Come hungry and bring a compass.
Eataly Boston officially opened last night in Back Bay, and boy — Mario Batali fans are in for a treat. The star chef, a partner in the international brand and its prominent public face, has helped introduce a titanic Italian food emporium to Boston, which joins about 30 other global cities with Eataly outposts. It's a marvelous maze of food retail, produce counters hawking meats, fish and cheese, and a slew of eateries — from casual grab-and-go cafes to seated restaurants — that cover everything from thin-crust pizzas to rotisserie meats, espresso to gelato. But rather than run through every single food stall you'll find inside, we've focused on a half-dozen need-to-know aspects that make this Boston location distinct. Read, salivate — and then explore.
>Check out more new Boston restaurants
It's big. Like, really big.
You may want to sprinkle some breadcrumbs to find your way home (at least you can buy them here). Sprawling over 45,000-sq.ft., Eataly takes over three floors inside Back Bay's Prudential, selling 10,000 retail products, from handmade pastas to olive oils to chocolate. It also sports about a dozen cafes and casual eateries, plus four full-service restaurants, such as La Pizza & La Pasta (pictured) and Terra, a still-unopened spot that Batali says will be a "grill-based restaurant emphasizing meats and fish."
There's a lot of local influence.
"Boston already knows how to cook," says Batali, praising our city's dining culture. "We're not here to teach Boston anything." In fact, Eataly fully embraces some of what has already made the Hub a great food city. The retail element complements imported goods with plenty of foodstuffs produced right here: think Island Creek oysters and meats from New England Charcuterie, helmed by Moody's chef Joshua Smith. Batali also tapped top area talent, such as chef de cuisine Dan Bazzinotti (pictured), who moved over from Cambridge wine bar BISq. And Eataly's La Mozzarella, a station producing cheese before your eyes, is helmed by Lourdes Smith, who ran Somerville's boutique cheese shop Fiore di Nonno until last year.
Barbara Lynch is in the house; Michael Schlow is coming soon.
Speaking of those local connections, probably the most exciting full-service restaurant on the premises is Il Pesce, an Italian seafood-oriented venture led by Boston's own Beard award-winning restaurateur Barbara Lynch. The grand doyenne behind No.9 Park, Menton and others, Lynch is the "patron saint of Boston dining," says Batali, who partnered with her on the 78-seat eatery, which covers everything from whole roasted fish to seafood pastas. Il Pesce also contains Il Crudo, a 10-seat raw bar offering Italian spins on sashimi. Lynch isn't the only Boston-based star chef to set up shop here, though. Batali tells us that Michael Schlow (Doretta Taverna & Raw Bar, Tico) will soon take a spin at La Cucina, a second-floor spot helmed by rotating chefs; expect a "luxury truffle menu and small plates" says Batali.
Seafood is central.
Each Eataly location tweaks its approach slightly to be in concert with the local culture. In Boston, unsurprisingly, that means an emphasis on seafood. Eataly's fishmongers work directly with Boston purveyors like Wulf's Fish Market and Red's Best, and there's even an incentive program for shopping local, with punch cards available to let you notch each purchase of eligible sustainable seafood. Score nine punches and your next purchase is 10% off.
Batali wants you to eat here — and cook at home.
There's a reason you can conduct pretty much all your grocery shopping here. About half of Eataly's profits are from food sales, rather than restaurant dining, and Batali says he wants the space to serve as a multifaceted "Italian village" that educates guests on cooking and encourages them to spend more time in their kitchens at home. "We want to coax people back into the kitchen," he says, and he's prepared to offer the tools to make amateur chefs more adept. One of the resources is La Scuola di Eataly by Valcucine, an in-house cooking school offering free live demos and ticketed courses that will cover everything from gnocchi-making to olive oil tastings.
Batali isn't done with Boston yet.
Babbo Pizzeria is less than two years old, and Eataly has just opened — but Batali might even be eyeing a third venue in Boston. "I've always loved the idea of a ceviche and raw bar with a great beer program," he says. "I'm looking for locations on the waterfront." Cheers to that.