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The View from My Kitchen

Benvenuti! I hope you enjoy il panorama dalla mia cucina Italiana -- "the view from my Italian kitchen,"-- where I indulge my passion for Italian food and cooking. From here, I share some thoughts and ideas on food, as well as recipes and restaurant reviews, notes on travel, and a few garnishes from a lifetime in the entertainment industry.

You can help by leaving comments on posts and by becoming a follower. I'd really like to know who you are and what your thoughts are on what I'm doing. To date, more than a quarter million people have viewed the blog and that's great. But every great leader needs followers and if I am ever to achieve my goal of becoming the next great leader of the Italian culinary world :-) I need followers!

Grazie mille!

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Why I DON'T Hate To Cook

Cooking Is A Rewarding, Fulfilling Experience

I've never understood people who can't cook, don't cook, or won't cook. I've never been able to fathom the kitchen aversion that drives the popularity of philosophies like the ones behind Peg Bracken's I Hate To Cook Book. Really? You “HATE” to cook? I just don't get it.

Maybe it's because of the way I started out cooking. I was about seven years old and already an outrageous lover of bacon. Don't tell anybody but I used to sneak a nibble of the stuff raw while I was waiting for Mom to cook me some for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and between meal snacks. I know, YUCK! I feel the same way in retrospect and my grandmother used to go apoplectic and start screaming “trichinosis” whenever she caught me in the act. But it's just an illustration of how much I craved bacon in those days. And in those days the only way to fulfill that craving was to pester my long-suffering mother to fire up the stove to cook me some because there were no microwaves or “ready-to-cook” strips you could just toss therein. When I wanted bacon, somebody had to cook it and Mom eventually decided that somebody should be me. Since I was just about tall enough to reach the built-in flattop griddle on our gas range, she armed me with a spatula and stood over me as I learned to prepare my favorite food for myself. So right from the get go cooking became a rewarding experience.

Research on the subject published in the Harvard Business Review divides people into three groups: (1) people who love to cook and cook often, (2) people who hate to cook and avoid cooking by heating up convenience food or by eating or ordering out and, (3) people who like to cook sometimes, and do a mix of cooking and outsourcing, depending on the situation. The most recent results of that survey show that forty-five percent of Americans “hate” cooking, forty-five percent are “sometimes” cooks, and only ten percent make up the demographic that loves to cook and cooks often. Those are scary numbers, made even scarier by the downward trend they imply: fifteen years earlier the same researcher found the ratio to be fifteen percent cooking “lovers,” thirty-five percent ambivalent, and fifty percent “haters.” I guess the fact that the “lovers” and the “haters” both dropped by an offsetting five percentage points should be seen in a positive light, but still the prospect that ninety-percent of people in this country either loathe the idea of cooking or only do it occasionally when and if they “have to” is a sobering one.

I know people in that ninety-percent. Lots of people. They're the ones that grab coffee and doughnuts on the way to work, hit the cafeteria or food court for lunch, and pick up “supper” at a fast-food place on the way home. Or they line the pockets of the executives at Kraft, Nestlé, General Foods and other Big Food companies as they assemble “homecooked” meals from Stouffer's frozen entrees, Hungry Jack potato flakes, Green Giant canned vegetables, Pillsbury refrigerated dinner rolls, and Duncan Hines cakes or Mrs. Edwards pies. They're also the ones that will require very little embalming when they die because they are already preserving themselves with the chemicals and additives in what they eat.

My wife and I are definitely “10 percenters.” The kitchen is the center of our home and we love to cook. Not only do we love to cook for ourselves, we frequently feed friends and neighbors and hire out as personal chefs and caterers to feed others. We just finished a wedding that left us footsore and weary, but as we sat recovering in a booth at a friend's restaurant, we raised our glasses to one another and toasted a job well done. The bride and groom were happy, their families and guests were happy, and we were happy to have made them all happy. How can it get better than that? We used to have a “love/hate” relationship with our restaurants. We hated the stress and the long hours, but we loved the sense of fulfillment we got from satisfying our customers.

