Restaurant: Eataly – Il Pesce
Last visited: September 11, 2011
Location: Manhattan, NY (Gramercy/Flatiron)
Address: 200 5th Ave
Nearby subway stops: 23 St
Price Range: $20-30+
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: Tres Excellent!!
Food: 4 for Il Pesce, 4 for Eataly
Service: 1.5 (friendly, but hard to get it at Il Pesce)
Ambiance: 3 for Il Pesce, 5 for Eataly
Overall: 3.5 for Il Pesce, 4 for Eataly
- Marketplace restaurant
- Chef Dave Pasternack (Il Pesce)
- Chef Mario Batali (Eataly)
- Fresh Seafood
- Whole fish
- Market price
- Ethically sourced
- Wine available
- No reservations
- Mon-Sat 11am – 10pm
- Sunday 11am – 9:30pm
- Marketplace hours: 9am-11pm
- To see Eataly’s meat restaurant Manzo – see here
- To see Eataly’s Gelateria and desserts – see here
**Recommendations: Fish of the day
Chef Batali! He’s actually one of my favourite celebrity chefs. He just has that likable personality that I would compare to an Italian Santa Clause… that could make better cookies than the ones I leave out. We’ve all seen him on Food Network’s Iron Chef America and he just always seems so fun-loving regardless of the pressure and stress he’s under. It’s not even his style of cooking, but his energy that gets me so excited.
With 17 restaurants and 11 being in New York, I couldn’t miss out on the opportunity to try one. My original itinerary included Babbo, Lupa, Del Posto, Eataly, and The Spotted Pig (where he’s a partner), but unfortunately I couldn’t fit them all. Eataly is his newborn baby, so I wanted to pay my respects.
Eataly is the largest artisanal Italian wine and food marketplace which started in Turin, Italy. Along with other investors, Batali introduced it to New York in August 2010 and it has quickly become a local favourite for eating and shopping.
Honestly, I could live here. This was like Disneyland for me. Forget the long walks on the beach, and take me here! Taking long walks down the isles of grocery stores is one of my favourite past time activities. I know it might sound crazy, but I’m totally serious. You could leave me here for hours exploring local and imported ingredients. In this case, most of it is imported from Italy. It’s not like Costco and you can’t sample around, but you’re sure to find everything you need to make a proper and gourmet Italian meal whether it’s for one, or a tonne.
It’s pretty much a high end Italian supermarket with a bookstore and boutique restaurants as their “food court”. It’s more or less everything a passionate home cook, or food and wine enthusiast could want under one roof, especially if you like all things Italian.
From house baked breads, hand made pasta, hand tossed pizza, artisan meats and cheese, fresh seafood, everyday and exotic meats, chocolate and caviar, coffee and wine, you can get it all here. And if you don’t want to cook it, then just try one of their restaurants.
Some of the restaurants are sit down restaurants in open spaces with servers, so you don’t just go around picking things yourself if you want to actually eat here. You can put your name down and shop around, or enjoy a glass of wine at the “wine department” while you wait to be seated. It was kind of humourous watching people buy pasta or milk while holding a glass of Italian wine, but that’s all part of the fun here.
With 12 restaurants to choose from (some being more like retail centres), it took me a while to narrow down, but don’t you even think that I left with only trying one. I had my heart set on a little restaurant hopping.
Originally I thought you could buy the seafood, bring it to their seafood restaurant and have them make it, and be charged a service fee, but that’s totally not how it works. This kind of operation is much more popular in Asia, and I only wished Eataly was like that as well. The photo above is the seafood you can purchase to go. The department offers a wide range of ethically sourced seafood, so you won’t see any endangered species or Mermaids here.
I wanted to try Il Pesce first, even though Batali isn’t the chef at this restaurant. The chef is actually one of New York’s “fish gurus”, Dave Pasternack, who is from Italian fine dining seafood restaurant Esca. Batali happens to be partners in Esca as well so it made sense to have Pasternack as the head chef at Il Pesce.
This was probably the busiest and most talked about restaurant in Eataly, so I knew I wanted to check it out. It focuses on fresh and healthy seafood cooked “Italian style” with few sauces, less fat and less salt than average. The seafood chalkboard menu changes daily and there’s also a restaurant menu which features some standard appetizers and mains. There is a counter top or table seating and it’s very casual although not inexpensive just like their groceries.
The chances of Chef Dave Pasternack, Chef Mario Batali or any of the other famous chefs who opened Eataly cooking your meal is slim to none, but that was expected and they still are responsible for the menus. The experience was more interesting than the food to me, but I did enjoy the food and found the whole thing quite entertaining especially as a foodie.
On the table:
- The bread is from the bakery department so it’s fresh and made in house, but just not in the Il Pesce house.
- They served it wrapped in butcher paper so you can take it to go as well.
- The bread was quite tough and chewy and not crusty or warm, and it was served with balsamic vinegar and good quality olive oil.
- I fell in love with squid ink in Venice, especially in pasta or risotto, so this immediately caught my attention.
- I really enjoyed this, but it was a tad salty and the execution was catered for a North American palate.
- I’m used to it being black rather than dark reddish brown and the squid ink wasn’t as obvious as how they would serve it authentically in Italy.
- The rich dark brown sauce was almost like Kalamata olive juice or a rough interpretation of a tapenade.
- There were lots of salty and juicy whole and broken olives and it had a very sharp saltiness and tang to it.
- There were some plump cherry tomatoes and sundried tomatoes, but it just added to the tang in the sauce which I found was acidic enough.
- Squid ink already has a salty and briney flavour, so I wouldn’t mind less salt overall.
- There was a mild spice to it from the whole peppercorns and overall the ingredients were bold and heavy.
- The squid was smoky, charred, tender and not chewy at all, and that was delicious.
- I wouldn’t have minded less sauce, simply grilled squid, and more presence of the squid ink with some fresh herbs to lighten it up, but I did finish it happily as is.
- The execution wasn’t ideal or as authentic, but it was no doubt still good.
- Served with your choice of side: Rustic baby potatoes, corn or kale $23
- This is what they’re known for.
- It’s not inexpensive, and it’s meant to be for one, but can be shared.
- The fish of the day was Branzino which is a Mediterranean Seabass that is popular in Italy.
- It was cooked “Al Forno” which is baked in the oven, but it seemed grilled. It was served on thin slices of roasted semi-crispy and tender potatoes.
- Being Asian, a whole fish like this is “yesterday’s dinner” so it had no “wow” factor for me, although for many it was impressive and part of the highlight at Il Pesce.
- On the other hand, it was done very well, although it’s not something you couldn’t do at home if you know how to clean, prepare and cook a whole fish. This often intimidates people so I can see why this dish does so well.
- The fish was grilled with a little drizzle of olive oil, sprinkle of salt and pepper, and stuffed with aromatics like lemon, garlic, herbs and green beans.
- The flavours of these aromatics didn’t really come across in the meat of the fish, but I find that common with this method.
- The meat was very flakey, moist, juicy, delicate and tender, but I could have used more garlic and herbs. I wouldn’t have minded a crispier skin either.
- I liked it, but it was really something I could do at home and I question if I could get something similar at the same price elsewhere in New York.
- Although it’s totally comparing apples to oranges, I prefer the Asian styles of preparing whole fish.
- Included in the price of the fish.
- It was crunchy room temperature fresh and sweet corn kernels infused with a bit of lime or lemon juice, olive oil and topped with fresh basil.
- Just like the fish, it was very simple and something I could do at home, but still good and made with quality ingredients.
- It would have been great if the corn was roasted and I could have used more fresh basil and maybe some tomatoes for colour.