Book A Table, Not A Flight

Many vacationers who have booked trips to Europe this summer are disappointed by delayed or canceled flights. Other countries, such as Japan, have opened their borders, but only to those with fixed itineraries in packaged tours. The good news is, unless you’re a traveler who prefers group tours and flight cancellations, you can experience the best of a country’s food right in our back yard — no passport required.

New York City has almost 24,000 eateries from which to choose, but for those who want the freshest ingredients and most authentic experience, two restaurants stand out: Kaiseki Room by Yamada (midtown west) for some of the finest in Japanese Omakase in America; and Eataly (Flatiron district) with seven Italian restaurants from which to choose plus a high-end food market, wine store, cooking classes and more.

Eataly

You’ll think you’re in Italy as you walk around Eataly (200 Fifth Avenue) and put home-made pasta and freshly baked bread into your shopping cart while drinking a chilled glass of Italian wine. “Italians drink everywhere, including in food markets,” says Dino Borri, Global Vice President of Eataly. “And this is a real market. It’s like being in a piazza in Italy.”

In 2007, entrepreneur Oscar Farinetti opened the first Eataly in Torino, Italy with the intention of creating a market, a table to gather around, and a place to learn about food. Fifteen years later, Eataly has reinvented the way people shop by combining three experiences under one roof: Eat (food service), Shop (retail), and Learn (classes) with 41 locations throughout the world from Silicon Valley and New York City to Paris and Dubai.

Farinetti traveled throughout Italy searching the best local producers to follow Slow Food’s partner qualifications, a movement which started in Italy and means food that is good, clean, and fair. Every product in Eataly is fresh, local, and mostly Italian, with local produce arriving daily. Working with Italian producers, Eataly offers such specialties as Afeltra’s bronze-extruded, air-dried pasta from southern Gragnano and Niasca Portofino’s freshly jarred pesto Genovese from northern Liguria. There are over 200 olive oils from which to choose, each marked by a sign indicating the region and producer.

Endless balsamic vinegars line the shelves including the limited Bottura Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, created by Massimo Bottura, chef at three-Michelin star restaurant Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy.

More than 200 cheeses are on display, most of them imported such as Parmigiano Reggiano DOP (from Emilia Romagna), Formaggio di Bra DOP (from Piemonte), and Ragusano DOP (from Sicily).

Five DOPs of raw prosciutto 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 with a sign indicating its origin.

Italians love fish. When Eataly opened, they sold the entire fish, but no one would mad a purchase because most customers didn’t know how to skin or debone it. Now Eataly sells both whole and filleted fish. The store also offers more than 200 different shapes and kinds of pasta (both dry and fresh), 30 of which diners can watch being made at the restaurant, Il Pastia.

Eataly makes bread daily from a 40-year-old mother yeast from Italy. Made in a brick oven, shoppers can sample both breads and olive oils.

Three types of pizza are made each day in an on-site pizza oven: Pizza Napoletana, Pizza alla Pala (Roman style pizza), and Focaccia Genovese.

Want to learn to cook Italian food? Eataly offers classes on how to create regional Italian recipes complete with beverage pairings. There are also kids’ classes.

Eataly Vino, a two-story wine shop at Eataly sells 1,500 different bottles of Italian wines ranging from below $20 to more than $2,000 for a collector wine. A reserve room offers the best vintages for collectors. There’s also a housewares area selling everything from espresso makers to soaps and candles handmade at Eataly.

The store is equally known for its seven Italian restaurants, each offering a different specialty. SERRA (which greenhouse means) is a rooftop bar and restaurant covered with a soothing ceiling of flowering plants. Il Patio di Eataly also offers al fresco dining with booths and tables shaded by oversized market umbrellas.

Il Pastaio, a Pasta Bar, offers every type of favorite traditional Italian pasta dishes featuring fresh house-made pasta created by the pastei (pasta maker) who kneads, rolls, cuts, and forms each shape from scratch. La Pizza & La Pasta features two favorite Italian dishes: Napoli-style pizza and artisanal pasta. Dine just steps away from the expert pasta chefs and dough-slinging pizzaioli (pizza makers).

Bar Milano, in the middle of the bustling market, offers Milanese specialties as saffron-infused Risotto allo Zafferano or bone-in Veal Cotoletta sourced from local farms and paired with iconic drinks. the piazza has standing tables (in case you’re in a rush) and a seated bar where you can order up combinations of antipasto with wine.

The seafood-centric Il Pesce is perfect for those who want to walk in with no reservation. Specialties include Piselli Brochette, seafood salad with shrimp, calamari and PEI mussels pls a multitude of pasts and delicious fish such as flounder and swordfish. No matter which restaurant you choose, if you close your eyes, you’ll swear you’re in Italy.

KAISEKI ROOM

Walk into 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 only a few chefs in New York who have trained at an authentic Michelin kaiseki three-star restaurant. Inspired by the traditional Japanese Zen tea ceremony, 12 guests enjoy the 10-course, meticulously prepared kaiseki omakase-course tasting menu. Sitting at the counter, they have a ringside seat to watch Chef Yamada create his sensual melt-in-your-mouth masterpieces. The venue is soothing and soaring: a swirl of blond slatted wood curving around the entire room, offering privacy from the courtyard outside but letting the light shine in.

Kaiseki is an elegant meal composed of many small dishes and based on harmony with nature and balance. Chef Yamada was 19 years old when he discovered a book on kaiseki and was so inspired, he quit college to train in kaiseki cuisine and the art of the tea ceremony. A few years later, Chef David Bouley invited Yamada to join his Japanese restaurant project, Brushstroke. Here, the two presented kaiseki incorporating French techniques. Now, Chef has returned to traditional Zen Japanese cuisine with Kaiseki Room by Yamada,

The meal could begin with Summer Corn, a melt-in-your-mouth sweet corn with Shisho flowers and crispy elements which immediately wakes up your taste buds.

Chawanmushi might be next, a small bowl of Aichi Unagi Eel Kabayaki, pepper leaf, Australian Black Truffle and egg custard. This is followed by Tsukuri, seasonal assorted sashimi with three different kinds of soy sauce, one aged two months. You’ll never taste sashimi as fresh as this: striped Jack, amber Jack, torched sea perch – everything tender and perfect.

As Chef cooks, stirs, fires, or slices the famous Wagyu beef (sent from his hometown of Fukuoka), he is glad to answer diners’ questions. Each month he changes the menu and guests frequently return to try his latest creations from him. The one concession Chef has made: because he’s dealing with the New York market, he occasionally incorporates truffles, caviar, and foie gras.

Three more mouth-watering courses follow, including a sushi dish with Oscietra Caviar, Otoro and Hokkaido Next might be a dish of summer clam flowers in Guinea Hen broth with sweet, pickled onions. The eighth course is Chef’s favorite: Donabe Rice, a creation of perfectly seasoned Japanese-style mixed rice tossed with seasonal ingredients, and cooked vegetables.

Chef buys fresh flowers each day, flies in his fish and Wagyu beef from Japan, and goes to the farmer’s 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 not a course, including dessert, that doesn’t explode in your mouth with flavor. Lastly, Chef serves Matcha, a green powdered tea, and the perfect ending to the preceding courses.

If you love the food but don’t want to fly to Japan, Chef Isao Yamada is featured in a new book, Kodawari by Washoku Rooms available for purchase.

So whether you chose a fantasy trip to Italy or Japan (or both) by dining in either of these two extraordinary food venues, you’ll need no passport, there will never be a delayed or canceled flight, and you can return as often as you like. I certainly plan to.

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