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Indeed a Flintstoney Pleasure

December 7, 2010

“Eataly,” people kept posting on Facebook. As in “I love Eataly!” or “Truffles half off at Eataly!”

What is this Eataly?, I wondered briefly. I pictured a terrible festival thing in Little Italy, where the food doesn’t represent the glories of simple and perfect Italian food. Or even complex and imperfect Italian food. Except for the occasional gem, it represents bad traffic patterns, dying cultures, and the disappointments in life.

And then, time passes, but not a lot of it.

For work one day, I got sent out to a recording studio. The studio was on 23rd street, the session would be from noon–1pm.

It sounded fun, except I had a lunch planned that day with a friend who I haven’t seen in quite a while. We both freelance for the same company but are rarely there at the same time. I emailed her that I was going to the sound studio for a while, and that since the session would surely run over, the outlook for meeting that day was grim.

“YOU KNOW THAT THE STUDIO IS RIGHT NEXT TO EATALY, RIGHT?,” she emailed me back, with a tone of urgency. Again with the Eataly? My interest was piqued. My friend had just returned from 3 weeks in Italy, and she has even tricked the Italian government into giving her a passoporto. She is serious on the topic.

I asked for more info and learned that Eataly is an Italian emporium Mario Batali opened, modeled on one in Turin. It has food to eat but also, lots of imported goods: wine, pastas, condiments, cookware, and other things.

I was once flown to Milan at great expense to the Italian goverment and spent a week eating in and around Turin. It was awesome. I was suddenly VERY interested in Eataly.

After the recording session, I stopped in. Not to ruin the surprise, but Eataly gave me an immediate headache. It’s huge, unmappable, and swarming with New Yorkers who have a lot more money than I do, as well as tourists. And while I love tourists*, they have a lot in common with toddlers: standing in the middle of the flow of foot traffic, looking around with no discernible purpose, not respecting the value of my time. If they don’t do the thing where they collapse to the floor when we’re holding hands, that’s probably only because I’m not trying to hold hands with them.

*the mayor made me say that

I’m crabby, I realize, and I need to stop ruminating and start masticating — whoa, holy cow joke! how apropos if you know what’s coming here! — so I can make it back to work.

I see a stand called “Contorni,” meaning vegetable sides, and I love vegetables. But I breeze past that, since you have to sit down and it looks expensive. I see a sign saying “pasta,” where i figure I can get pasta and vegetables together.

But the pasta cost $16, except for the ones that cost $19, and that doesn’t fit into my budget. I make pasta at home when I am feeling cheap. I might choose to spend that much on a great dish, but I’d also be paying for the ambiance, which wasn’t happening in this airport-hangarlike space.

Then I see one saying “Pizza,” but you need to sit down and get a whole pie.  I was starting to think that Eataly might be a more fun experience to have with someone else, anyhow. Couldn’t I just grab something to eat and run?

I see some pieces of foccacia at one stand. I throw myself at the mercy of the guy working there, all the while eyeing a beguiling onion slice. It’s winking at me. Maybe it’s just glistening at me. It looks great, but I’m still aiming slightly higher than bread and onions and what might be some really exquisite olive oil. Wait, do I want it?

“This is very confusing, isn’t it?” I say to the man behind the counter.

He nods. “I’m afraid of getting mowed down, or lost,” he says. “I just stay behind my counter,” he adds.

I ask if there is to-go food other than his slices and he suggested a sandwich place where you can get a cold panino, like in the Milan airport, or a place called the “Rotisserie” where you can get a “huge, meat filled” sandwich. Sounds very Flintstoney.

I cast a last questioning glance at the slice and go off to look for the disappointing sounding airport kiosk. I’m vaguely hoping for some mortadella, the Play-Doh of the meat world. It is soft and of uncertain provenance and riddled with pistachios. Still, it is my friend and I love it. But first, I come upon the rotisserie where are were selling porchetta sandwiches, and “porcini-rubbed prime rib.” Both cost upwards of $13.

Which is better? Porchetta is marinated pork roast with rosemary. Roman, I think.

While prime rib reminds me of a station at a wedding where there are little rolls and a guy dressed in precarious whites ready to slice you a few bloody pieces with visible fat. It doesn’t ever look great, but it’s festive, for sure. My other prime rib association is with a barbecue place in Texas where, when you enter, you’re afraid of getting sucked into a huge fire pit roaring out of the floor. And you tell them your meat order whilst living in fear.

If it’s a normal day, you can have some pork chop. If it’s a special day, you can get smoked prime rib, and eat it at a table with a knife chained to it, and a little container of salt and pepper mixed together so that it’s reminiscent of ash. There are none of the normal bbq accoutrements, like beans and sauce and potato salad, but you can buy yourself a hunk of avocado or onion or cheese if you want. Whether you do or you don’t, you take a bite and and then your eyes roll back in your head. Those people have a way with fire and with meat. It used to be called Kreuz Market and you have to drive way out of town to get there. I think it’s called something else though now. I wonder if it’s still as wonderful.

