Eataly is, in a word, frustrating.
After work a few weeks ago, I walked over to the Chicago outpost of the famous Italian food emporium with the idea of writing a “10 Reasons You Need to Visit Eataly” article in mind. Well, after immersing myself in the Eataly experience, I couldn’t really think of three.
For those who don’t know, Eataly is a high-end, Italian food marketplace with locations in New York, Italy, Japan, Dubai and Turkey. The 63,000 square foot space on the corner of Ohio and Wabash is an architectural feat filled with vast selections of artisanal pasta, olive oil and tomato sauce. Upon first glance, it was impressive, but then I decided to try the food.
I was once asked: “Without taking into account nutritional value, what are the three foods that you could live on for the rest of your life?” My quick response was bread, soft cheese and prosciutto. Naturally, I decided to begin at the Salumi & Formaggi restaurant located in Eataly’s La Piazza, which houses four different restaurants in a food court fashion. The massiveness of the space produced a sense of anxiety that even my preferred trinity couldn’t cure and the lackluster prosciutto and bread didn’t win me over.
Moving on, I decided to try Il Fritto, another restaurant in La Piazza serving fried items. The fried radishes with Italian honey sounded enticing, but failed to live up to rave reviews from a seat mate to my left. The radishes needed salt to balance out the sweetness of the honey.
Disappointed again, I made my way to the main restaurant, La Pizza. In ambitious fashion, the restaurant boasts an open kitchen, but the visible communication issues between the staff were hard to watch from the counter where I sat. After perusing the menu, my hopes of finding a spot that could satisfy my Neapolitan pie addiction were quickly dashed and I ordered a classic Margherita pizza. The crust’s texture was nice, with a slightly crunchy exterior and chewy interior, but the flavor just wasn’t there. The sauce followed suit in that it was very fresh, but needed a more acidity and salt. I was beginning to sense a trend.
I read rave reviews about the Laít Gelato and wanted to try it for myself before departing. After being what Larry David would call a “sample abuser,” I guilted myself into picking the lesser of the five evils I tried. The laít gelato was underwhelming. (If you’re looking for quality gelato, head to Paciugo in Lakeview: it’s exceptional.)
Overall, Eataly failed to live up to the hype, especially considering the high prices. Although I had a negative experience, Eataly can still be a decent spot for those that live nearby and have a large amount of disposable income to splurge on interesting, foreign products. However, Chicago’s specialty food store scene has been growing rapidly, and with a little bit of research you’ll find other stores that have more exciting flavors, lower prices and a more personal atmosphere.
Disclaimer: I didn’t try the Nutella Bar. Something’s probably wrong with me, but I’m not a member of the Nutella cult and didn’t feel it was necessary to try it. I’ve also heard that the downstairs restaurant, Baffo, is quite popular, but didn’t have the chance to visit.
Address: 43 E Ohio St, Chicago, Illinois 60611
Hours of Operation: hours vary by restaurant