But you know what? Even when we're not cooking for hundreds – even when we're just cooking for each other – it's still a fulfilling experience. In the first place, we enjoy working together. Always have. In the second place, we are both creative individuals. She's a graphic artist and I'm a writer and a retired entertainer. Far from being a “chore” or a “task,” we find cooking to be another creative outlet. When we work with images and words or music, we produce things that are aesthetically and intellectually pleasing. When we work with ingredients and techniques, we render things that are physically and emotionally satisfying. Same creative process. How can you “hate” that?

“But I can't cook,” you say. To which I say, “balderdash.” Of course you can cook. You just have to have the desire and the ability to learn. Nobody is born with a wooden spoon in their hand. Did you come out of the womb with a license and the innate ability to drive? No, you had to develop a specialized skill set. You had to learn. If you can read and understand a recipe, you can cook. And just like whatever occupation you pursue for a living, the more you practice and the longer you do it, the better you'll get. I started out making macaroni and cheese from a box mix. Now I make my own pasta. You can cook, but do you want to?

Back in the “old days,” almost nobody cooked for the pleasure of it. It was a pretty simple paradigm: everybody had to eat so somebody had to cook. Servants were for the wealthy and visits to restaurants were a rare and expensive treat. A hundred years ago, women like my grandmother spent an average of thirty to forty hours a week in the kitchen. And they were laborious hours. Most all the food preparation was done by hand with what we now consider primitive tools. Modern electric conveniences were either unimaginable or unaffordable and even basic equipment was labor intensive. Along with washing, ironing, mending, and sweeping, cooking was something you had to do in order to continue eating, wearing clothes, and living indoors. It was a “chore,” defined by the dictionary as “an unpleasant but necessary task.” And the task most often fell to women. Men wore the white coats and tall hats in professional kitchens and everybody called them “chef.” Women donned faded house dresses and worn aprons at home and were usually called “mother.”

Then came the economic boom of the post-Depression, post-war era. From the late 1940s through the '60s, newer, faster, cheaper, and easier ways of doing things were being developed every day. And nowhere was this trend more impactful than in the kitchen. Canned food, boxed mixes, frozen foods and myriad new ways to prepare them meant that a woman raising a family in the '50s only spent about twenty hours a week in the kitchen. And it was more than just a change in food products and preparation techniques; thanks to Madison Avenue, there was a sea change in attitude taking place.

Clever advertising convinced women that they were being “freed” from the “drudgery of the kitchen.” Why “waste” all that time cooking the way your mother did? All that chopping and stirring and kneading and roasting and braising and boiling. Why, that, the ad men would have you believe, was tantamount to slave labor! Open a can or a box or a pre-packaged, pre-cooked frozen “meal” and “free” yourself to do other, more important, more fulfilling things! No wonder women began to view cooking as onerous and hateful and something to be avoided. It was being marketed to them as an affront to their very womanhood and self esteem. And they took the bait: nowadays women spend just five and a half hours a week in the kitchen. About what their grandmothers and great-grandmothers spent in a day. And most will tell you it's because they're “too busy” to cook, they “hate” to cook, or they simply “can't” cook. All because of the successful effort begun two generations ago to demonize, denigrate, and disparage cooking as an “old-fashioned,” soul-crushing, life draining “chore.”

If there's a ray of hope peeking over the horizon, it's the increasing awareness among members of the current generation of the importance of fresh food and the rise of so-called “subscription” meal delivery services like Blue Apron, Hello Fresh and others. More the former than the latter, I believe. Meal delivery operations are a small step in the right direction mainly because they introduce generations raised on artificial food-like stuff to the healthful and substantive advantages of real food. But they are not in and of themselves the answer to the larger problem. An opinion piece I read in the New York Times entitled “You Don't Need A Blue Apron to Teach You to Turn On Your Oven” echoes my own thoughts on the subject. The author praises the subscription delivery model for bringing American consumers closer to the way the rest of the world shops for and prepares food, i.e. keeping a basic stock of staples in the pantry and shopping for fresh ingredients on a daily basis. But at the same time, the author opines – and I agree – we're not actually teaching people how to cook that way, only how to prepare meal kits. It's kind of like the public school system teaching kids how to take tests rather than to impart real learning about actual subjects. Sure, you can make a “gourmet meal” from the ingredients and instructions Blue Apron provides, but if you are not willing or able to take the next step and develop your own creations from ingredients you source yourself, you're really just making upscale versions of boxed mixes.

