Despite hype, Eataly San Jose sometimes skimps on flavor

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“I’m going to keep it I think,” a man with thick, black frames enthusiastically told his friend.

Last Thursday, I stood outside Westfield’s Valley Fair Mall in San Jose among a massive crowd of food enthusiasts who were all eagerly anticipating the grand opening of the Bay Area’s first Eataly Italian marketplace. The man with the thick frames was safeguarding a plastic water cup stamped with an Eataly logo that he received from an employee who attempted to cool down the dedicated masses enduring the sweltering heat. No one, including myself, seemed to mind the hot temperatures though — we’re all too consumed by our excitement to explore the three-story food hall that’s stocked with imported Italian goods.

As someone who considers herself an avid pasta consumer, the grand opening of Eataly was just the type of attraction I had been waiting for all spring. Nearly 10 years ago on a trip to visit my sister, I walked into the Eataly store in Chicago and was blown away by the market. Eataly was unlike anything I had ever experienced before, with hundreds of products that were mostly foreign to me. I felt as if I had been transported to Italy as I admired the elegant packaging and awkwardly posed for photos near the olive oil section. It was magical.

Ravioli is freshly prepared at a window for customers to watch in the grocery section of Eataly at the Westfield Valley Fair shopping mall in San Jose on Thursday, June 16, 2022. 

Adam Pardee/Special to SFGATE

In many ways, Eataly is an attraction in its own right, which was exactly why I found myself waiting in line among the impassioned crowd. If my visit to the Eataly store in Chicago was any indication, I knew that what was in store at the massive emporium was going to be well worth it.

As the clock inched closer to the 5 p.m. opening, the crowd began counting down from 10 until the doors finally unlocked and guests were given free range to roam this freshly minted artisanal food destination. The interior was even better than I had imagined. Pizza Alla Pala, a Roman pizzeria, is front and center with an impressive display of colorful pizzas by the slice. Next to Pizza Alla Pala are three other counters that offer coffee, Italian pastries and cakes, as well as a gelato section tucked in the back corner of the first floor.

Pasta is freshly prepared at a window for customers to watch in the grocery section of Eataly at the Westfield Valley Fair shopping mall in San Jose on Thursday, June 16, 2022. 

Pasta is freshly prepared at a window for customers to watch in the grocery section of Eataly at the Westfield Valley Fair shopping mall in San Jose on Thursday, June 16, 2022. 


Adam Pardee/Special to SFGATE

Various cheeses for sale inside the grocery section of Eataly at the Westfield Valley Fair shopping mall in San Jose on Thursday, June 16, 2022. 

Various cheeses for sale inside the grocery section of Eataly at the Westfield Valley Fair shopping mall in San Jose on Thursday, June 16, 2022. 


Adam Pardee/Special to SFGATE

Thousands of Italian bottles of wine for sale on the second floor of Eataly at the Westfield Valley Fair shopping mall in San Jose on Thursday, June 16, 2022. 

Thousands of Italian bottles of wine for sale on the second floor of Eataly at the Westfield Valley Fair shopping mall in San Jose on Thursday, June 16, 2022. 


Adam Pardee/Special to SFGATE

Inside the grocery section of Eataly at the Westfield Valley Fair shopping mall in San Jose on Thursday, June 16, 2022. 

Inside the grocery section of Eataly at the Westfield Valley Fair shopping mall in San Jose on Thursday, June 16, 2022. 


Adam Pardee/Special to SFGATE


Views of Eataly, including a window where workers make fresh pasta by hand, upper left, and various parts of the grocery section. (Adam Pardee/Special to SFGATE)

The second level gave way to a selection of about 1,000 Italian wines and spirits, while the massive third floor housed dozens of Italian products, like vast wheels of Parmesan cheese and dried pastas. There’s also two sit-down restaurants: Terra and La Pizza & La Pasta. After scoping the scene and taking mental notes, I decided to head back down to the first floor to check out the grab-and-go options.

Unlike the Chicago store I had visited years ago, the San Jose marketplace had an even wider selection of grab-and-go items that both astonished me and piqued my curiosity. How many of Eataly’s entrees were truly worthwhile, I wondered? Here’s what I tasted during my Eataly excursion and whether or not this trip lived up to my expectations.

The Sopressata Slice from Pizza Alla Pala & La Gastronomiaon at Eataly at the Westfield Valley Fair shopping mall in San Jose on Thursday, June 16, 2022. 

The Sopressata Slice from Pizza Alla Pala & La Gastronomiaon at Eataly at the Westfield Valley Fair shopping mall in San Jose on Thursday, June 16, 2022. 


Adam Pardee/Special to SFGATE

A chef prepares a pizza to sell at Pizza Alla Pala & La Gastronomiaon on the first floor of Eataly at the Westfield Valley Fair shopping mall in San Jose on Thursday, June 16, 2022. 

A chef prepares a pizza to sell at Pizza Alla Pala & La Gastronomiaon on the first floor of Eataly at the Westfield Valley Fair shopping mall in San Jose on Thursday, June 16, 2022. 


