Turin, Eataly, and catching a ride with a stranger

I had only a vague idea where we were, which wasn’t comforting since we were sitting in the backseat of a stranger’s car. After getting in the car 30 minutes earlier we had gone in what seemed like the right direction, but with all the u-turns and backtracking I was a bit nervous. Not to mention that our apartment was only a 10 minute drive. While we chatted with the driver I surreptitiously checked the map on my phone.

Our strange “cab” ride started at Eataly. You may have visited one of their five outposts in the US. Earlier this year I walked into the one in Chicago. It was…okay. Maybe that’s a contrarian opinion because lots of people swoon over the place, but I’m happy to stand by it.

Eataly in Turin was completely different.

It’s the original, and is next door to 8 Gallery, a former FIAT factory that’s home to hotels, restaurants and a shopping mall. 8 Gallery has a rooftop test track that was a minor setting in the original Italian Job.

After visiting the gallery and walking a lap of the track, we were ready for lunch and went next door to Eataly where we were greeted by a woman sampling sparkling wines. She wanted our opinion about two wines–which did we prefer? We agreed that we liked a more complex, bolder wine she had offered us. “Bene!” she cried, and let us know that we were absolutely right. She might be selling two different wines, but only one was worth our time and she wanted us to know the difference.

Okay, if you haven’t experienced Eataly, it’s important to know that each store includes several restaurants that serve specific types of food–fish, meat, pasta, pizza, and so on. We opted for pasta. In my case, a giant bowl of spaghetti al pomodoro with buffalo mozzarella. Everything, including the cheese, had been produced within a hundred feet of our table. I washed it down with a bottle of acqua frizzante and a glass of red wine.

This was our first of two trips to Eataly that day. After lunch we visited the Museo dell’Automobile and saw a biennial exhibition that had just opened. Then we walked back to Eataly to shop and have a drink.

Our second stop was much longer. We bought risotto and olive oil for the local charity drive, lavender dog biscuits for Ben and Rox, and other odds and ends. We paused at an enoteca (wine bar) while making plans for that evening.

It was time to get a cab.

We exited Eataly and were met by a young, well-dressed guy who asked, “Can I give you a ride anywhere in the city?” He pointed us toward a line of new Renault SUVs, and explained that Renault and Eataly had teamed up for a promotion. The ride was on them.

Ten euros (the cost of cab fare) is ten euros, so we hopped in.

And so a few minutes later I was consulting online maps and looking for landmarks I recognized. “This is my first time doing this job,” said our driver. “I know your address. My girlfriend lives two blocks from there.”

I wondered about that, but after one more u-turn I caught a glimpse of our street off to the right. Our driver turned left.

I was about to point out the missed turn when our driver said, “Ah, these streets are so confusing. I need to go around the block.” Two minutes later we were parked in front of our apartment, and I was signing documents that freed me of any obligations if the driver killed a pedestrian or wrecked his shiny new vehicle. We turned toward our apartment and he shouted, “Wait!” and opened the boot of the car. “I have a present.”

He handed us a small bag from Eataly, filled with food samples. “This is my last one,” he said, “and I’m nearly done for the night.”

We said our goodbyes, and before driving off he said with a smirk, “Maybe I can go to my girlfriend’s and get a quick kiss!”

Turin restaurant notes: While in Turin we stayed in a quiet section of town near the Po River, a few minutes walk from Centro, where many of the famous palazzos are located. A’Livella, located on Corso Belgio around the corner from our apartment, serves fresh, tasty Neopolitan pizza. Expect crowds. Restaurant Tefy, also on Corso Belgio, is operated by a hospitable couple who focus on Piemontese cuisine. We ate a traditional multi-course meal that started with two antipasto courses totaling seven dishes, then featured pasta, a meat course and dessert. We did not leave hungry. Ask for advice about wine–they offer several local, inexpensive choices. The bottle of Nebbiolo we drank was a bargain at 20 euros.