Buzz publisher and Italian scion Patty Lombard and I attended the Eataly LA opening on Nov. 3rd at the Westfield Century City Mall. We were invited for lunch and expected it to be an intimate event. Imagine our shock when a line nearly 100 people long greeted us at the entrance. But we girded our loins – and our tastebuds – and headed inside, determined to enjoy ourselves with what turned out to be approximately 300 of Eataly’s closest friends.
The LA location is the largest Eataly in the US, measuring 67,000 square feet. If you have yet to experience to the joint, Eataly melds the concept of a food market with all your favorite Italian restaurants, under one roof. It’s Nonna’s most cherished dream, with higher prices. But given that its partners include celebrity chef Mario Batali and Lidia and Joe Bastianich, the chow is good, and the Italian wine flows freely.
“What we celebrate here the most is the human touch…What we want you to do most is go home, take some ingredients with you, shop, and cook for your family.” — Mario Batali
There are multiple food stations, ranging from the usual suspects – pizza and pasta – to a rotisserie, “Mozzarella Lab,” a prosciutto and cheese counter, gelato, cannoli, and Lavazza coffee. You could spend a straight week there, just snacking. And, if you choose to go home and actually cook, there’s a butchery, fishmonger, bakery, fresh local produce, a wine store, and an Italian market that stocks more than 10,000 items.
Two of the most interesting installations come from other LA chefs. Michael Cimarusti of Providence has his own seafood dining experience called “Il Pesce Cucina.” Chefs from the Sprout Group are manning a pop-up counter called “The Salad Bar” on a rotating basis. The first Salad Bar offering comes from Jason Neroni of The Rose in Venice, who served a classic burrata with figs for the opening. (Cimarusti’s team was cracking open fresh oysters.)
“I was honored to be asked to participate,” said Cimarusti, “Eataly has a great group of people.” He paused, looking around at the standing-room-only crowd. “But honestly, it’s a little crazier than I thought it would be.”
“I watched the original American Eataly open and thought – as an Italian guy – ‘I want to be part of that,” said Neroni. “So when our partner Sprout Group brought up the idea of participating in ‘Salad Bar,’ I said ‘I’m in.’” He too looked around at the crowd, “We serve 30,000 diners a month at the Rose, so I think I’m up to the challenge.”
We did a tiny bit of day-drinking as part of the celebration. I had a glass of Planeta La Segreta, a Sicilian red. Patty enjoyed a Viognier. Eataly LA is the first location to carry California wines – all other locations offer only vino Italiano.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a premiere in LA without a little celebrity action. Eataly’s founders and operating partners – the Farinetti and Saper families – were on hand to kick things off. Jimmy Kimmel and Emmy Rossum milled around with the crowd. But the iPhones were lofted high when the real celebrities stepped up: Mayor Eric Garcetti, who welcomed Eataly to LA with Spanish-inflected Italian, and Batali himself, in his customary orange clogs.
“This is something that Los Angeles has been waiting for, for a long, long time,” said Garcetti. “The best city in the world has the best food emporium in the world together, and that is a day to celebrate.”
“What we celebrate here the most is the human touch,” said Batali. “What we want you to do most is go home, take some ingredients with you, shop, and cook for your family. And when you’re done…let the dirty plates sit there for another 20 minutes, and watch what happens. Your family will…connect with each other, and we will have done our jobs.”
I managed to grab a couple of minutes with Batali on his way out the door, reminding him that we had cooked together at the James Beard Awards nearly 22 years ago. He made a thistle ravioli, I recalled.
“Thistle ravioli,” he said. “Wow, that WAS a long time ago.”
Expecting marquee crowds, Eataly has created a “Line-o-Meter” Twitter feed –complete with pepper icons indicating “hotness”– where you can take a look at the wait and plan your trip. You can find it here.
Food highlights: Cannoli, Roman-style pizza, handmade pasta, perfectly-cooked steak from the rotisserie.
Shopping highlights: Beautifully-designed Italian housewares, specialty foods, small but interesting cookbook collection, lots of Eataly-branded merchandise.
La Scuola Di Eataly, a cooking school led by Lidia Bastianich, is also on the premises.
Fine-dining restaurant Terra on the third floor has yet to open.
Eataly is located at 10250 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles (in the east side of the Westfield Century City Mall). Hours are 8 am to 11 pm daily for the bottom floor (coffee, gelato, cooking school), and 9 am to 11 pm daily for the second floor.