Have you heard of Eataly? If you haven’t, you’re in for a wonderful surprise! The popular Turin, Italy based high end Italian food chain and epicurean emporium was started by Eataly founder, Oscar Farinetti in 2008. In 2010, Eataly partnered with celebrity chefs Mario Batali, Lidia Bastianich, and her son, Joe Bastianich of MasterChef fame to open a NYC based Eataly. Now there are Eataly locations in Italy (10), Japan (13), and one each in NYC, Chicago, Dubai, and Turkey and I’m sure many more to come. Therefore, it is no surprise that the Italian cruise line, MSC Cruises, decided to partner with Eataly to offer the first Eataly restaurant at sea. First offered on the MSC Preziosa, it was such a success that it didn’t take long for them to make the executive decision to remove the Tex Mex restaurant that was once occupied the space onboard the MSC Divina and replace it with Eataly. Without a doubt this is a much better fit overall for the cruise line and the ship. The new restaurant concept debuted when MSC Divina arrived in Miami for her first Caribbean sailing and she will now sail year round out of Miami offering a wide variety of 7-19 night (yes, 19 night!) itineraries.
There are three parts to Eataly on MSC Divina: Eataly Steakhouse, Ristorante Italia, and Eataly Marketplace where you can purchase Italian products like pasta, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, sauces, cookies, sweets, and more right on the ship to take home with you. Next to this Eataly is La Cantina di Bacco and La Pizza di Eataly.
Fashioned after Eataly‘s famed Manzo steakhouse in Manhattan, Eataly Steakhouse is a modern, relaxed dining concept with an open kitchen that is conducive to dining with a large group or as a couple in the 115-seat restaurant.
The bright red color is throughout the restaurant on the walls and chairs, but what I loved was the sliding “barn door” that could be used to make a private dining area. Genius!
Ristorante Italia offers a prixe fixe menu in a more intimate setting with seating for 30. Definitely a romantic little restaurant, there are tables for four, but I could definitely see couples here enjoying a meal and a bottle (or two!) of wine with dinner. I’m also a huge fan of ghost chairs and seeing them juxtaposed against the styling of a traditional Italian restaurant works perfectly. Getting a reservation at Ristorante Italia can be difficult because of its popularity so book well in advance, either online or as soon as you board the ship, if you have the chance.
Since the menu was primarily meat based at Ristorante Italia, we opted to eat in Eataly Steakhouse because the menu had vegetarian options available, including salad, pasta, and sides and of course, who can forget about dessert?
Service in Eataly Steakhouse is performed by a team of servers. As the restaurant only recently opened prior to our arrival on the ship on December 7, 2013, I completely understand the difficulty in getting a new restaurant fully operational, especially in the first few weeks. But like the rest of the service on the ship, we had a pleasant experience with the wait staff who was engaging and polite throughout our stay. Our meal started with warm bread delivered to our table in a paper bag. Having never been to an Eataly restaurant, I’m not sure if this typical or is done for MSC Cruises. It can either be kitsch or totally unique and unusual, which I’m sure was their intention. Either way, as I’m still trying to reduce my carb and I knew I was having pasta, I skipped the bread and olive oil altogether.
Before you think I was trying an artistic approach to my photographs, the pic above is more of an accidental photograph, but still shows the Caesar Salad my friend ordered with dinner. The salad was as one might expect and was well dressed, the lettuce was crisp and fresh, and there was an abundance of crunchy croutons.
For my starter, I decided to try the Eataly Salad of the Day, which was basically a tossed salad with iceberg lettuce. Had I known that, I might have ordered the Caesar Salad instead. It was a basic salad to which I added balsamic vinegar and oil, but considering I could get the same thing in the buffet, I have to admit I was slightly disappointed.
Onto the entrées: Anna ordered the Sliced Steak “Tagliata” served with a side of grilled veggies. She wanted to try a cut of meat that she might not ordinarily get and she was quite pleased overall with the cut of meat and its preparation. All steaks are served with a choice of sauces including Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Steak Sauce, Bernaise Sauce, Gorgonzola Cheese Sauce, Peppercorn Sauce, Chimichurri, and BBQ Sauce. She had never had Chimichurri and although I wasn’t eating the steak, I tried to convince her this was the sauce she should try, mostly because I love Colombian Aji, which Chimichurri reminds me of and she seemed to enjoy it. In addition to her entrée, she also ordered a side of broccoli, but strangely enough it was so overcooked that it was hardly green anymore. One of the servers apologized profusely, quickly removed it from the table, and we weren’t charged for it.