To those who are able, though, it's a good entry point to the scary world of measuring and seasoning and sauteing and all those other mysterious things your grandmother used to do when she laid out the big feasts you probably still remember. If you are willing to approach cooking as a creative exercise rather than as a depressing chore or a necessary evil, you've already won the battle. And you'll quickly outgrow the meal kits and move on to more adventurous kitchen adventures. As the author of the Times article wisely said, “the whole point of training wheels is that eventually you don’t need them anymore.”

And if you're a complete nervous novice, there's nothing wrong with starting out with a few comfortable, unintimidating boxes and cans and frozen entrees. Anything to get you into the kitchen. I was the master of Minute Rice when I was in junior high school, but I didn't stop there. I read, I observed, I asked questions, I took classes and from there it was just a matter of practice, practice, practice. Top Chef judge Tom Colicchio, a top chef in his own right, says, “it's about creating good habits. It's about learning good solid technique and methods. Much like learning to play a musical instrument, you have to understand basics, you have to understand theory. And then from there you can improvise.” So maybe you'll never cook for hundreds. That's okay. Even if you only cook for yourself, you'll be so much better off. There isn't a medical or dietary expert on the planet that won't tell you cooking at home with fresh ingredients is more healthful and beneficial than eating out or cooking with preservative-laden junk.

Start now. I started as a kid, but when it comes to cooking, it's never too late for an old dog to learn new tricks. I've been at it for more than fifty years but there isn't a week that goes by that I don't pick up something new. And I still get all happy every time a new technique or process or ingredient works out and makes me say, “Wow! I've never tried that before.” The thrill of discovery and the expansion of knowledge and the development of skill – those are the things that make cooking a creative and fulfilling activity and not just something I do because I have to eat or feed somebody else. And that, miei amici, is the way it should always be.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

A Guide To Understanding Italian Words On A Menu

Everything Sounds Better In A “Foreign” Language

Okay, so you've heard a lot about the new Italian place downtown and you've decided to have dinner there. The atmosphere is nice, the service is friendly, and you're shown to a lovely table. You are presented with the menu.......and the trouble begins. There's a lot of Italian written there and the only word you're really sure of is “spaghetti.” Uh-oh. You ask yourself, “Should I order the fegati di coniglio arrosto con cime de rapa?

People like going out to Italian restaurants with me. I can't count the number of times a dining companion has turned to me, pointed at something on the menu and asked, “What's that?” Many so-called “ethnic” eateries use what English-speakers consider “foreign” words to describe their fare. Oftentimes this is done out of overweening pretension, but most of the time it's intended to impart authenticity. Sometimes it backfires, as in the case of an Italian chef I read about who was having trouble selling his crespelle, a stuffed crepe dish. His customers hadn't a clue what a “crespelle” was, so they ignored what I am sure was a delicious creation in favor of safer alternatives. When the chef caught on and changed the name to the less correct but more familiar “cannelloni,” sales immediately increased.

Somehow, everything sounds more romantic or more exotic or just......better when it's articulated in another language. If the extent of your Italian vocabulary was limited to words found on Chef Boyardee labels, I could smilingly curse you out in a string of truly vile Italian and you would probably smile right back at me because it would sound so pretty. (There's a t-shirt circulating around that says, “Vaffanculo Is Italian For Have A Nice Day.” Trust me, it isn't. If you don't know, Google it. And I really want one, BTW.) And when it comes to menu entries, you gotta admit that fegati di coniglio arrosto con cime de rapa sounds a lot better than roasted rabbit livers with turnip greens, right? So in the spirit of helping you steer clear of those possibly unwanted rabbit livers, allow me to present a not-so-brief glossary of some of the more common words and phrases you might encounter on an Italian menu.

