Written and photographed by Marla Cohen
I work only doors away from Eataly, a slightly intimidating Italian food emporium that is a cross between an Old World food market and a three-ring circus. Whether you are seeking a sit-down lunch or hunting for an obscure ingredient, Eataly probably has what you’re looking for.
Not only can you find slivers of young pecorino cheese (yes, it’s under three months old), lobster mushrooms and dainty tiramisu snacklets that can fit in the palm of your hand, but you can also dine there — in a variety of styles. Eataly includes seven restaurants and one, Le Verdure, offers a menu solely comprising vegetarian and vegan offerings.
At Le Verdure you can dine at tables in the midst of Eataly’s open bustle, or you can sit at the counter. On recent visits, we chose the counter, if only to get a better view of the friendly staff prepping the food, and to ooh and ahh over the array of choices.
The menu changes with the season, and each day there are a few specials, including a “bruschetta di giorno.” The first of these I tried consisted of lightly grilled bread spread with a thin layer of fresh ricotta. Atop that were chickpeas, lightly mashed, with basil and lemon juice — an airy, herbal take on hummus. Delicately frizzled carrots, perfectly crisp and slightly salty, crowned the entire open-faced sandwich, giving it a colorful, festive look.
It was a terrific combination of tastes and textures, with the crackle of the crisped bread contrasting against the smooth blandness of the ricotta. The chickpeas gave it the punch it needed to transform this dish from different into daring.
Another daily bruschetta was less intriguing, though tasty. The same airy, toasted bread (baked in the tempting bakery in another corner of the food hall) was topped with a slightly sweet, yet tangy caponata, pine nuts and lightly dressed, peppery arugula. Nice, but lacking the intrigue of the first.
Main dishes did not disappoint. A bed of grilled asparagus arrived topped with a perfectly fried, over-easy egg draped across. Bright red piquillo peppers peeped from beneath and a coarse grating of parmesan cheese topped it all. It was a beautiful concoction, but it took breaking the egg yolk to make the flavors sing. Its unctuousness bound the sweetness of the peppers with the delicate, spring flavor of the asparagus bathed in a light, lemony dressing.
Farrotto con broccoli was an intriguing take on a risotto, prepared with this ancient, low-gluten grain. The farro was cooked to toothy perfection, chewy in a velvety puree of broccoli, leeks and garlic. The dish was a sea of vivid green, topped with roasted broccoli florets and Grana Padano, a less nutty, less salty sister of Parmigiano.
Polenta, one of several vegan options, highlighted organically grown corn from Wild Hive Farms in Clinton Corners, N.Y.. It was a real winner.
Niblets of barely cooked fresh corn had been stirred into the polenta, which had been cooked to a perfect state of creaminess. Sautéed maitake mushrooms, prepared with shallots, garlic and Grana Padano were nestled in the center of this pool of bright yellow. Each bite offered a bit of sweet and salty, set off by the earthiness of the mushroom mélange. This was lick-the-plate delicious, but since I was in public and sitting at the counter, no less, I refrained.
Le Verdure is willing to adjust their ingredients for vegans or those with food sensitivities, whenever possible. The menu is short, offering a handful of antipasti and platters each day, but a focused menu is an asset in this vegetarian restaurant within Eataly’s vast emporium.
Prices at Verdure range from $9 for antipasti and $15 to $18 for main dishes. The menu suggests wine pairings for particular dishes. And while there are no desserts on the menu, it only takes a brisk walk through Eataly’s bustling food hall to indulge in a rich gelato or an elegant pastry to make you feel that you’ve been whisked from that no-man’s land between the Chelsea and Flatiron districts, and deposited in the middle of Rome.
Liz: Marla Cohen and I explored the market at Eataly one afternoon after sharing many of the dishes mentioned here. We were impressed with the vast and exotic array of mushrooms on their neatly stacked shelves of veggies. Check out her inspired recipe for Polenta with Roasted Mushrooms, below.
Le Verdure is a vegetarian restaurant at Eataly:
200 5th Avenue
New York, NY 10010
Entrances on 23rd Street between 5th & 6th Avenue and on 5th Avenue between 23rd Street & 24th Street
Monday-Sunday 10 AM- 11 PM
Monday-Saturday 11 AM- 10 PM; Sunday 11 AM-9:30 PM
Seating at tables and counter are first come first served. No reservations accepted.