I had no desire at all to visit Eataly, the new Batali–Bastianich Italian food hall that offers the charm of a shopping mall with the crowds of an airline terminal the day before Thanksgiving. There are six or seven themed dining spaces, none of which take reservations, and where waits of 45 minutes or more are already legion.
There is also one real restaurant, Manzo (meaning “beef”), which takes reservations and offers something approximating a civilized experience. Reviews have been uniformly positive (e.g., a rare three stars from Adam Platt), so I decided to brave the crowds and try the place.
Manzo is expensive, and in line with those at the same team’s Babbo—the chef, Michael Toscano came from there. But Babbo, at least, is a nice-looking place. Manzo looks thrown together, with insufficient visual or aural separation from the rest of Eataly. Crude posters, advertising the owners’ new cooking school, adorn the walls.
It’s not that I mind eating in a supermarket. It’s that I mind paying $250 for dinner while doing so. For all that, the food at Manzo is extremely good—indeed, better than the last time I ate at Babbo. It ought to be easy to erect a real wall with a door (in lieu of the current makeshift screen), to set Manzo apart. Then, get rid of the crass posters, and they’d have themselves a great restaurant. Instead, what they have is an annoying one.
The staff wisely distributes the wine list first. I was already forewarned of the potential for rip-offs, and when I opened it up to Barolos in three figures, I figured I was about to get bent over the table. Dig a little deeper, and there are plenty of reasonable bottles below $65, or even below $50. The San Polo Brunello 2004 ($63) was an excellent foil to Manzo’s meat-centric menu.
Eataly has its own bakery, so it is no surprise that the bread was freshly baked, but the staff forgot to deliver the olive oil to go with it.
Appetizers were excellent: Crispy Sweetbreads ($15; above left); Top Round Carne Cruda ($17; above right), or the equivalent of steak tartare with a soft-boiled egg surrounded by rich, Piemontese beef.
We asked to share the Agnolotti del Plin ($23; above left), and the kitchen divided the order without prompting. It was a simple dish, but executed beautifully.
For a purportedly beef-centric restaurant, we longed for more choices among the secondi. There is a ribeye for two ($95), but we wanted to try different things. Tagliata ($35; above right) is a fairly lean cut of meat, and it needed more excitement than to be just simply roasted, as it was here.
The Veal Chop Smoked in Hay ($45; above right) is the dish several critics have raved about, and with good reason: it’s a huge, double-cut truncheon-sized specimen: juicy, smokey, and full of flavor. Braised greens with cannellini beans and pancetta ($10; above left) was also very good.
The dining room is not large, but a restaurant in this price range needed more than just two servers on duty. The host and two sommeliers filled in on their behalf, but still, it was sometimes difficult to get their attention.
Manzo is expensive, but not out of line for the quality of the food. The service will improve as the staff matures. What will not improve—at least, not anytime soon—is the terrible space. For $250, I want to enjoy dinner in peace, and I don’t want ads for Lidia Bastianich’s cooking school staring down at me. I might consider returning to Manzo—after they remodel.
Manzo (in Eataly, 200 Fifth Avenue at 23rd Street, Flatiron District)