Roman holiday

A trip to Eataly’s new pop-up rooftop eatery Sabbia, for a beachy Italian experience, minus the sand

A speciality drink, La Puttanesca, riffs on the classic dish.
A speciality drink, La Puttanesca and a flight of beers

On a recent night after work, when I told my friend Patricia we were going to a rooftop to experience the Italian seaside, she balked at first. My friend vacationed on the actual Italian seaside on the Amalfi coast last summer and couldn’t get her head around my plan without some coaxing.

While it may seem counterintuitive to head to the top of crowded destination to get your beach on, Eataly’s new pop-up eatery Sabbia is hoping New Yorkers will do just that. Intended to be reminiscent of the Italian seaside, Sabbia (“sand” in Italian — ironically there is not a speck) invites guests to pretend they are on a coastal getaway instead of in a concrete jungle and eat, drink and relax — through October.

But I have always found Eataly anything but relaxing. A maze of giant tubs of Nutella and pasta, the specialty store always seems loud and frenetic. And when herded into a crowded elevator surrounded by tourists speaking Italian, even more so. Not exactly my go-to place to unwind.

But when Patricia and I were ushered to our table past a small boat filled with ice and chilled oysters, I was transported. There was no breeze on this first stifling-hot day in the city, but the smell of garlic and seafood wafted past, a stand-in for the smell of the ocean.

The smell of garlic and seafood stands
in for the smell of the ocean.

“They certainly have the look and menu down pat,” Patricia said, sipping an Italian red and perusing a long list of cheeses and cured meats. “The frenzied bar scene, not so much.”

Along one side of the restaurant is a long bar that had people 10-deep the night we were there. The scene was dominated by loud bros in suits, a far cry from beachgoers languishing over Lambrusco. Even though we were seated at a distance, it was still hard to hear over the boisterous crowd.

Café-style tables had chairs strewn with brightly colored striped throws. Patricia tried to return ours to the waiter, mistakenly thinking another guest had left her wrap behind.

The beach vibe extends to umbrellas and cabanas, along with life preservers and posters of Capri and other popular seaside enclaves. A retractable roof lets the sun in and servers dressed in simple tees are attentive but allow diners to linger over a cocktail or after-dinner cappuccino.

The drink menu offers 12 specialty cocktails, 50 beers and wines along with non-alcoholic refreshments. I settled for a seltzer with mint and lime and my friend chose the full-bodied Italian red.

Eataly Flatiron’s executive chef, Fitz Tallon, has created a menu featuring healthy and easy-to-eat (lots of skewers and finger foods) coastal fare. We choose grilled shrimp and zucchini skewers for starters. For our entrees we had fusilli with local squid, gulf shrimp, cockles and cherry tomatoes, and grilled octopus with cannelleni beans, roasted beets and red onions.

Island Creek Oysters, a sustainable oyster farm in Duxbury Bay, Mass., supplies the oyster bar at Sabbia, where the oyster-shucking action and bounteous ice-filled boat add to the beachside ambiance.

As the night wore on and the frenzied bar scene thinned out, the strings of lights above us twinkled like stars. We chatted well into the evening over cappuccinos, the weariness of the workweek finally easing. I slipped off my shoes under the table, happy to play along with thoughts of sea, surf and sand.