Let's start with the meals themselves. Breakfast is prima colazione or just colazione. The lunch offerings will usually be labeled pranzo, and the dinner menu will be cena.

Now for the menu headings. In English, menus are divided into categories like “appetizers,” “soups,” “salads,” “entrees” or “main courses,” “sides,” and “desserts.” Italian meals are broken down into similar divisions: Appetizers are antipasti, soups are either zuppe or minestre, and salads are insalate. You'll find pasta listed under primi or primi piatti, indicating its position as the first course. Pasta is never served as a “side dish” in Italian dining. Besides pasta, primo dishes often include risotto, and the aforementioned zuppe. What Americans would consider as the “main course” is actually the second course, or secondo, usually a type of meat dish. Be advised that secondi are often served alone, without any vegetables or other sides. Italians don't do a “meat and two” or “meat and three” with the main protein and all the sides piled on one plate like Americans do. To Italians the “sides” are the contorni, a course unto themselves. And the dessert course is the dolce. You might also find Italian food words like pane (bread), bevande (drinks), and caffè (coffee) listed on the menu. Sometimes a selection of aperitivi and digestivi – before and after dinner drinks – might show up in higher end places, while merende (snacks) might appear on less formal menus.

Okay, that takes care of the broad, general categories. But what about the specific descriptors for the menu items themselves? What do all those pretty words that end in vowels really mean? Most restaurants either list the dishes in Italian with an English translation following or vice-versa. Some don't and if you don't read Italian, you can either ask your server or take your chances. Or you can become familiar with some of the more common words and phrases.

Let's start with the way your dish is prepared. You know what “baked” and “roasted” and “broiled” and “boiled” and other cooking terms are in English, right? Here are some of their Italian equivalents: affettato (sliced), affumicato (smoked), al forno (baked), al vapore (steamed), alla griglia (broiled), arrostito (roasted), bollito/lesso (boiled), brasato (braised), caldo (hot), con formaggio (with cheese), cotto (cooked), crudo (raw), freddo (cold), fritto/fritte (fried), grigliato/arrostito alla griglia (grilled), in camicia or cotto in bianco (poached), in umido (stewed), in burro or nel burro (in butter), piccante (spicy), purè (mashed – as in mashed potatoes; purè di patate), salsa di panna (cream sauce), tostato (toasted). You might see something in brodo, as in tortellini in brodo. That's Italian for “in broth.” And if something – usually a fish dish – has been cooked in a paper or foil pouch, it'll show up on the menu as in cartoccio.

As far as what you might be eating, we'll begin with pasta. I'm not even going to try to list all the varieties of pasta you might encounter on an Italian menu. There are literally hundreds, ranging from agnolotti to ziti. You're probably familiar with most pasta shapes as most restaurants feature only a handful of the more common types. Long, round, thin strands of spaghetti; long, flat linguine; slightly wider ribbons of fettuccine; short, tubular penne, rigatoni, and ziti; stuffed pillows of ravioli or tortellini – pretty much everybody knows those. Even farfalle (butterflies), cavatappi (corkscrews), “little ears” of orecchiette, and the classic spiral fusili are fairly easy to recognize. Sometimes the Italian name of American staples may surprise you: good ol' elbow macaroni may be written as maccheroni and shells are often referred to by their Italian name, conchiglie.

You may not be as familiar, however, with many of the sauces with which the numerous pasta shapes are paired. There are a million of those, too, so I'll just describe a few of the most ubiquitous preparations.

