.That’s Italian?

A culinary heritage refracted through American eyes and pocketbooks

Eataly Silicon Valley advances Italian cuisine in the same way that Anna Maria Alberghetti and Mama Celeste did in the 1960s: An entire culture is reduced to an easily digestible package. Granted, Eataly’s approach is grander in scale and is meant to be an all-encompassing experience. Like going on a version of the Disneyland ride It’s a Small World with every country expelled save for Italy.

But the new market hall and restaurants within the Westfield Valley Fair mall suggests that Italy’s culinary heritage lacks complexity and depth. On one hand, there are over 30 varieties of olive oil for sale as well as over 30 varieties of vinegar. Clearly, Italy produces a wide range of artisanal ingredients. On the other hand, La Pizza & La Pasta is the name of one of Eataly’s two restaurants (the second is Terra). This nomenclature lets American diners know they won’t encounter anything unfamiliar on the menu. You want pizza? You want spaghetti? Hey, you’ve come to the right place.

Eataly Silicon Valley is just one iteration of a megastore with nearly 30 worldwide locations. At this point in the company’s history (the first opened in Turin in 2007), the formula is as slick as a freshly made ball of mozzarella di bufala. On a mid-June press tour the week before Eataly Silicon Valley opened, I did try both a slice of la pizza and a plate of la pasta at the aforementioned restaurant.

Our two main guides were flanked by publicists, assistants and administrators throughout the tour. They corralled us like Roman sentinels, past the shelves of virgin olive oil, in and out of the restaurant, and then ushering us along to tasting stations towards the fresh produce and protein sections. The mostly svelte male sentinels each wore a similar uniform. A tight pair of trousers, an oxford button-down shirt tucked in at the waist, forced smiles, plus a blazer.

Instead of being charmed by the free glass of wine and the tour guide’s Italian accent, I felt like someone on an expensive car lot who was about to get fleeced. The two brick pizza ovens were gaudily overlaid in gold. They glittered in the kitchen like reality TV stars while we stared at the pizzaiolos tossing dough and then baking it. The entire Trump clan would heartily—sorry, no—would heartlessly approve of them and demand the ovens be instantly transported to one of their palatial estates.

Waitstaff circled the room handing out plates with a slice of pizza margherita. It was novel to see the cooks take the raw dough to its final crisped bake. And it tasted perfectly fine. If you were to order one yourself, a whole pizza, the size of Mama Celeste’s pizza-for-one, the cost is $18. Is it a pizza that dislodges a dozen other pizzas from my taste buds’ finicky memory board? Nope. If I were in the mall and suddenly desperate for pizza, would I stop by La Pizza & La Pasta again? Sure.

The same could be said of the spaghetto al pomodoro (which also retails at $18). While I was twirling a forkful of spaghetti, one of the hosts explained that they’d chosen to serve Così Com’è’s tomatoes. Grown just south of Naples, that particular brand of canned tomatoes is known for its sweetness. I imagined business lunches taking place in La Pizza & La Pasta. Or meals split between friends and partners who live nearby or are together at a convenient, central meeting place. Half of the pasta menu is made in house and half is the dry kind, also imported from Naples. In the hallway that leads to the marketplace, there’s a pasta maker stationed behind a glass window. The viewing public can watch them as they shape the dough with their busy hands.

The food displays—including seafood, meat, produce, and dairy products—are staged like 17th-century Dutch still life paintings. The decadence is aspirational, verging on the delusional. Sobriety isn’t achievable because there are so many bottles of wine. There are an infinite number of prosciuttos from which to choose. The cheese section can hardly contain the giant wheels of Parmigiano-Reggiano. Marvis Italian toothpaste boxes are stacked up like miniature skyscrapers. Everything a human might need to keep hunger at bay is in stock. For a price.

Should the zombie apocalypse arrive within the next few months, I will drive to Valley Fair, dodge the swarming herds, carefully lock the door behind me and plunk down inside Eataly for the remainder of my natural life. Until that daunting reality materializes, one visit to this malled-out version of a palazzo’s kitchen is basta for me. Abbondanza!
Eataly Silicon Valley, 2855 Stevens Creek Blvd, San Jose. 650.456.9200. Market: 8:30am-10pm. Terra: 5-9pm. La Pizza & La Pasta: 11:30am-9pm.

1 COMMENT

  1. Loved the review ! All I suspected /expected of a Westfield location .. not a bit of temptation with delis like Antipasto’s and La Villa to supply me … closer and not massive parking/crowds to deal with.
    MANY thanks fo rthe preview.. in my rear mirror !!

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