Slideshow SLIDESHOW: Eataly: An Eight-Figure Bet on Authenticity

[Photos and captions: Christine Tsai]

The press tour of Eataly last night left us in awe of what Mario Batali, Joe Bastianich, and their Italian partners are trying to accomplish with the opening of the flagship American Eataly store on Fifth Avenue in New York—an Italian food emporium of mindboggling proportions.

There's every Italian foodstuff you'd want, everything you could think about wanting, in the vast space curated by Batali and company. A Neapolitan pizzeria serving up really tasty, credible pizzas from an unseasoned oven, all made by pizzaioli that had arrived in America just 24 hours before showing up for work last night. An Italian bread bakery, under the direction of inestimable baker Nancy Silverton, featured pretty swell focaccia. There's a fish restaurant helmed by Esca's Dave Pasternack; there's excellent gelato and espresso. There's fresh pasta that Batali has been blown away by—we liked the plin they served, the pasta wrappers delicate and not too soft. There's a vegetable department featuring a "vegetable butcher," or should we say sculptress, Italian baked goods of every variety imaginable, chocolates, a Rizzoli bookstore—in addition to high-quality salumi from Mario's father Armandino, prosciutto, and Italian cheeses; and even a rooftop beer garden, to follow this fall.

Founders of Eataly

It amounts to an ambitious eight-figure bet on authenticity and quality—Batali and Bastianich clearly believing that New Yorkers are ready to spend enough to keep their palace of premium foodstuffs alive. What wasn't mentioned last night was anything about how much they are going to charge for all this access to fabulous Italian food.

I think that their success depends on recognizing that, particularly in these times of economic uncertainty, we crave authenticity, deliciousness, and value. If Eataly delivers on a strong value proposition in everything it serves, the sky really is the limit for it. It will be fascinating to watch the drama unfold.

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