Pomodoro is a simple and yet very flavorful smooth-textured tomato sauce. Marinara is a little chunkier tomato-based sauce that, because it is usually cooked longer and may contain more ingredients, is generally a bit thicker and richer. And please, please, please don't massacre the pronunciation; I don't care how many times you hear it pronounced “mare-uh-NARE-uh”, the proper pronunciation is “mah-ree-NAH-rah”. And roll those “r”s, baby. Diavolo or “devil” sauce is a spicier tomato-based sauce. Bolognese does not rhyme with “mayonnaise.” It is properly pronounced “boh-loh-NYAYS-eh and when properly prepared, it is comprised of a combination of ground meats (beef and usually veal and/or pork), tomatoes, celery, carrots, red wine, and a touch of dairy such as milk or cream. Puttanesca is a mid-20th century Neapolitan sauce that usually contains tomatoes, anchovies, olives, capers, and garlic. Carbonara is a sauce formed by pouring a combination of eggs, cheese, and some form of ham/bacon over hot pasta. Quattro formaggi is literally a “four cheese” sauce, usually mozzarella, provolone, Parmigiano, and Romano, but may be made up of any four cheeses at hand.

One “sauce” you will not find on an authentic Italian menu is “Alfredo.” That's because “Alfredo sauce” does not exist in real Italian cuisine. Roman restaurateur Alfredo di Lelio used to make a variation of a common Italian butter and cheese pasta; he just increased the amounts of butter and cheese and blended them with a touch of the starchy water in which the pasta was cooked. Americans got hold of the concept, added cream, and called it a “sauce.”

The next course on the menu – the secondi – is meat, poultry, or fish, the Italian words for which are carne, pollame, and pesce. First up, beef.

The Italian word for beef is manzo, so an order of roast beef, for instance, would be arrosto di manzo. Steak is a little different; bistecca. Bistecca alla Fiorentina, a thick Porterhouse cut cooked and served in a Tuscan style, is probably the most common example. The Italian word for veal is vitello, most commonly found on American menus as “Vitello Parmigiana” or “Veal Parmesan.” And you'll only find it that way on American menus because the dish doesn't exist in Italy.

Pork is maiale. A pork cutlet would be cotoletta di maiale and a pork chop would be braciola di maiale. Most Italian sausages (salsicce) and cured meats (salumi) are made from pork. These include traditional salami, mortadella, coppa, and soppressata. Italian ham is called prosciutto and bacon is pancetta. Occasionally you'll find something called “speck” on an Italian menu. This is a denser ham usually produced in Italy's northern-most region, Alto Adige. Speck is cured with spices like juniper and bay leaves and then smoked and aged for a deeper, richer flavor.

Chicken is pollo; and it's “POHL-loh” in Italian, not “POY-yoh” as it is in Spanish. And while we're on the subject of chickens, you'll find the eggs they produce listed as uova. You don't often see turkey on an Italian menu, but when you do, it's tacchino.

As noted, pesce is Italian for fish; specific kinds of fish include salmone (salmon), trota (trout), tonno (tuna), and branzino (sea bass). And, of course, l'acciuga (anchovy).

The general Italian term for seafood is frutti di mare, literally “fruits of the sea.” Specific seafoods include vongole (clams), l'aragosta (lobster), cozze (mussels), gamberi (shrimp), ostriche (oysters), and calamari (squid). Scampi is a whole 'nuther animal. It's actually a type of lobster or prawn. It is sometimes called a Norway lobster, a Dublin Bay prawn, or a langoustine. But it's not a shrimp except in America where “shrimp scampi” usually refers to shrimp cooked in garlic, lemon, and butter.

Other meats you might find on Italian menus include coniglio (rabbit), anatra (duck), and fegato (liver).

A contorno is literally a boundary, a margin, or a side. In culinary terms, it's a side dish. Contorni are usually vegetables (which, in themselves, are verdure) and may include: aglio (garlic), asparago (asparagus), carciofo (artichoke), carote (carrots), cavolo (cabbage or kale), cavolo nero (black cabbage), cetriolo (cucumber), cipolla (onion), fagioli (beans), fagiolini (green beans), funghi (mushrooms), grano (corn; sometimes also written as mais), lattuga (lettuce), olive (olives), patate (potatoes), piselli (peas), pomodori (tomatoes), prezzemolo (parsley), sedano (celery), and zucchine (zucchini). One vegetable which needs no translation is broccoli; it's the same in either language.

