Uday Kumar Varma
Italian cuisine has over centuries synthesized diverse foods, flavours
and fragrances. The mighty Roman Empire that stretched from North
Africa to the Middle East, to Byzantine and Mediterranean, brought an
amazing diversity to the natural passion of eating that an Italian is
born with. And the Italian food goes far beyond pasta, pizzas and
antipasti. Italian cooking commands great distinction because of a
simple yet sophisticated and subtle process of cooking. Olives,
tomatoes, variety of breads, cheeses,fish, fruits and legumes, the
ingredients are not too many but the effect excites and sates the
palate no end.
A visit to ‘Eataly’- a celebrated Italian Restaurant in Manhattan was
an exciting and delightful gastronomic experience. The accompanying
piece presents some of the impressions that this famous restaurant
cast on a visitor.
“Life is a combination of magic and pasta” observed Federico Fellini, the celebrated, all-time great and influential Director known for his films that blended fantasy and baroque, and brought together beauty and earthiness. Whether pasta represents fantasy; or ornate, he never explained but to many like him the Italian food does offer an aspect of life that is both delicious and delightful.
“Eataly” offers experiential glimpses of this delight. And its reputation draws thousands to its swanky ports.
Restaurant Par Excellence
‘Eataly’ is a gourmet restaurant. Located in Occulus near the tall and magnificent Freedom Tower of Manhattan, it enjoys an unimpeachable reputation.
Yes, it is an Italian restaurant!
Nestled on the third floor, it is sprawling and impressive. It houses several facilities, including a huge store that is stocked with typically Italian goodies mostly of culinary variety. But the star attraction is the restaurant imaginatively called ‘Eataly’.
There is no dearth of Italian restaurants in New York. Manhattan alone boasts of over a thousand Italian Restaurants. New York may be very catholic and cosmopolitan in its culinary preferences and passion, but Italian cuisine remains perhaps the most preferred.
The restaurant claims that most of the ingredients that go into the making of its dishes are sourced from various parts of Italy. For instance, it announces that its Pasta Secca,served al dante is made of Afeltra pasta made in Gragnanao, Napoli.
Antipasti, Insalate, Pizza, Pasta, Pasta Secca, Gnocchi and I Classici are the broad classes of dishes that it’s menu displays.
And of course, there is a large selection of wines that it claims are sourced from the best wineries in Italy. Italy is the largest producer of wine in the world. Spumati(Sparkling), Bianchi(White), Roasti(Rose), Rossi(Red) are some of the traditional wines, while they also serve Cocktails, Birre, and very proudly the best VIni Dolci, the Dessert Wines.
And at the end, there is digestivi or Amari E Liquori, used to end the meal and believed to aid the digestive process. Digestivi also served as medicines in Italy because of their bitter taste and were referred to as mari.
A Legacy of Centuries
Italian cuisine represents an amazing fusion of cultures and geographies. Its foundations were laid in ancient Rome, which at one point stretched from the Middle East to North Africa to the Mediterranean. In Middle ages, it was invaded by races from Visigoths and Byzantine. Arabs, Normans, Huns occupied parts of Italy. Then came Renaissance – a period of exceptional creativity in all spheres of human life and greater interaction between the countries of Europe and beyond, and eventually the reunification of Italy in 1860. So, the culinary idiosyncrasies of Italy evolved by importing and imbibing, ingesting and internalising the ingredients, flavours and tastes from diverse geographies and cultures.
Wine, olive oil, bread, vegetables, legumes, tomatoes and cheeses, and more exotic stuff like ostrich meat, fish sauces, and roasted game, gradually harmonised into a delicious whole. The sea travel led to discovery of preserved food. Even Christianity played a role, as the Christian faith restricted foods associated with sin and sexuality (i.e. the apple of Adam and Eve). Meat was eaten sparingly for religious reasons, ceding dominance to fish, bread, cheese, egg, legumes, and fruits.
The cuisine in turn invaded other cultures, most notably the US leading to innovations like cheesesteak in Philadelphia and muffuletta in New Orleans.
Among the dishes that the restaurant boasts of, Gnocchi finds a premier perch. Pronounced N(Y)OK-ee, Gnocchi are a hearty, bite-sized pasta often found on Italian tables. Its name directly translates to ‘little knuckles’, because of its pillowy shape and textured ridges.
Gnocchi are formed by cutting small pillows from a thin roll of dough (made of potatoes and flour), then pushed in a rolling motion over a fork or an “”arricciagnocchi”, the board used for creating the iconic ridges.
Gnocchi date back to ancient times and were first seen in Northern Italy where the winters are harsher and call for heartier dishes, but they are found all over the Italian peninsula now. Variously prepared but never lacking in gastronomic delight, the seasonal ingredients and local culinary traditions have introduced an appetising variety.
“Eataly” claims that the Gnocchi served by them are made in-house daily using only the highest quality ingredients such as Russet potatoes from Idaho.
Dolci, Gelato E Sorbetto
The traditional dessert in Italian cuisine usually comprises Dolci like Tiramisu, Panna and Cannoli; Gelato and Sorbetto followed by or accompanied by Coffee or Tea. Of these, Tiramisu has since become truly global and finds place in most restaurants anywhere in the world. Gelato is a preparation of milk and an equivalent of the traditional ice cream and Sorbetto are sweet slurries. This restaurant offers Tiramisu made of Espresso Soaked ladyfingers, Mascarpone and cocoa powder. Panna is served with salted Caramel and Almond Streusel. Cannoli shells with sweet Calabro Ricotta topped with Chocolate Chips and nuts like Pistachios present another choice.
Coffee or Tea invariably conclude the dinner. Espresso, Cappuccino and Latte are the usual choices.
An Experiential Celebration
We decided to sample Bruschetta Ricotta E Tartufo, as antipasti and Marghrita Verace TSG and Capricciosa as Pizza. When the temptation to test its reputation for Gnocchi turned strong, we decided to order Pesto Genovese, and for good measure also ordered Pappardelle Al Ragu Di Funghi, a more traditional Pasta. Surprisingly, chicken or poultry does not find a place in Italian cuisine.
And as the dinner could have been incomplete without a taste of famous Italian wines, we decided to have Vermentina 2020, Solosole, a Bianchi (White Wine); and Maremma Sangiovese ‘I Perazzi’ 2019 – a Rossi (Red Wine). Both turned out to be excellent choices. The gastronomic venture concluded over traditional Tiramisu and Fior Di Latte Gelato accompanied with aromatic Cappuccino.
“Enjoying Italian cuisine is experiential, not intellectual” observed one of the celebrated Italian Chefs. Dining at Eataly was evocative of the passion and palate of a cuisine cultivated over centuries.
Uday Kumar Varma, a 1976 batch IAS officer of Madhya Pradesh cadre, was Secretary Information & Broadcasting, member of the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) and member of the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council, a self-regulatory body for general entertainment channels. As Secretary I&B