I thought I’d died and gone to heaven last month in New York. I didn’t, and it wasn’t. It was Eataly, the new Italian food Mecca on Fifth Avenue between 23rd and 24th streets. Top chef Mario Batali’s latest venture with Master Chef partner Joe Bastianich, his mother Lydia Mattichio Basianich, and Eataly Torino founder, Oscar Farinetti.

Jewels thinking she found heaven

After a morning roaming around the Matisse and the Modern Kitchen exhibitions at MoMA with my cousin Nancy, we b-lined it for Eataly to get a jump start on the lunchtime crowds. I can only describe the experience as a personal chef‘s version of “a kid let loose in a candy store,” a 50,000 square foot emporium of Italian delicacies.
Torturous temptation everywhere you turn

Tempted by the insanely beautiful desserts, I did my best to keep blinders on as I moved swiftly past the gelato bar at the entrance towards my second morning coffee fix, while Nancy headed straight for the chocolate shots. Best intentions foiled, she talked me into a tiny taste, I have to admit the silky smooth rich dark chocolate gliding over my tongue was definitely a fast shot to euphoria. Nancy’s face says it all!
Chocoholic Cousin (it runs in the family) Nancy Laner Nelson

Mmmmmmmmmmm!

Euphoric chocolate
Deciding which of the various restaurants to eat in was torturous. I wanted to sit in one place and try everything, but the Neapolitan pizza place is segregated from the Italian steakhouse, panini bar, and vegetable restaurant. The crowds were growing too thick to move back and forth between them. Then I spotted the fabulously fresh seafood, and bullied Nancy into making a reservation at the fish restaurant (not her first choice), while I shopped for an exquisite, yet easy dinner to take to my BFF’s apartment that evening.
Making buffalo mozzarella
The crux of good Italian food is based on the freshest of ingredients – buffalo mozzarella doesn’t get any fresher than this. I stood dumbfounded as I watched the guy make the cheese in front of me!
Jewels at the prosciutto counter

The crusty ciabatta with fig was still warm from the wood oven it had just been baked in, and the Tuscan melons so fragrant I nearly swooned, so I ordered a half pound of prosciutto di San Danielle to go with it.

Selection of fresh pasta

Next I headed for some homemade tagliatelle, and after much deliberation, I opted for Mario Batali’s marinara sauce. What? It was my day off! It was every bit as good, if not better, than something I would whip up from scratch. Freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano from the cheese section would finish the simple, yet delicious pasta off nicely. Toss together a lovely green salad, and dinner would be ready in a flash.
Il Pesce

I’d worked up quite an appetite by the time our table was ready, crunching through a few too many grissini as we waited for our fritto misto, and perfectly roasted Brussels sprouts to arrive. I distracted myself with taking pictures of the food the diners to my right had just been served. They probably thought I was perfectly certifiable, but I did ask politely before I snapped. Ever-so-pleasantly satisfied (thanks again for lunch cuz) I still had just enough room left for a scoop of pear gelato on the way out. It may not have been heaven, but it sure tasted like it.
Fritto Misto
Try Mario Batali’s fritto misto recipe on Food Network, or adapt my recipe for fried calamari to include shrimp and scallops. Fry in olive oil instead of vegetable oil to keep it more heart healthy. Garnish with chopped rosemary, and serve with lemon wedges.
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