The dolce or dessert course can be a little confusing because cakes, pies, and tarts are all called torte. Cookies are biscotti and the Italian version of ice cream is gelato. Vanilla, chocolate, and caramel are vaniglia, cioccolato, and caramello, respectively. And even though dolce translates literally to “sweets,” most Italian desserts are more fruity, usually consisting of albicocche (apricots), arance (oranges), banane (bananas), ciliegie (cherries), fragole (strawberries), lamponi (raspberries), mele (apples), pesche (peaches), pompelmo (grapefruit), or uva (grapes). Top them with a little zucchero (sugar) or panna montata (whipped cream) for a delicious dessert.

Wash everything down with bevande, the broad term for “drinks.” You can have una tazza di caffè o tè (a cup of coffee or tea), un bicchiere o una bottiglia di birra o vino (a glass or bottle of beer or wine), or you can just have some aqua (water). Gassato o lisce (carbonated or smooth) is up to you. Soda has gained popularity and is usually identified by brand. Succo (juice) may be available and latte (milk) is sometimes an option. If you like your drinks without ice, order senza ghiaccio.

Okay, I didn't get around to the cime di rapa. And I didn't mention ravanelli (radishes) either. And zucche! How could I forget about pumpkins? And I failed to delve into the “delicacies” like cieche fritte (fried baby eels), lampredotto (boiled cow's stomach), or finanziera (a dish containing a rooster's wattle, cockscomb, and testicles cooked with vegetables) because you're not likely to encounter them much outside their native regions. No, I think if you commit everything I've written to memory (or at least bookmark the page on your device) you'll be ready to sally fearlessly forth to that new Italian place downtown without concern for undue embarrassment or potential gastric disaster.

Buona fortuna e buon appetito!

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

A Disappointing Eataly Experience

Crowded, Overpriced, And Overrated

Ever since Eataly opened in New York back in 2010, I've been jonesing to go. I don't go to New York if I can help it. In fact, I drive around the place as much as possible, not being much of a fan of traffic, tolls, and crowds. So when they opened another Eataly location in Chicago, I was really tempted to make a pilgrimage. Not that Chicago doesn't have traffic or tolls or crowds, but, having grown up in Chicagoland, I can at least deal with them a little better. Then, lo and behold, the Batali and Bastianich partnership went and opened a brand new Eataly in the Prudential Center in Boston. Hot damn! Of course, New York and Chicago are closer to where I live by one hundred and two hundred miles, respectively, but I really like Boston – especially the North End – and have occasion to travel there a couple of times a year. So Boston it shall be for my Eataly initiation!

In case you have no idea what I'm talking about, Eataly started out in Turin, Italy in 2007. Now expanding worldwide, it is a huge open Italian market containing restaurants, grocers, bakers, butchers, fishmongers, cheese mongers, pasta makers, wine merchants and just about any other form of Italian food vendor you can think of. It's basically an Italian food hall on steroids. And since I live in a little town where the only Italian ingredients readily available to me are found in the “ethnic” aisle at the grocery store, a place like Eataly is a long-held dream come true. Sadly, the dream turned out to be more of a nightmare.

I had some specific items in mind when I arrived at the Prudential Center on a frigid December afternoon. My son had asked me for some help in perfecting his pizza dough, so I wanted some 00 flour. Since we were making pizza, I also wanted San Marzano tomatoes. I was drooling over the prospect of some wonderfully crusty fresh bread that I didn't have to make myself. I had in mind a soup that uses potato gnocchi. I was also looking for some real Italian-made pasta for a nice spaghetti dinner. I love my De Cecco and Barilla, mind you, but I was hoping to find something a little less.......common. I guess. Giddy at the potential prospects ahead of us, my wife and I got out of the car in the parking garage – thankful that we didn't have to venture into the sub-zero wind chill outside – and rode the escalator up to Eataly.

Pandemonium met us.

