Many vacationers who booked trips to Europe this summer are disappointed with delayed or canceled flights. Other countries, such as Japan, have opened their borders, but only to those with fixed itineraries on packed tours. The good news is that unless you’re a traveler who prefers group tours and cancels flights, you can try a country’s best food in the backyard – no passport required.
New York City has nearly 24,000 restaurants to choose from, but for those who want the freshest ingredients and the most authentic experience, two restaurants stand out: Kaiseki Room by Yamada (Downtown West) for some of the best Japanese Omakase in America; and Italy (Flatiron District) with seven Italian restaurants to choose from plus a gourmet market, wine shop, cooking classes and more.
You’ll think you’re in Italy walking around Italy (200 Fifth Avenue) putting homemade pasta and fresh bread in your cart while drinking a glass of chilled Italian wine. “Italians drink everywhere, including the food markets,” says Dino Puri, global vice president of Italy. “And this is a real market. It is like being in a square in Italy.”
In 2007, entrepreneur Oscar Farinetti opened the first Italian restaurant in Turin, Italy with the goal of creating a market, a gathering table, and a place to learn about food. Fifteen years later, Eataly has reinvented the way people shop by bringing together three experiences under one roof: Eat (food service), shop (retail), and learn (classes) with 41 locations worldwide from Silicon Valley and New York City. To Paris and Dubai.
Farinetti has traveled all over Italy in search of the best local producers to pursue the qualifications of his Slow Food partners, a movement that started in Italy and stands for good, clean and fair food. Every product at Italy is fresh, local and mostly Italian, with local produce arriving daily. Working with Italian producers, Eataly offers specialties such as the bronze, air-dried extruded Afiltra pasta from southern Gragnano and the fresh Niasca Portofino Genovese pesto from northern Liguria. There are over 200 olive oils to choose from, each marked with a label indicating the region and product.
Endless balsamic vinegars line the shelves, including the limited-edition Putura Balsamic Vinegar from Modena, created by Massimo Bottura, chef at the three-Michelin-star Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy.
Over 200 cheeses are on display, mostly imported such as Parmigiano Reggiano DOP (from Emilia Romagna), Formaggio di Bra DOP (from Piemonte), and Ragusano DOP (from Sicily).
Five DOPs of prosciutto crudo satisfy every taste: Prosciutto Crudo di Parma DOP, Prosciutto di San Daniele DOP, Prosciutto Toscano DOP, Prosciutto di Carpegna DOP and Prosciutto di Modena DOP. Salami cannot be imported, so it is made in the USA and has a label indicating its origin.
Italians love fish. When Eataly opened, they sold the whole fish, but no one won because most customers didn’t know how to peel or devein it. Now Italy sells whole fish and fish fillets. The shop also offers more than 200 different shapes and types of pasta (both dry and fresh), 30 of which diners can watch being made at Il Pastia.
Italy makes bread daily from the yeast of a 40-year-old mother from Italy. Made in a brick oven, shoppers can sample both bread and olive oils.
Three types of pizza are prepared each day in an on-site pizza oven: Pizza Napolitana, Pizza alla Pala (Roman-style pizza) and Focaccia Genovese.
Want to learn to cook Italian food? Italy offers lessons on how to create regional Italian recipes complete with drink pairings. There are also children’s classes.
Eataly Vino, a two-story wine store in Eataly, sells 1,500 different bottles of Italian wines ranging in price from under $20 to over $2,000 for a collector’s wine. The spare room provides the finest wines for collectors. There’s also a homewares area selling everything from espresso makers to Italian handmade soaps and candles.
The store is also famous for its seven Italian restaurants, each serving a different specialty. SERRA (meaning greenhouse) is a rooftop bar and restaurant covered with a soothing roof of flowering plants. Il Patio di Eataly also offers al fresco dining with stalls and tables shaded by oversized umbrellas in the market.