When my entrêe was presented, the heavens opened up and I swear I heard angels singing from above. I chose the Afeltra Gragnano Spaghettone with tomato, mozzarella and fresh basil, an otherwise simple pasta dish. I’ve made pasta like this at home and I’ve ordered pasta like this before in restaurants, but I have to say that this was hands down the absolute best pasta dish I have had anywhere, at any time, in my entire life. I may sound like I’m gushing and you might think someone told me to say that, but believe me, it takes a whole lot for me to be so impressed that I can say that something is the best I’ve had in my life. Keep in mind that I try not to eat carbs so eating pasta in itself is so off limits for me, but it was the sauce and the fresh mozzarella that were so sinfully good. Ideally, I would have buried those little mounds of cheese under the pasta and let them melt, but I knew if I did I would devour the entire plate so I kind of picked at them and eventually pushed the plate away. Otherwise, I would have eaten the entire dish, plate and all. This dish was beyond spectacular and I highly recommend that you try it and it’s another great reason to book a cruise on MSC Cruises.
Overall, the meal was good considering the few little bumps like the otherwise nondescript salad and overcooked broccoli. However, the problem we did have was with the rowdy group in the corner of “whales.” We could tell the cruise line was courting these big spenders and their raucous ways were not only being permitted, but perhaps encouraged as the wine was free flowing at their table. I’m talking about yelling at the top of their lungs so much so we couldn’t hear each other speak. I’m glad they had a good time because as soon as we finished our entrées, we wanted out of there immediately. Don’t worry that I was upset because my belly was full with yummy pasta goodness.
Just before you depart Eataly Steakhouse, you’ll walk through Eataly Marketplace where you can make those last minute Italian food impulse purchases on your way out. When you do depart the restaurant, you’ll walk right into La Cantina di Bacco, a wine bar. They do have an extensive wine menu, Eataly‘s exclusive Vino Libero menu, produced by an association of leading Italian winemakers committed to producing high-quality wines using only sustainable farming practices. The menu offers bottles from famous wineries including Fontana Fredda and Mirafiore. But be warned! Don’t try to order a mixed drink as they only serve wine, but they do also have beer on tap. On the last full day of our cruise La Cantina di Bacco was offering “The Winemaker Experience” where you could create your own custom bottle of wine and purchase anywhere from 1, 2, 3, or 12 bottles of wine or simply participate in the Boutique Winery Tasting.
It’s never a good idea to drink and not eat so while you’re seated here, either at the bar or at one of the many tables, enjoy a few appetizers offered free of charge when you order a drink. You can let your server know what you would like or they can pick and choose a little bit of this and and a little bit of that for you.
I had to take a few pictures of the food in the case to share because the care that was taken not only in the preparation, but also in the presentation is evident. Look at all the colors!
There were meat and non-meat options available including olives, marinated mushrooms, and a huge assortment of cheese.
For anyone wanting to skip a sit down meal in Eataly Steakhouse or in Ristorante Italia, they can still partake of the freshly made pizza in the the pizza oven using Eataly ingredients. They proudly serve their meter-long pizzas customizable with individual toppings. If you really can’t bear to tear yourself out of your cabin to get a pizza, you can always order it via room service. How’s that for amazing service? Keep in mind that the pizza served in the Buffet Calumet and Manitou is not the same pizza as La Pizza di Eataly. I’m not saying that the pizza there isn’t good, but this pizza looks and smells so insanely good, I think I gained 10 pounds walking by here every time.
My overall opinion on Eataly and the various parts of Eataly is a favorable one. MSC Cruises made a brilliant move partnering with Eataly to offer a quality dining experience to their customers. For anyone who believes cruise food is mediocre, they have never sailed on MSC Divina and they have never eaten in Eataly. This one dining experience could easily convert a non-cruiser into a cruiser in a New York minute. In a nutshell, I was incredibly impressed and as a result, I will most definitely be back!