Popular Italian food market opens in Park MGM hotel

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    LAS VEGAS — The first sign the new Eataly Las Vegas is different than the Italian food hall’s outlets in New York, Chicago and other cities?

    A dancing bull mosaic etched into the floor at the casino end of the sprawling food and drink extravaganza at Park MGM hotel.

    Visitors who head straight for Eataly’s bustling salami and cheese station or pizza, pasta and pastry counters might overlook it, but the move could cost them at the gambling tables.

    The bull, modeled after a mosaic at a 154-year-old shopping center in Milan, Italy, is said to be a good luck charm for those who spin on it three times counterclockwise.

    “Maybe you’ll win a jackpot,” an Eataly security guard said to a visitor about to take a spin on an early January morning.

    Eataly Las Vegas opened two days after Christmas, becoming the sixth U.S. location and 37th in the world. The first one opened in January 2007 in Torino, Italy. The name is a combination of Eat and Italy; the chain originally was going to be called Eat Italy.

     

    The marketplaces have become tourist destinations, especially in the United States, so Las Vegas, a gambling, food and entertainment mecca, is a natural addition. 

    Store director Manolis Chatzimichalis, who previously ran Eataly Los Angeles in Century City, California, expects the Las Vegas Eataly to have a higher proportion of tourists to locals than most, at 80 percent, at least initially. Officials are trying to lure local customers with free parking and discounts on retail goods.

    Sarah and Tony Crowe happened upon Eataly while walking the Las Vegas Strip during a 12-night Vegas vacation over Christmas. 

    The London couple had never heard of Eataly (a London location isn’t due to open until 2020) but was intrigued after peeking through the curtains before it opened. 

    They returned on Jan. 2 to celebrate Sarah’s 50th birthday. They ordered the $29 Salumi e Formaggi Misti, the signature meat and cheese board at La Salumeria Cheesemonger & Kitchen, with a side of olives, and toasted with two glasses of white wine. They lingered for more than an hour.

    “This is almost like being in Italy or Spain,” Sarah Crowe said. “It is just that feeling you can have a little bit of everything.”

    Her 55-year-old husband added, “We will definitely come every time we come to Vegas.”

    Eataly newbies Aaron and Cory Myers were in Las Vegas in early January for their 15th wedding anniversary. The Oklahoma couple was staying next door to Park MGM and thought Eataly looked interesting from the street. 

    They shared a $16 margherita pizza and Eataly’s signature meat and cheese board. More than one person came up to their table to ask about the board, saying their were overwhelmed with all the choices.

    They loved Eataly and said it reminded them of Magnolia Market at The Silos, the popular Waco, Texas, attraction created by reality TV stars Chip and Joanna Gaines.

    “I like that it’s family style,” Cory Myers said. “You can share and try different things. It feels more like home than any other restaurants.”

    Not everyone is enamored with the new Eataly. Early gripes abound about the prices and the lack of seating during peak times.

    Chatzimichalis says there is seating for more than 500 and that he’s brought in every additional chair possible, including outside chairs not being used because it’s too cold. 

    He is considering other options, including adding communal tables that will accommodate more customers.

    He calls Eataly’s prices fair, especially for Vegas.

    “We are very well priced,” he said, noting that the $29 meat and cheese board includes three kinds of meat, three cheese samples and bread. “We didn’t go with a Vegas mentality. Even MGM (parent of the Park MGM hotel) was telling us, ‘You can go a little higher.’ “

    Perhaps the biggest wrinkle in the opening weeks has been haphazard hours. The centerpiece of the place and an Eataly first, Cucina del Mercato, a collection of six fresh food stations serving pasta, pizza, seafood, meat, cheese and Italian street food, was closed for the day on Jan. 3, with little notice.

    On other days, some of the food counters closed from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., and select bars were closed, mystifying visitors.

    The much-ballyhooed Gran Caffe Milano, an upscale bar, restaurant and pastry shop that is expected to eventually stay open overnight, an Eataly first, was not open overnight on any dates through early January.

    Chatzimichalis blames it on a staffing shortage and the store’s opening during the holidays. When Eataly Los Angeles opened, it was closed the first three Mondays to regroup and give the staff a break. That wasn’t an option in Las Vegas during the busy holiday season so parts of the place were closed.

    “These poor people needed a day off,” he said.

    Essential Eataly: 10 things to know about the new Eataly Las Vegas

    1. It’s big and overwhelming to newcomers, but is the smallest Eataly, at 40,000 square feet. Chicago is the largest U.S. location, at 69,000 square feet and Eataly Los Angeles is right behind it, at 67,000 square feet.  The Eataly in Bologna, Italy, called FICO Eataly World, is measured in acres and bills itself as the largest food park in the world. Guests can tool around on shopping tricycles. One British newspaper called it Whole Foods on steroids.

    2. There’s an instruction manual for the food hall’s centerpiece, Cucina del Mercato, or kitchen of the market, a collection of six fresh food counters. Look for the “How it Works” signs. The most helpful, if self-serving, tip: “Don’t forget wine. You can order from either the counters or one of our bars.”

    3. This is the first Eataly where where you can special order items at the counters in addition to the regular menu items. Want a ribeye steak? They’ll cook it in front of you, to eat there or take home. “The menu is very balanced and nice, but sometimes you want to do something different,” said store director Manolis Chatzimichalis. He said the option has proven more popular than expected. 

    3.  The Nutella station is unique to Las Vegas, and lines are common for its crepes. The New York and Chicago stores had Nutella outlets but they have since closed.

    4. Expect Eataly newbies to stare at your dishes and ask what you’re having. “Can I ask what that is?” was a common refrain in early January.

    5. The runaway pasta winner, so far at least, is tagliatelle alla bolognese. The $19 dish features housemade pasta and beef, pork and veal ragu. 

    6. The runaway winner at La Salumeria Cheesemonger & Kitchen is the Salumi e Formaggi Misti, a meat and cheese board highlighted on the menu for those who don’t want to assemble their own board.

    7. There is a sit down restaurant, La Pizza e La Pasta, for those who want a more traditional setting or don’t want to hunt for a table during busy times. It is standard at Eataly and very popular. A second, fancier Tuscan restaurant, Manzo, is due to open soon.

    8. There are three bars: L’Apertivo, Enoteca and Gran Caffe Milano.

    9. There are 16 gelato flavors, and more will be added as spring and summer approaches and Las Vegas temperatures soar.

    10. Shade is coming. The early morning glare at the pastry and coffee shop can be unbearable, and had melted some chocolate at the Venchi candy counter.

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