Il Pesce Perfection

Il Pesce Perfection

Entrance to Eataly Downtown. Photo Pablo Enriquez

I remember how impressed I was, a few years ago, when I discovered Eataly in the Flatiron District. I had never been to a European-style food hall before, and the novel experience—a marketplace filled with beautifully displayed breads, cheeses, olive oils and wines, along with housewares, cooking utensils and cookbooks—crisscrossed with cafés, counter-service eateries and full-service restaurants—charmed me down to my toes. When I got the press release that another Eataly had opened, this time in the Financial District, I was ready to go.

I chose to eat at Il Pesce, a fish-inspired trattoria, one of the sit-down eateries in this bustling space. Though Eataly Downtown is housed in the 72-story Four World Trade Center—Lower Manhattan, with its towering, modern skyscrapers and new construction, can feel a bit intimidating—once in the tower, it was easy to find, with plenty of large signs directing you to the right escalators. As I took the ride up to the new Eataly, I remember being struck by a large poster that read "Eating is an Agricultural Act." The quote, by Wendell Berry, an American novelist and environmental activist, really gave me pause for thought, that food, as nutritional gifts from the planet, are really a beautiful, wholesome experience.

Beautiful and wholesome, in fact, pretty much described my first experience at this 94-seat, sleek, brightly lit restaurant, with floor-to-ceiling windows of the Lower Manhattan cityscape. A sashimi starter of red snapper, with a sprinkle of Meyer lemon and an outrageously flavorful olive oil, sent both my dining partner and myself into a heady tailspin of delight. This was followed up by fresh, crusty bread with more olive oil for dipping, and, for the main event, a whole branzino, that my friend (herself a gourmet chef), expertly opened, pared and served. Sitting underneath this meaty white fish were roasted mushrooms and braised leeks, so hearty and well-flavored, they could have been a meal unto themselves. We sided everything with a crispy salad of gem lettuce, cucumbers, red onion and a carrot vinaigrette.

Afterwards, it is worth walking around Eataly to marvel at all the different foods and market products offered. Walls everywhere are filled with drawings of maps, pastas and information on the various regions of Italy, the history of various wines, vegetables, grains and seafood. The whole experience is akin to a modern, exciting culinary food lab.

Before leaving, make sure to walk through the Oculus, the Westfield World Trade Center’s transportation hub, (called the Oculus because the glass-and-steel structure looks like a dove in flight), which also includes a high-end shopping mall: Now that you are happily well-fueled, you may be just in the mood for some retail therapy.

>> Eataly, 101 Liberty St., 212.897.2895