One of my favorite things to do in Chicago once I moved downtown was do all my grocery shopping at Eataly. Although I have major issues with the typeface and graphic design of the place, and the whole Mario Battali thing drives me crazy, there’s just something about the focus of Eataly that I love. So when I saw that Eataly was opening an Italian “food themepark” outside Bologna, I knew I had to go. Plus, I’ve always wanted to visit Bologna so visiting Eataly FICO seemed like a good reason to do so. (The Battali news came out after my visit.)
But visiting Eatly FICO was a weird experience for me. I dropped in just a week after the opening so perhaps things will be different when you go. Make sure you time the bus from town right because if you miss it by just a minute like I did, you will have to wait 30 minutes for the next one. (WHAT ITALIAN BUS LEAVES ON TIME??? The Eataly FICO bus of course.)
Like the Chicago Eataly, the graphic design of Eataly FICO is terrible and worse still, the layout of Eataly FICO is ridiculous. Basically, you enter one end of the building and you have to walk what feels like a mile to get out of the building. If you try to get out the entrance, they will tell you to turnaround. And it’s not like you can just like walk 30 seconds and get to the exit. You seriously have to hoof it a ridiculously long way to get to the exit. WHILE YOU ARE PASSING EXIT DOORS THAT ARE LOCKED. (It feels like hundreds of them. All with the signs in the photo.) And guess what? Once you get to the exit, you have to WALK all the way back to the entrance to get the bus back into town. Totally stupid.
If you have to put up signs trying to sell the long-ass walk back to the entrance to get the bus, you know you are doing something wrong. “Today you walk…it’s healthy”…arrrggghhh. (It was cold and drizzly when I visited. Not a nice walk.)
The other thing I didn’t dig about Eataly FICO was that the fittings of the restaurants I visited all felt a bit cheap. There’s something about Eataly Chicago that makes the dining options feel just the tiniest bit upscale. But at Eataly FICO, it’s like eating in an airport food court. (And to be fair to airport food courts, I think a lot of airports are upping their game in this regard.) In short, I feel like FICO needs both an interior designer and a user experience designer to bring everything together.
OK, now on to the “theme park” and eating/drinking side of things. While I was visiting Eataly FICO, I took part in two experiences which were fun but confusing. Firstly, just finding the locations for the activities took a degree in cartography and excellent 20/20 eyesight just to read the map. Also, do not rely on Eataly employees to tell you where anything is! They will send you in the wrong direction.
One of the activities I reserved was a food photography “class” which took place next to a juice stand. Me and four executives from somewhere that may have been Eataly itself cut up fruit and made pretty plates. It was strangely relaxing but not what I expected. (I thought we’d cover things like lighting and f-stops. I did not think we’d be cutting up fruit.) Weirdly, I had definitely purchased this online and had the receipt to show for it, but I didn’t have an actual ticket to show for my purchase, which confused the staff. And me. They let me join the class anyhow.
I also did an Italian wine experience, where two very enthusiastic Eataly employees walked me through Italy’s wine regions and then let me try a couple of glasses. This was enjoyable and I’d recommend it. It was maybe a little tough because I was the only person on the tour and my mind tends to wander a lot so I had to keep reminding myself to focus on my two tour guides but overall, this was great.
I tried two things for lunch while I was visiting Eataly FICO. First was a tortellini soup which was like eating tortellini in lukewarm dishwater. It was one of the most disappointing meals of my entire life, and that is saying a lot. (This is a very traditional dish in Bologna. But there was just something missing in that broth.) To make up for this, I headed over to Eataly’s truffle restaurant, Urbani, where the chairs were much too tall for the tables (or the tables were too low for the chairs) and had a very nice pasta dish with truffles. Was it the best truffle pasta dish I’ve ever had in my entire lief? No. But it was nice. As were the staff, who admitted that the tables had been swapped out at the last moment so they knew they didn’t fit the chairs.
Visiting Eataly FICO: The Verdict
So…visiting Eataly FICO is weird. Be ready to walk (or grab one of those bikes) and plan out where you are going to eat in advance because if you see a nice place and want to eat there, but also want to check out the rest of Eataly, you will have to walk back a long ways to get back to the original restaurant. Also, book your activities the day before so you know where you need to be when, and don’t rely on anyone at Eataly to give you directions. My biggest piece of advice: comfortable walking shoes!