February 22, 2012

Unabashedly American at Eataly

Eataly is the world's largest artisinal Italian food and wine marketplace, located in Manhattan's Flatiron District. It was an afternoon snack spot for Savannah, our friend Alexis and I thanks to its proximity to the Barney's Warehouse Sale and the playground at Madison Square Park.

Because we had Savannah with us, we didn't leisurely explore the entire 50,000 square foot space -- which is part market, part food hall, part cafe/restaurant -- reading all the menus, perusing the cheeses and salumi, lingering over a few glasses of vino. No. Our mission was, secure a table with chairs (most tables are at standing height which wouldn't comfortably accommodate our toddler dining companion) and get food. We were hungry.

I realize now that our time there is probably the perfect antithesis of how our European counterparts would have handled the situation. And that's totally fine. We had a blast!

Here's how to be unabashedly American at Eataly with tot in tow. And by "American", I mean just a touch gauche:

1. Secure a Table FIRST

Upon entering, the first thing we noticed was the lack of seating. All the tables at the front were taken and further exploration showed that the rest were standing only. Bubble chairs caught our eye and there was a small grouping of three tables near the fish counter in no man's land that were available. We couldn't risk losing this prime real estate, so like teenagers snagging a table at a mall food court, we staked our claim before getting any food or bev.

I bet every real Italian or foodie that visits this place would make a beeline for the espresso bar then slowly meander through each food stand, grabbing bits to make a full meal, leaving it to chance whether they get a seat or not.

2. Shop Quickly, Stick With What You Know

Alexis and Savannah hung out at the table while I went in search of food. The original plan was for me to pick up some stuff while Alexis watched Savvy (and the table), and then we'd swap. There was so much to choose from that in my first minute away from them, I got overwhelmed by selection and also wanted to get back fast in case Savvy started getting annoyed--she was def hungry! I saw a case of pre-sliced salami, bresaola and soppressata and thought that would be an easy choice along with a chunk of cheese. We could share with Alexis and enjoy our food right away. I went for my old standby -- sweet soppressata -- and picked up a creamy cow's milk cheese without even reading the description. I hastily threw away the wrapper before even reading the name of the cheese, which I regret since it was soooooo good. I also grabbed procuitto on a baguette. I briefly looked at olives, but didn't spot pitted ones right away (always thinking of Savannah) so in my "I'm not being fast enough" frenzy, I settled on the 3 major food groups -- cured meat, cheese, bread.

4. Play With Your Food and Surroundings

This would probably NOT fly with prim and proper European parents. Whatevs.

Savvy loves it when I roll up salami into cigars for her. "Roll it, roll it, roll it," I announce as I demonstrate this fine art for her. So while she alternated between shoving entire pieces in her mouth, she also made several failed attempts to roll it up herself while Alexis procured us some juices to share.

Too much soppressata, mama, help!

Upon returning with two bottles of juice blends, 3 cups and 3 straws, we began a fun juice drinking game of passing around cups to let Savvy sample the different flavors, eventually giggling at her as she licked some errant orange pulp out of one of the lids like a lollipop. Times like this, I absolutely love being a fun American mom who is willing to let my child enjoy being a kid without forcing her to adhere to strict table manners at every meal.

Savvy's favorite part of the whole experience was definitely her bubble chair, which we spun her around in to keep her smile beaming from ear to ear, while we chatted Lex and I about shoes and wedding planning.

5. Blend Fancy & Trashy

Neither Alexis nor I could locate any disposable napkins or silverware, so Alexis did what any unabashed New Yorker would do - swiped two real sets from the nearby cafe tables so we could add a touch of fine dining utility to our snack time. We may have used the plastic salami package as a catch-all plate for our meal AND fallen crumbs and garbage, but, damn it, we will use white linen napkins and a real knife to cut our cheese and baguette!

Next time...Next time I will indulge in the full Eataly experience and make an afternoon out of sampling the handcarved sandwiches, coal fired pizzas, authentic gelato, and slowly sip a cappuccino or glass of Montepulciano. I'll peruse the market for unique pasta shapes and other Italian goodies to stock up my pantry with some Euro decadence. I suppose that means I'll need to leave my one year old at home...

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