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If you're looking for a quiet meal, Eataly isn't for you.
Editor's note: Today, I discuss a marketplace for Italian food called Eataly, our early dinner at Lupa in Manhattan and the apparent extinction of the 99-cents can of sardines.
I'm a dropout from Eataly -- a crash course in Italian food at Fifth Avenue and 23rd Street in Manhattan.
Chef Mario Batali and his partners stage a daily feeding frenzy in this sprawling, all-Italian marketplace, where customers are willing to eat standing up as scores of people rush past just inches away.
We spent less than 30 minutes there on Monday afternoon, but couldn't take the sensory overload or the noise. Think "mob scene" or "zoo" -- one hardly conducive to enjoying a meal.
Eataly has one proper restaurant that takes reservations, Manzo, Italian for "beef," and it has a full menu, including pasta and seafood. But it doesn't open until 5 p.m., we were told.
Fish, vegetables, a rotisserie, cold cuts and more are available elsewhere, at what looks like feeding stations, with seated and stand-up eating.
Searching for the rest rooms, I came upon one aisle lined with bags of flour, where two employees were slicing bread, and saw a flight of stairs, which led to an upstairs dining area for pizza and pasta.
In the market, a six-pack of Italian beer, Birra Moretti, was $9.80. Handmade butternut-squash ravioli were about $14 a pound. An autumn tasting menu in Manzo was more than $90. Wines by the glass are $7 to $19 each.
The Web site says Eataly has a fish market, but we didn't see it. Whole fish are served for $22 and $23, though the ones I saw in front of diners looked small.
The original Eataly opened in Turin, Italy, in 2007. Eataly New York opened in August 2010.
Eataly, 200 Fifth Ave., New York; 212-229-2560. Open every day.
Low prices, small portions
We still wanted to "Eat Italy," so we jumped into the car and drove downtown to another Batali venture, Lupa Osteria Romana.
Lupa has been a hit since it opened in 1999, and for peak dinner times, a reservation has to be made at least a month ahead, according to a re-review in The New York Times that awarded 1 star to the Roman-style trattoria last week.
Three of us arrived at Lupa around 4:15 Monday afternoon, and were told a table was available immediately, as long as we gave it up by precisely 5:35. We agreed, and were shown to a table in the intimate -- and drafty -- rear dining room.
Lupa employs a big staff, as we learned watching a procession of people going out a rear door and into a room where servers' uniforms hang in dry cleaner bags, and returning ready for work, but every time the ill-fitting door was opened, we got a gust of cold air.
Lupa is inexpensive by Manhattan standards, but portions are small. A nice touch is a glossary of Italian food terms on the back of the menu.
Service was good and the food was well-prepared, but the kitchen didn't seem able to keep up with orders, and our appetizers were agonizingly slow coming to the table.
We decided to share two antipasti -- a special of grilled sardine fillets ($14) and a Fall Vegetable Insalata ($12).
There were four wonderful sardine fillets served with blood orange and wilted greens, and the salad included fruit, greens and roasted fall vegetables, all served at room temperature.
We skipped a pasta course, because I'm watching my weight, but I did have small pieces of bread crust dipped in peppery olive oil.
For entrees, we chose wild-caught fluke with lentils and bitter greens ($19); the Market Fish, striped bass ($22); and a naturally raised half chicken that was roasted alla Diavola or Devil's Style ($19).
My two, thin fluke fillets were disappointingly small, and they were served over a bed of tiny lentils and wilted greens, with little else on the plate. I made quick work of them, then speared morsels from my wife's dinner.
Her delicious striped bass fillet was cut thickly and the skin had been crisped, but I think the waitress was mistaken describing it as wild, not farmed. I tried both a piece of the fish and fatty skin, as well as shaved fennel.
The best value was the moist half chicken, which was served with a crostini spread with chicken liver.
We drank tap water and didn't have wine or dessert, though a cheese plate served to a couple at the next table looked terrific. We spent $108.63, including a $15 tip.
Lupa Osteria Romana, 170 Thompson St., Manhattan; 212-982-5089.
Web site: Antipasti, primi, secondi
Canned sardine news
Those 99-cents little wonders -- Al Shark-brand sardines from Morocco -- disappeared from the shelves in Paterson markets for a while, but I found them again on Monday morning at Brothers Produce, 327 E. Railway Ave.
The price went up 1 cent, to $1.00. Skinless-and-boneless sardines are higher.
I bought 20 cans, half of sardines in tomato sauce and half with hot peppers.
I also was looking for yogurt drink, but Brothers only had half-gallons from Merve Ayran at $4.79 each.
At Fattal's Bakery, 975-977 Main St., the half-gallons were $4.49 and the gallon container I bought was $7.79.
I also picked by the wonderful store-made spinach-and-cheese pies at six for $8.99.