Adam Pardee/Special to SFGATE

Chefs prepare pizza to sell at Pizza Alla Pala & La Gastronomiaon on the first floor of Eataly at the Westfield Valley Fair shopping mall in San Jose on Thursday, June 16, 2022. 

Chefs prepare pizza to sell at Pizza Alla Pala & La Gastronomiaon on the first floor of Eataly at the Westfield Valley Fair shopping mall in San Jose on Thursday, June 16, 2022. 


Adam Pardee/Special to SFGATE

Diners who purchased prepared foods from Pizza Alla Pala & La Gastronomia enjoy their meals in the dining area on the first floor of Eataly at the Westfield Valley Fair shopping mall in San Jose on Thursday, June 16, 2022. 

Diners who purchased prepared foods from Pizza Alla Pala & La Gastronomia enjoy their meals in the dining area on the first floor of Eataly at the Westfield Valley Fair shopping mall in San Jose on Thursday, June 16, 2022. 


Adam Pardee/Special to SFGATE


Delicious eats being constructed and consumed, including the soppressata pizza, upper left, inside Eataly’s Pizza Alla Pala. (Adam Pardee/Special to SFGATE)

Soppressata

Going in, I knew that I wanted to get some suggestions from the staff working behind the counter. It was tough limiting myself to just two slices of pizza, especially when the choices included margherita, zucchini flower, mushroom and plenty others. Upon asking for a recommendation, a staffer was quick to suggest the soppressata slice ($8.90). The pizza was topped with spicy salami, chunks of mozzarella, a drizzle of Mike’s Hot Honey and a dash of parsley. Though not particularly spicy, the pizza delivered a kick and was a great starting point to the other selections available. I’m a sucker for classic pepperoni pizza, so this slice was a true winner in my book.

The capricciosa slice from Pizza Alla Pala at Eataly at the Westfield Valley Fair shopping mall in San Jose on Thursday, June 16, 2022. 

The capricciosa slice from Pizza Alla Pala at Eataly at the Westfield Valley Fair shopping mall in San Jose on Thursday, June 16, 2022. 

Adam Pardee/Special to SFGATE

Capricciosa 


As I moved down the pizza counter, I couldn’t help but notice the slices that had massive burrata cheese rounds as a topping. The capricciosa ($9.90) was recommended, and described as a combo-style pizza. The thick, square slice married thinly sliced pieces of mortadella, mushrooms, Kalamata olives, artichoke, basil and, of course, burrata on a crunchy crust that was lightly coated with marinara sauce. I was most excited to try this slice, but was sorely disappointed when I discovered that the overall flavor profile was muted after several bites. Somehow, not a single ingredient stood out and it left me feeling as if I had made a rookie mistake by selecting one of the showier options. Sadly, the capricciosa was my least favorite.

The Focaccia Farcity Salmon from Pizza Alla Pala & La Gastronomiaon at Eataly at the Westfield Valley Fair shopping mall in San Jose on Thursday, June 16, 2022. 

The Focaccia Farcity Salmon from Pizza Alla Pala & La Gastronomiaon at Eataly at the Westfield Valley Fair shopping mall in San Jose on Thursday, June 16, 2022. 


Adam Pardee/Special to SFGATE

Inside La Pizza & La Pasta on the third floor of Eataly at the Westfield Valley Fair shopping mall in San Jose on Thursday, June 16, 2022. 

Inside La Pizza & La Pasta on the third floor of Eataly at the Westfield Valley Fair shopping mall in San Jose on Thursday, June 16, 2022. 


Adam Pardee/Special to SFGATE

Customers shop the prepared food at Pizza Alla Pala & La Gastronomiaon on the first floor of Eataly at the Westfield Valley Fair shopping mall in San Jose on Thursday, June 16, 2022. 

Customers shop the prepared food at Pizza Alla Pala & La Gastronomiaon on the first floor of Eataly at the Westfield Valley Fair shopping mall in San Jose on Thursday, June 16, 2022. 


Adam Pardee/Special to SFGATE

Sanwhiches for sale at Pizza Alla Pala & La Gastronomiaon on the first floor of Eataly at the Westfield Valley Fair shopping mall in San Jose on Thursday, June 16, 2022. 

Sanwhiches for sale at Pizza Alla Pala & La Gastronomiaon on the first floor of Eataly at the Westfield Valley Fair shopping mall in San Jose on Thursday, June 16, 2022. 


Adam Pardee/Special to SFGATE


Customers shop and dine on a wide variety of fare, such as focaccia coppa, upper left, at Pizza Alla Pala on the first floor of Eataly at the Westfield Valley Fair shopping mall in San Jose on Thursday, June 16, 2022. (Adam Pardee/Special to SFGATE)

Focaccia coppa

I would drive back to Eataly just for this item alone. Of the handful of dishes I had during my visit, I didn’t anticipate that a focaccia sandwich ($12.90) would be among the best things I tasted. With each bite, I was blown away by how every flavor stood out on its own. The sandwich, which was a popular recommendation by a staffer, combines layers of cured meat, Italian soft cheese, artichokes and mint on soft sesame focaccia. The sandwich wasn’t necessarily large, but the sheer amount of stacked meat makes it quite filling. If you’re hoping to visit Eataly soon, do yourself a favor and order this sandwich. You won’t regret it.