Il Pastaio, a pasta bar, serves all sorts of traditional Italian pasta favorites featuring fresh home made pasta made by… Pastay (pasta maker) that kneads, rolls, cuts, and shapes every shape from scratch. La Pizza & La Pasta features two Italian favorites: Neapolitan-style pizza and handmade pasta. Dine just steps away from professional pasta chefs and dough handlers pizzaioli (Pizza Makers).
Bar Milano, in the middle of the bustling market, serves Milanese specialties as a saffron infusion Risotto allo Zafferano, or bone-in veal cotoletta, is sourced from local farms and paired with signature drinks. no piazza It has tables set (in case you’re in a hurry) and a seated bar where you can order sets of tapas with wine.
Il Pesce seafood-centric restaurant Perfect for those who want to get in without a reservation. Specialties include PEI’s Piselli Brochette, seafood salad with shrimp, calamari, and mussels, as well as many delicious fish such as flounder and swordfish. No matter which restaurant you choose, if you close your eyes, I’ll swear you’re in Italy.
Walk into the Kaiseki Room, an intimate 600-square-foot space at 145 West 53rd Street near 6 ½ Avenue, and you are greeted by smiling Chef Isao Yamada, one of the few New York-trained chefs at the authentic Kaiseki Michelin restaurant. Three stars. Inspired by the traditional Japanese Zen tea ceremony, 12 guests enjoy a tasting menu of delicately crafted 10-course Kaiseki Omakase dishes. Sitting at the table, they sit ringside watching Chef Yamada create his sensual masterpieces that melt in your mouth. The setting is quiet and elevated: a swirl of blond wood curved around the entire room, providing privacy from the patio outside but letting the light shine through.
Kaiseki is a fine meal consisting of many small plates and built on harmony with nature and balance. Chef Yamada was 19 years old when he discovered a book on Kaiseki and was so inspired by him that he dropped out of college to train in Kaiseki cuisine and the art of the tea ceremony. A few years later, Chef David Polly invited Yamada to join his Japanese restaurant project, Brushstroke. Here, the two introduced kaiseki by merging French techniques. Now, the chef is back in traditional Japanese Zen cuisine with Kaiseki Room by Yamada,
The meal can start with summer corn, a sweet, melt-in-your-mouth corn with shicho blossoms and crunchy elements that instantly awaken your taste buds.
Next might be Chawanmushi, a small bowl of Aichi Unagi Eel Kabayaki, peppercorns, Australian black truffles, and egg custard. This is followed by Tsukuri, the seasonal variety sashimi with three different types of soy sauce, one aged for two months. You’ll never taste sashimi like this: striped jack, amber jack, seared sea bass – all tender and perfect.
While the chef cooks, stirs, sears, or slices the famous wagyu beef (sent from his hometown of Fukuoka), he is happy to answer diners’ questions. He changes the menu every month and guests come back frequently to try his latest creations. The only perk offered by the chef: Because he deals with the New York market, he sometimes combines truffles, caviar, and foie gras.
Three other mouth-watering courses follow, including Sushi with Oscietra Caviar and Otoro, and Hokkaido Next may be a dish of summer clams in hen guinea broth with sweet and pickled onions. The eighth course is a chef’s favorite: Donabe Rice, a Japanese-style mixed rice perfectly seasoned with seasonal ingredients and cooked vegetables.
The chef buys fresh flowers every day, flies in his fish and wagyu beef from Japan, and goes to the farmers market three times a week. One of his dishes is served in a basket braided with real flowers.
The final course is Azuki Panna Cotta and Lemon Tofu Ice Cream which includes cherry compote, passion fruit and dragon fruit. There is no course, including candy, that does not burst in your mouth with flavour. Finally, Chef Matcha, green tea powder, provides the perfect finish to earlier dishes.
If you love food but don’t want to travel to Japan, Chef Isao Yamada has appeared in a new book, Kodawari by Washoku Rooms Available for Purchase.
So whether you choose a fancy trip to Italy or Japan (or both) by dining at either of these two exceptional dining venues, you won’t need a passport, no delayed or canceled flight, and you can come back often. Love. I definitely plan to.