There is a hunger for authentic Italian cuisine in the states is not easily satiated – a characteristic which I myself share with my colleagues here at Select Italy and which often acts as the subject of many passion-filled discussions. This means lunch breaks sharing the scoop on the newest Italian restaurants in Chicago, consulting which have the strongest ties to Italian food suppliers and which have the highest potential of recreating just one of the unforgettable meals we’ve all had on the other side of the ocean. Our search for authentic Italian food in the States is a constant quest filled with grand successes and heartbreaking failures– a guessing game of pasta plates and full glasses of wine. That is, until now.
Discussions over the last year often turned to the inevitable winner of the lunchtime contenders: it began as a rumor…it’s coming in 2013! Then it’s coming in the fall…and finally….the end of November, not much longer! And on December 2nd, it came. Eataly opened its doors in all of its Italian glory to the Chicago market, and Chicago (especially us here at Select Italy) answered.
Eataly, widely known as the physical manifestation of an anthem to Italian food and wine, opened the doors to its first store in Turin, Italy a mere six years ago as the realization of its founder, Oscar Farinetti’s, dream. Farinetti’s vision was not only to provide the highest quality Italian food and wine to his clients, but also to provide it in a unique atmosphere that also offers an educational experience.
It was the uniqueness of the store that created the buzz in our Select Italy office, and as I made my way to the Grand Opening event on December 2nd, I had to try to refrain from skipping down the street with excitement. I was greeted by a bright fruit stand as I entered the store and turned to face my own personal food Disney World, with Cinderella’s Castle directly in front of me. That’s right, a bar completely dedicated to the glory that is Nutella and the perfection that is Nutella spread on any sort of baked good (insert angelic music and ray of light shining down here). Paradiso, sono arrivata.
The concept took off like a rocket ship (or a Ferrari, as an Italian might say), and since 2007 Farinetti has opened 10 Eataly’s in Italy – Florence’s is on its way as the eleventh to open soon – as well as two in Japan and now two in the United States. The U.S. stores are a collaborative project between Farinetti, B&B Hospitality Group of celebrity chefs Mario Batali, Joe Bastianich and Lydia Bastianich, and two American brothers with a passion for food and wine, Adam and Alex Saper. The Eataly’s in the United States, first opened in NYC and now in Chicago, are a true taste of Italy, each complete with imported products accompanied by explanatory panels, didactic events, a scuola of Italian cuisine and laid out in a completely novel manner, initially inspired by the Istanbul bazaar, intended to recreate the experience of an authentic mercato, with specific food stands, restaurants, and stations.
But it wasn’t the Nutella bar alone that left an impression on me – nor the fact that I was mingling with Mario Batali and met Farinetti himself. It was, instead the fact that every inch, corner, and angle of this place was one hundred percent dedicated to its mission of bringing the best of Italy to the hungry hearts, bellies, and minds of Chicagoans. Nothing is pretentious – it’s welcoming. For example, approaching the wide selection of razza Piemontese beef will tickle the fancy of the Michelin chef and the everyday cook, who can turn to the displays to learn the history, preparation techniques, and value of this cherished meat.
Farinetti put it best in his speech to the attendees of Eataly’s grand opening, “Our mission is to demonstrate to the world that Italian gastronomy is not only spaghetti. Italian gastronomy is the most diverse in the world, and the best in the world.” Eataly Chicago, is dedicated to Chicago’s biggest Italian fan, Ernest Hemmingway.
Have you ever been to Eataly? What was your experience like?