Monday, 29 July 2013

New York Series - Eataly la Birreria

Throughout our trip to New York I have had a pretty tight reign on the restaurants that SC and I have visited, but SC took the reigns for a while when she directed us to Eataly and in particular la Birreria.  Eataly is an institution in Manhattan and it first came to our attention when we were watching an Anthony Bourdain show called The Layover.  Its a show about what you can do in a city if you are just there for a 24 hour layover, it's pretty cool and shows you what sort of great things you can get up to in just 24 hours if you know the good stuff about a city.

Eataly is a pretty cool concept that is essentially a market place and dining area combined and they have a bit of a motto "We cook what we sell, and we sell what we cook".  It's a place where you can go to shop, taste and savour the high quality traditional Italian food products and beverages, along with local produce and artisanal products.  The concept was originally created in Italy by Oscar Farinetti, when the first Eataly went live in 2007 in Turin.  There are now Eataly markets throughout Italy and the concept has made a successful transition to New York.

It's also helped that there are some heavy hitters involved in the concept in New York, with US super chef Mario Batali and his partners from the B&B hospitality group Joe and Linda Bastianich.  The team have a string of successful and well loved restaurants throughout the US, so it was no surprise when they became involved in Eataly and helped drive its success in New York.

La Birreria is the rooftop restaurant and brewery and is perhaps best known for its high quality and locally distilled beers, as well as some pretty top notch food too.  The beer is taken care of by head brewer Peter Hepp, all of the house brews and ales being created right up on the rooftop, not 30 meters from the restaurant.  The beers are delivered through traditional hand pumps and the menu is designed to be shared, in the traditional Italian way.  It's a fantastic spot any time of the day or night for beer and food connoisseurs.

Eataly is located in the Flatiron district, named after the iconic Flatiron Building that is one of the most striking buildings in the city and one that once you see it, you know you can only be in New York.  The Flatiron district is so quintessentially New York and is such a central stop in the city, it's a great launching pad to so many other parts of Manhattan.  It's largely a residential district, but like so many locations around Manhattan, there is plenty of shopping nearby.

Before heading up for our lunch reservation, we wandered around Eataly for a while, marvelling at the quality of the fresh produce on offer.  There is every kind of food substance or food related items available that you can imagine, from fresh fruit and vegetables, fish and meat to chocolates and coffees.  There is even wonderful cooking paraphernalia that would convince anyone that they can be a good cook!  Best of all is the micro restaurants spaced out throughout Eataly, you can look at the produce, but then have someone cook it for you on the spot.  Awesome.

After wandering around for a bit, we finally found the lift entrance to the rooftop and after being mistaken for Brits in the lifts by some locals, were shown to our table.  It was a sunny day, so we were thankful that we had a table with some shading.  After we had a quick look around the rooftop area, one of the waitstaff sauntered over and gave us a rundown of the menu and the beers, most of which were produced up on the rooftop.  This guy knew his beers and made some recommendations that were quite exquisite, but looked at me like I was a looney when I said that I would stick with water!  Some semblance of sanity was restored when SC ordered one of the beers on tap, a pint of the "Gina", a pale ale with thyme brewed into it.

We also had some fresh bread and a generous amount of olive oil left at the table while our lunch order was prepared.  Eataly had an interesting way of keeping the bread fresh, it came wrapped up, in what was a sheet of paper with facts about Eataly for some light reading.

We started our meal with the Affettati Misti, a selection of salumi for two.  Included in the salumi was smoked prosciutto from Alto-Adige sopressata; Calabrian style pork salame with garlic and black peppercorn; Mortadella - traditional salumi Emilia Romagna cacciatorini; Piemonte 'hunter style' pork salame coppa and Emilia Romagna style pork shoulder.  It was a good cross selection of meats and was all very good in different ways, but I especially liked the pork shoulder, which had the most intense meaty flavour.

Being primarily a beer garden, there are not a huge number of options available on the menu and not surprisingly most of them are meat (of course beer and meat go very well together).  SC decided to have the house made sausage - trentino inspired port and beef sausage with braised red cabbage and speck.  The plate came simply adorned with two large sausages atop of the cabbage with some seeded mustard as additional flavouring.  The simplicity of the presentation really undersold the quality of the sausages, which were perfectly cooked, very moist with an intense pork flavour that worked really well when you ate just the right amount of seeded mustard with each mouthful.  SC only ate one of the sausages, so I got to eat the other, it was delicious.

My choice of pork shoulder - beer glazed pork shoulder with celery, local apples and mustard vinaigrette was inspired, it was simply stunning.  The massive pork shoulder was glazed in beer and apricot, which gave the pork a wonderful glazed look and provided some wonderful flavours.  The shoulder itself was so tender, I was able to cut through it with ease with a butter knife, it was literally softer than butter.  It was so large, SC and I were able to share it and still not eat the whole thing but not through lack of wanting.  It was simply divine, one of the nicest things I had eaten in New York.

We probably should have left it there, but I really wanted to see what an Italian inspired panna cotta would look like.  I was hoping for an artfully designed plate with a perfectly wobbly dessert but was presented with glass of panna cotta, which admittedly tasted not too bad, but was not set right.  It was more like a firm custard than a traditional panna cotta.  The best thing about the dessert was the caramel that was at the bottom of the glass which had the consistency and colour of honey and was perfect with the vanilla flavour of the panna cotta.

New York is the perfect city for rooftop bars, there is literally so much city that no matter where you sit or look, there is skyline all around.  The rooftop beer garden that is la Birreria was a fantastic location, but it was a little difficult to appreciate the skyline from our seats, which is a bit of a shame.  It's a really cool spot where it would be easy to let an afternoon slip into evening watching the skyline come alive and drink some pretty interesting beers while doing so.

Like most places in New York, the service was fantastic and there were heaps of wait staff running around looking after diners.  It was interesting watching some of the beer bottles come out, which came in bottles of varying sizes and styles, including bottles that looked like champagne bottles, one of the beers even came out in a brown paper bag, to give it a bit of a 'wino' look.

It ended up being a lovely way to spend a couple of hours and SC was pretty happy with her tracking down and selecting la Birreria for lunch.  Eataly itself is a great concept, one that seems quite prevalent in Europe but only just taking off in New York, a market place and dining all in the one location.  Judging by the amount of people that come along, it's one of the most popular spots in New York and a great addition to our culinary tour of the great city.

We had an early booking and watched the restaurant fill up over the space of an hour
Such a great spot for lunch, you can see the skyline in the background
Eataly has its own beer kegs!
The micro brewery where all of the beers are made
The Iconic Flatiron building that give the area its name
This building appears in so many moves from New York

Birreria @ Eataly on UrbanspoonEataly on Urbanspoon

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