Reverie complete, I note that the prime rib sandwich is more expensive. It costs $14.80 as opposed to $13, I think. Neither is even slightly in the budget, but I decide that the prime rib might be $1.80 better, and I order it.

The counter guy takes a very large piece of baguette out and slices a hunk of it down the side. He removes prime rib from the oven and starts slicing meat into the sandwich. Then he drizzles some olive oil on, and salt and pepper. He wraps it up and hands it to me with some instructions as to where to bite first to avoid a disaster wherein the sandwhich would unravel immediately.

He’s done with his part, and I appreciate the instructions, but I admit that I’m disappointed. It’s just so simple looking. Barbaric, almost. Dare I say boring? Where will the contrasts be? I love maximalist sandwiches. The more vinegar and hot peppers and avocado and mayonnaise and onion slices and freshly ground black pepper and Swiss cheese and whatever else is on hand, the better. So where will this leave me?

I go outside to eat in a little park that has been oddly installed into the traffic pattern where 23rd meets Broadway and 5th. I grab a table and begin to follow the instructions of the sandwich maker.

One bite, and my life changes. I am not disappointed. Rather, I am like a person in a cartoon who is flattened backwards onto the pavement by some extreme force — be it wind, or someone’s bad breath, or being rolled over by a truck.

But this time, I am flattened by a simple and yet intense pleasure, one that people have been enjoying forever: meat / fat / bread / salt. This is indeed a Flintstoney pleasure. I had forgotten. I had forgotten about the simple and transformative pleasures of great roast beef. When you start with something Platonically perfect, like roast beef and bread and salt, the trimmings, or vinegar, or sauces, could only serve to dilute the experience.

And then I boing back up, fluffed and reanimated, ready to reconsider my sandwich at my tiny metal table in the middle of the traffic. This is good. It’s crazy how good it is.

How do I save this experience? What do I do? I took a picture with my iPhone. Then I dialed my husband at work. “I’m eating one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had!,” I say, breathless with the need to share. Not share my sandwich, but share my enthusiasm, and my sudden and complete understanding of the way roast beef works.

He is a reporter and therefore tries to keep a cool head, even in the most dramatic situations.

“Good for you,” he says. “Where’d you get it?” His tone is encouraging, and he sounds happy for me, but I sense, as I often do when I call, that he is trying to make sure that the city that we live in gets its information in a timely manner. Ie, he might like to be working. And while information that I convey occasionally shows up in the news, I could tell that he wasn’t taking the sandwich quite as seriously as he might have.

But, Eataly! It’s trending! I think. Then, with a glower, Don’t keep the people from knowing about your wife’s lunch, just because it’s your wife’s lunch.

But what I say is, “I’ll tell you about it later!” and let him get off the phone.

I look at the sandwich again. It’s very, very large. I still want someone else to share in this feeling of delight with me, even if that means sharing the sandwich. Maybe I can bring some back to my friend Jennifer, at the office. She’s technically my boss, and she loves a good sandwich as much as I do. She’d really like this sandwich. Except that whoops, while I’ve been imagining myself doing good deeds, I’ve actually started on the second half. Jennifer’s half.

“Here,” I imagine myself saying. “Here is a ragged bite of a sort of cold and yet very expensive sandwich.” Prime rib isn’t really known for the way that it looks. It would probably oxidize and look scary. I’d better just finish this one off myself.

But you? You should get a sandwich like this of your own.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Karen permalink
    December 7, 2010 12:47 pm

    You know what else is crazy good? Your website is snowing. It would be ok with me if this is the only snow I see this winter, but on your site, it is v charming. Made my day.

    I also love the comparison of tourists and toddlers (no Mayor Mike, you may *not* see what I am typing)- I, too, believe that they could perform The Flop, esp. if I tried to hold their hands…

  2. jenn permalink
    December 7, 2010 1:34 pm

    i went to eataly about a month ago and had margharita pizza which was a tad too soggy. you should go at night and see the sparkly things in madison square park. or just go to mad square park and go to shake shack which is what i did last friday.

  3. frankly manny permalink
    December 7, 2010 11:56 pm

    Kreuz’s Meat Market has moved and is no longer the one with the fire on the floor when you enter, nor is it the one absent the accoutrement. They now serve German potato salad and beans and whatnot. What used to be Kreuz’s is now Smitty’s due to some family in-fighting and other feudal rigmarole. Kreuz’s meats at Kreuz’s M. M. is still as good as it was — or it was still as good as it was ten years ago — despite the new, non-lethal fire pits. I can’t say as I know about Smitty’s though. I shall have to do some research for you, or you could come down to Texas and we could make it a joint research effort. I think the NSF would be interested in funding this kind of scientific discovery.

  4. M. Katoh permalink
    December 8, 2010 7:28 pm

    It’s snowing–love it!
    No amount of annoying tourists or wealthy New Yorkers sipping white wine at the bar mid-day will keep me from this prime rib sandwich! I might have to go tomorrow, baby in tow!

  5. Axuve Espinosa permalink
    December 11, 2010 1:14 pm

    Went to Eataly yesterday and had the sandwich. It’s really good! Very Flintstoney.

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