Here's what to expect.
On Thursday, Eataly L.A. opens its new rooftop restaurant, a wood grill concept called Terra. With one other location at Eataly Boston, Terra becomes the fourth restaurant at the 67,000-square-foot megastore/food hall that opened in L.A. in November. There are 40 Eataly locations worldwide, with the flagship being founded in Turin in 2007.
Terra L.A. seems to be all the things that restaurants in the city aspire to be these days. In titular reference to terra, which means land in Italian, there are rooftop gardens of mint and basil to make infused alcohols. There are also aspirations for a housemade limoncello, if all goes well.
Aside from the predictable strength of the wine list, gin cocktails are the true accomplishment at the restaurant’s outdoor bar: “I don’t know if you know, but in Europe for the last three or four years, the cocktail of three Michelin star chefs have been gin,” Eataly CEO Nicola Farinetti says. “We go to party, and at the end of the day, we end up at 3 a.m., all the chefs there are making [their] own gin. And it looks like that’s the actual competition right now. It’s not really what they’re cooking; it’s who is making the best gin at the afterparty.”
In that spirit, there are 50 gins on offer, five of those from Italy: A nod to the juniper bushes that you can find growing across so much of the country, we are told. As compelling as the cocktails are, however—the Rickey Ricardo with elderflower, cucumber, soda, and sloe gin tastes of L.A.’s eternal summer—the true reason for battling traffic to come here is the food. Farinetti has taken the open kitchen concept and turned it up to its ideological limits: A wood and charcoal burning stove dominates the space as soon as you walk in, the stove twice as big as its Terra Boston counterpart.
Almond wood is used; it’s local—wood is terribly heavy to hall, so logistically, a locally growable product is a must, executive chef Eli Anderson explains. “Almond has a pretty clean flavor, not enough to overwhelm like hickory or cherry or apple or something like that, so it doesn’t taste like a barbecue restaurant,” he says. “But it does impart a little more flavor than a white oak.”
The fruits of the fire are plenty. There are the aforementioned arrosticini, described as “speared meat things” in Eataly’s trademark “It’s difficult to be simple” style. Delicate morsels of mutton, pork, and beef are seared in the rustic tradition of pastori, which translates to shepherd in Italian; the same etymology lends itself to the spit roasting method of al pastor tacos. You could easily polish off six arrosticini by yourself; luckily, that’s how many come in a minimum order.
Piemonte, the northwestern Italian region in which Farinetti grew up, was historically prosperous and was thus able to afford more meat than its neighbors, he explains. This lent itself to a refined meat-heavy tradition that, in turn, has influenced the concept of Terra. Still, the restaurant is far from meat-centric. There are old-school grilled artichokes, speared fennel, and trumpet mushrooms; coal-roasted sweet potatoes with lemon herb butter and chives. There are the requisite pastas, three of six freshly made in-house. Perhaps the most compelling offering on the whole menu, however, is the asparagus: Simply charred with lemon and sea salt, its delicacy best displays the method in which it was cooked.
Terra, unlike much of Eataly, does not aim to be a literal translation of the country from which it originates. It is, like so many things in California, a product of place. Not just because local produce is used, but because it aims to capture the style of Italian eating—relaxed, no more than three or four ingredients, Farinetti says—more than its exact composition.
Shortly after Eataly's American West Coast debut, the company was the subject of uninvited press for its affiliation with Mario Batali, who was accused by several women of sexual harassment in December when Eater broke an in depth investigative report. Batali, then and now a financial partner in the company, was largely its public face when it expanded to the United States. After the report broke, Eataly swiftly distanced itself from the chef and has removed all of his products from its stores, Eataly CEO Nicola Farinetti reiterated to Food & Wine.
“Since December, he’s not involved at all,” Farinetti says of Batali. “For us, it’s very lucky because we’re a huge company. We have 600 employees, we’re opening places all over. To be honest with you, the overall idea of Terra was even born before [Batali’s involvement]—it was an idea we had in Italy, so he wasn’t really connected at all in the first place.”
Batali does still remain a “minority shareholder” in the company, however—although the extent of the profits he’s reaping from each sale remains unclear. However much that is, it’s enough to make some not want to patronize the company at all. Critics like Jonathan Gold, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for the L.A. Times, cite this as unfair—why penalize, in this case, the brilliant vision of Farinetti or the solid execution of Terra L.A. executive chef Eli Anderson? The talents of both are ultimately married in the perfect char of arrosticini, those delicate meat skewers, eaten on the rooftop beneath an olive tree—in a fated move, it existed at the Westfield Century City Mall long before Eataly’s arrival.
Outlets like Eater have made the choice to not cover such restaurants at all—when there are so many great ones out there, why take time to write about the ones with problematic affiliation? There is not an answer to these questions in this piece, merely an acknowledging of them: a requisite, if incomplete, first step.
Terra L.A. opens this Thursday.