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Photographs: Lindsey Howald Patton

I finally made it to Eataly to do more than just gawk. There are many options for having a proper dinner in the cavernous space, and each open eatery sticks to its own food group theme. I hoped for branzino, but after being informed of the nearly hour-long wait for Il Pesce, decided that the anchovy bagna cauda on Le Verdure's menu next door would satisfy my craving well enough.

Not only were there plenty of tables open in the vegetable-focused concept, it was the only spot in the house on this particular Friday night where this could have been said. The standing marble-tops making up La Piazza were jam-packed; people made a wraparound line for La Pizza & Pasta, and would-be diners waited outside La Carne, sipping wine. But the veggies were wide open for the taking.

It was totally worth the not-wait.

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The Pinzimonio con Bagna Cauda ($12) is a picture of rustic simplicity, featuring an array of pretty raw vegetables and a cool, fishy, umami-delivering dip. Okay, an emulsion consisting purely of anchovies and garlic isn't great date fare. But I've been married for nearly five years now. Eating all the smelly food you want and still getting to make out later is part of the deal. I thoroughly enjoyed every single bite.

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The jokingly friendly, in-no-rush waitstaff is part of what made the experience, and I also appreciated the pause our server took to explain the Gnocchi alla Romana ($19) before it arrived. Rather than the little pillows of potato dough, these are thick, polenta-like dumplings of ground semolina. Between the anchovies and the dumplings' aromatic grana padano and al dente, winey mushroom rag├╣, the powerful, who-needs-meat-anyway flavor of umami neatly tied starter and main together.

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