Eataly is in the eye of the beholder: In the past couple of weeks, it's been called an indicator that the recession is ending, a sign of the apocalypse, and a doomed celebrity showcase. Given that I'm neither an economist nor a soothsayer, all I can tell you is this: Eataly is a damned fine grocery store. It may be fifty times larger than the Italian groceries that my mother sent me to, but it is a grocery store all the same. (My mother refused to go into one herself because she thought that the Parmesan smelled like baby puke. I thought it smelled like heaven.)
Yes, Eataly is sprawling and somewhat oddly laid out. The center of the store is filled with tables--served by a variety of restaurant stalls that I hope to investigate on a further visit--occupied by diners and winers chatting and observing the passing scene. Charming enough, but stick to the perimeter, where the actual food departments live. It is sometimes clogged with tourists and gawkers; as with Dean & DeLuca and H&M, weekends are best avoided.
While there is an unending riot of Italian soft drinks and beer, not to mention the more obvious olive oils, pastas, cheeses, and spumoni (how did I miss that?), a lot of what you'll encounter is just fine foodstuffs. There's nothing intrinsically Italian--or French, or Moroccan--about a lovely nectarine. Or oysters, or lamb. Or a crunchy, just out-of-the oven loaf.
The prices don't seem unreasonable to me, or perhaps I am still startled after paying over five bucks for three onions at my local grocery yesterday. The seafood prices seemed in line with, say Citarella. I got a gorgeous mozzarella ball for $3.50. You will notice more strollers than shoppers, which should make your trip to Eataly relatively easy--I was in the cashier line for less than a minute.