So, the weekend of my birthday a West Coast outpost of the Italian-food marketplace called Eataly opened up right across the street from my office building. I didn't get into it until last week, when I was over there visiting my bank and thought "this is a fine time to get a bottle of wine to go with dinner."
I have to tell you ... I'm disappointed.
I love Italian food. I would rather eat Italian food than anything else, even sushi, and would happily do so every night if someone else would cook it for me. But I will not be regularly shopping at Eataly, and here are the two main reasons why:
- the things they sell are not things I can only get there. I can get fish, meat, cheese, pastries, wine, pasta, gelato, and cappuccino at countless other locations, and there are dozens of good Italian restaurants in Los Angeles;
- the place has all the aesthetic appeal of a bus station.
This seems to me like an enormous missed opportunity. If I were designing an Italian-food marketplace, it would not open its doors on white floors, white walls, stainless-steel everything, and displays blocking the passages. It would also be a damn sight easier to find a cash register at which to hand over money.
But let's focus on the design. What would I have done? I would have started by - if not outright hiring some Disney Imagineers - prowling the Disney markets and fooderies because those people Do Design. If you go to a German restaurant at Epcot, it darned well looks like Germany. Mexican restaurant? Ole! The food may not be the most "authentic," but most food purveyors will tell you that does not matter. What matters is the experience. An appealing food-related experience does not happen in a mashup of a supermarket and a generic food court.
I've never been to Italy - yet - but I've seen plenty of movies and TV shows (hello, "The Wine Show," new episodes pleez) set there, and it is beautiful. It is warm, it is colorful, it is full of flowers and sculpture and light that does not say "I belong in a clinic."
So my Italian-food marketplace would have been imagineered to look like a genuine Italian village, with narrow but unobstructed "streets" winding between tiny storefronts on the "inside" and places to buy prepared foods on the "outside." Each storefront would actually have a store behind it, one where you could go in and browse for your dry or fresh pasta, or your galaxy of cheeses. The ventilation would be very very good (I am not likely to buy cheese or pastry when all I can smell is fish). There would be plants and fountains.
The place to sit and eat your prepared food, if you are not taking it home, would be on an easily-accessible mezzanine or balcony, with either an outside view or (since here in L.A. that outside view would encompass primarily eight lanes of traffic) aforesaid plants and fountains. The place to eat would NOT be out in the middle of a grocery store.
And I would employ curves, because in garden design they tell you that a curved path conveys a sense of anticipation and discovery ... whereas a straight path just points you at the end. A straight corridor in a shop says "this way to your stuff, now get out." A straight corridor, moreover, that is a dead end is an abomination.
They should have put the wine shop in an enclosed space (A SHOP) off to the right behind that restaurant. That way, when you go into the wine shop, you expect to have to exit the shop and go back the way you came. And the tasting bar would not be out in the open space that is REDOLENT OF FISH.
The Eataly marketplace has every genre of food separated, which maybe is convenient for stocking, or if you only go in for pasta or a pastry or a bottle of wine. But to me, going in past the pastry shop and walking through a modest selection of produce while off to the side is a seating area and beyond that is the charcuterie and the pasta (and whatever else; I didn't bother looking), meanwhile fish and meat are past the produce across from a salad bar and then there is wine taking up a large area at the end of which there is a restaurant ... I did not find it fun to explore. I found it congested and illogical and annoying. And having had that annoying first experience, I am just not likely to go back.
What I am likely to do is book a dinner at Tanino.