The crowds, even at two o' clock on a Thursday afternoon, were absolutely overwhelming. You couldn't actually choose where you wanted to start; you just stepped into the wave and hoped the tide carried you in the right general direction. My wife is not exactly agoraphobic, but I could sense her growing anxiety as she was bumped, jostled, shaken and stirred by the surrounding sea of humanity. It was clear that this was not going to be a pleasant, leisurely shopping trip. It was rapidly turning into an expedition; an exercise in survival. And then there was the fire alarm.

Almost immediately after getting swept into the maelstrom, a blaring klaxon began to sound and an amplified voice informed us that a fire had been reported in a retail area. We were advised to “stand by for further information” – at least I think that's what was being said. The crowd itself raised such a din as to overpower the announcement and the alarm, which continued to jangle our already jangled nerves as the attendant warning lights flashed. This went on for what seemed like hours, although it was probably about five minutes before the piercing racket ceased and the “all clear” was announced. Welcome to Eataly.

The map I had picked up at the door was useless; standing still long enough to consult it was tantamount to suicide by trampling. Looking around “together” was impossible. We each drifted wherever the current took us, occasionally breaking free and fighting toward something of interest. I swear to God I will never again complain about shopping at Walmart.

I have no doubt they had some wonderful stuff at Eataly, but I sure as hell didn't get to see any of it. All I saw were asses and elbows. I got twisted and bent in so many directions I'm not entirely sure the asses and elbows I was seeing weren't sometimes my own. Now I'm not browsing anymore. Now I'm on a mission: find what I came for and get the hell out of here. Alas, that was not to be the case.

They had exactly one bag of “Tipo 00” flour. Priced at $6.80 for 2.2 pounds. Outrageous, but I bought it. You see, you have to take out a loan to park at the Prudential Center in the first place, but if you buy at least ten dollars' worth of merchandise within you can get your parking validated down to only fourteen dollars for the first four hours. My little bag of flour got me a little over halfway there. The two packets of two-dollar spaghetti I bought got me the rest of the way to the goal. Or I could have bought one package of the stuff with Lidia's picture on it.

San Marzano tomatoes? Oh, they were there, but I could have booked passage to Italy and picked them myself for less. Same with the bread. I could have bought two or three loaves at the panetteria at Bricco over on Hanover Street for what one would have cost me at Eataly. Gnocchi? They had it, alright. Some was made with pumpkin and they had some stuffed with all kinds of stuff, but plain ol' potato gnocchi like I needed for my simple soup? Nah. At least none that I could see as I was driven through the fresh pasta section like a steer on its way to the Dodge City stockyards.

We were hungry. A break for a bite sounded like a good idea. We stopped at a sit-down place called La Pizza e La Pasta. How long is the wait? 90 minutes, you say? No, thank you. “Make a stop at La Piazza,” the map says. “Enjoy an aperitivo of wine and cheese, just like in Italy,” the map says. R-i-i-i-i-ght! What the map doesn't say is that you can fly to Italy faster. And cheaper. And with fewer crowds. I Panini E Le Ciabatte looked promising, but by then all we wanted was out.

I went to Eataly with the idea in mind of buying a few ingredients for a couple of simple meals. I couldn't find half of what I was looking for and I couldn't afford the other half. After all, I only had a few hundred bucks to spend. Overrated, overpriced, and thoroughly disappointing, Eataly was definitely not worth the seven hundred mile drive. No, I'm not crazy enough to make that kind of drive for a shopping trip. I was passing through the area anyway and only made a slight detour. But I won't go back to Eataly again even when I'm already in town. You know where I found my flour? A couple of blocks over at DeLuca's Market on Newbury Street. Three ninety-nine a bag. And there are shops and restaurants all over the North End that are equally well-stocked, cheaper, and a helluva lot more fun to visit. Give me Bricco Salumeria & Pasta Shoppe on Hanover Street or Salumeria Italiana on Richmond Street. Nobody beats Mike's Pastry on Hanover Street for cannoli. And you probably won't have a ninety minute wait at Pizzeria Regina. Sure, it's not “one stop shopping,” but you know what? I don't care.

Eataly Boston: with apologies to Julius Caesar, Veni, vidi, remansit frustra.