Salads for sale at Pizza Alla Pala & La Gastronomiaon on the first floor of Eataly at the Westfield Valley Fair shopping mall in San Jose on Thursday, June 16, 2022. 

Salads for sale at Pizza Alla Pala & La Gastronomiaon on the first floor of Eataly at the Westfield Valley Fair shopping mall in San Jose on Thursday, June 16, 2022. 

Adam Pardee/Special to SFGATE

Insalata caprese

Just as I was about to pay, a classic caprese salad ($11.90) caught my attention at the 11th hour and I promptly added it to my tab. The sweet salad has long been a favorite of mine with its perfect combination of mozzarella cheese, basil and tomatoes. The Eataly version was prepared with mini mozzarella balls and cherry tomatoes, rather than heirloom. Alas, the salad was not as stellar as I hoped it would be. Personally, I blame it one the choice of using cherry tomatoes, which just weren’t sweet enough. Look, I get heirloom tomatoes aren’t always in season, but I think Eataly did this superior salad a huge disservice by substituting a second-rate tomato for a great one, but I digress. The caprese salad certainly wasn’t as big a flop as the capricciosa pizza slice, but it wasn’t something I would go stand in line for again.

Crema and Pistachio gelato from Il Gelato on the first floor of Eataly at the Westfield Valley Fair shopping mall in San Jose on Thursday, June 16, 2022. 

Crema and Pistachio gelato from Il Gelato on the first floor of Eataly at the Westfield Valley Fair shopping mall in San Jose on Thursday, June 16, 2022. 


Adam Pardee/Special to SFGATE

Mozzarella cheese is freshly prepared and packaged at a window for customers to watch in the grocery section of Eataly at the Westfield Valley Fair shopping mall in San Jose on Thursday, June 16, 2022. 

Mozzarella cheese is freshly prepared and packaged at a window for customers to watch in the grocery section of Eataly at the Westfield Valley Fair shopping mall in San Jose on Thursday, June 16, 2022. 


Adam Pardee/Special to SFGATE

Chefs prepare various items to sell at Pizza Alla Pala & La Gastronomiaon on the first floor of Eataly at the Westfield Valley Fair shopping mall in San Jose on Thursday, June 16, 2022. 

Chefs prepare various items to sell at Pizza Alla Pala & La Gastronomiaon on the first floor of Eataly at the Westfield Valley Fair shopping mall in San Jose on Thursday, June 16, 2022. 


Adam Pardee/Special to SFGATE

Customers order gelato from Il Gelato on the first floor of Eataly at the Westfield Valley Fair shopping mall in San Jose on Thursday, June 16, 2022. 

Customers order gelato from Il Gelato on the first floor of Eataly at the Westfield Valley Fair shopping mall in San Jose on Thursday, June 16, 2022. 


Adam Pardee/Special to SFGATE


From gelato, upper left, to freshly-made mozzarella, upper right, Eataly has a vast amount of offerings. (Adam Pardee/Special to SFGATE)

Gelato

Next, I found myself by the gelato counter after a short pause to watch a skilled mozzarella worker on the third-floor form dozens of cheese rounds within seconds. He was in a tiny square glass room called the “Mozzarella Lab” and he had attracted a small crowd. Customers surrounded the structure as if observing a fish tank, though the worker never seemed to notice his audience. Afterward, I headed downstairs to Il Gelato, where an instrumental version of “Moon River” quietly played in the background. The menu offered a range of gelato flavors such as banana, chocolate, hazelnut, strawberry and more. I ordered a medium cup ($6.90) of two flavors: pistachio and crema (egg custard). The soft ice cream combination worked well, though I don’t think the flavors I chose stood out as much as I hoped they would. Oddly, the pistachio gelato had a single, lonely pistachio in it, making me wonder if I’d find another with a following scoop. Regretfully, it seemed to be a one-off.

A freshly made tiramisu from Eataly in Santa Clara. 

A freshly made tiramisu from Eataly in Santa Clara. 

Susy Guerrero/SFGATE

Tiramisu

After sampling many of the savory options downstairs, I spotted a customer cradling a tiramisu container and asked where I could find one. “Third floor. It’s the best thing here,” he said. He wasn’t entirely wrong. I had a good feeling about the tiramisu once I made it to the third level and spotted a group of customers surrounding the refrigerator where packaged cases of the classic dessert rested. The tiramisu container ($15.90) is large enough to share with three people (if you so choose to anyway). Since it was in a perfect takeout container, I decided to take the dessert back home for a late-night treat. That evening, I grabbed a spoon and sunk it into the thick layer of cocoa -dusted mascarpone cream and the espresso-soaked lady fingers. After a long day of sampling savory meals, the tiramisu was the perfect way to end an exciting trip to Eataly. Despite the caprese salad snafu and a one-note capricciosa pizza slice, the tiramisu and the soppressata pizza made the overall experience truly enjoyable.

Eataly is like a theme park. You can’t try everything in a day. I hope to find my way back through the grab-and-go section soon, not just for the delicious focaccia coppa, but to try the beautiful array of dishes still left on my radar.

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