman Classic pasta dish, Cacio & Pepe. Boy were they disappointed!

Served with a mix of parmesano & pecorino and - gasp!- cream (to hide the taste and make it quickly, it also arrived cold... They ask, worth the wait & the $24??