June 17, 2007 | BITE: My Journal

RA Seduction of Raisins at E.A.T.

 Eli Zabar can't resist a nibble of his splendid raisin coffee cake.

    Dragging my aching bones from an afternoon’s immersion in the Metropolitan Museum, I am not even thinking goodies. I am thinking: sit down anywhere.  Trying to rise above the agony of de feet, we march down shockingly deli-and-café-challenged upper Madison. And then like a mirage…Eli Zabar’s E.A.T.

    ”I suppose we could have tea here,” my best upper Eastside gourmand friend allows.

    “If you don’t mind paying $50,” I grump.

    “My treat,” she says

    We study the baked goodies in the carry-away vitrine.  I’m a fool for crumbs.  “That crumb cinnamon thing looks good,” I allow.

    We describe it to the waiter.  “Coffee cake with crumbs and raisins.” We’ll share one portion please.”

    He returns swiftly with precisely the object of my temptation, neatly divided on two separate plates with two knives and two forks.

    “How very thoughtful,” I congratulate him.

    The crumbs are firm.  Very firm.  Impossible to cut with the knife, but hackable with the prongs of a fork.  And the cake…oh my good lord.  Divine. How long has it been, I ask myself, since I had coffee cake this wonderful. The crumbs are buttery and good.
    “The raisins are gargantuan,” my pal observes as we analyze.  “And I think there is some chopped apricot too. And just the right scant amount of cinnamon.”

    “I taste almond paste,” I venture.  “And is it possible?  Chocolate.  And the floor of this cake is wonderful too.”  I finish the last muscular crumb.

    We ask for the bill.  “If it’s less than $50 I want to treat you,” I insist.

    She grabs the check and gasps and shows it to me. One tea $3. One iced tea $3. One “open bakery” $5. Total $11.92. Is this Eli Zabar’s E.A.T. with its $20 raspberries?  Am I dreaming?

    “I insist,” I insist.

    Next day I phone Eli. “Have you tasted your cinnamon raisin coffee cake?” I ask.

    “Of course,” he says.  “Dried fruit, raisins, a schmier of chocolate. I taste everything. I invented it. I last had it over Chanukah with my brother Saul.  He said he wanted it for Zabar’s. I haven’t gotten around to that yet. The origin of this cake was a Christmas fruitcake we do.  We had some of the fruit filling left.

    “Everything I do starts with a leftover,” he boasts. “When I don’t have a leftover, a darkness falls. I don’t want to get up in the morning.  I made this cake up.  It’s my favorite. Sometimes I nibble on it as I walk by.  We cut it into little rectangles for our catered dessert plate.  The floor is a very fine brioche dough – eggs, butter, a little almond paste, mixed with a little water.”

    “I imagined I tasted a hint of chocolate,” I venture.

    “Yes,” he cries. “Just a schmier.  We sell it at Eli’s on Third Avenue too. Lately I’m into chocolate.  I’ve been doing a lot with chocolate cookies. Striped butter cookies. Ice cream and gelatos.”

    I fear he will go on and on and I will find myself making excuses to be on upper Madison.  “How much is it by the pound?” I ask.

    “$22, I think.”

    I call E.A.T. ”$12 per pound," says the clerk guarding the goodies.

    My advise is get your share fast It would be just like Eli to decide his fine oeuvre is dramatically under priced.

     1064 Madison Avenue between 80th and 81st Streets. 212 772 0022


Eggplant Inflation at Fiorello

    Speaking of rare commodities seeking their price level, I am saddened to note that the seven-item vegetable antipasto plate I had watched grow from $11.95 to $22.50 less than a month ago at Cafe Fiorello is now $23.95.  Could it be a hedge fund run on eggplant?




Sunday Dinner at Rain

      My guy is a dad and this Sunday is his official honoring day, though heaven knows I honor the guy as often as a self-centered diva can.  His bi-coastal prodigy son flew into town and tonight all of us agree it’s the moment to revisit Rain, an easy walk uptown.

    Rain was a deliciously exotic gift to the neighborhood in l955, when it first settled into what had been the DDL Foodshow kitchen -- an all-too-brief box-office hit for Roman movie king Dino de Laurentis.  That was back when the upper west side deserved its infamy as a gourmand desert. Even then the newly formed entreprenurial Main Street Group (that’s their Calle Ocho around the corner on Columbus) insisted their Bangkok-born chef Taweewat Hurapan tame the heat.  Rain was never meant to be authentic.  But it was good. Then Chef Hurapan went off seeking his own fortune (I love what he and his son are doing at Hurapan Kitchen).

    Alerted by a press release celebrating the near-poetic flavor musings of chef Gypsy Gifford  -- bamboo roasted cod with an uni tapioca sauce called out to me  -- I’d had Rain on my mind. 

    The house is looking worn.  Bare red brick and bare bulbs do not evoke Thailand.  But sprawling upper west side families with grinning dads fill the room and, being just three, we rate a booth. We’re happy already.

     “You guys seen the Sunday feast menu?” our breezy server asks.  “No?  Well, let me get menus for you.  It’s the best deal.  See. You get all this for just $29.  It’s the only thing to order.”

    Me?  Reject a deal just for uni in tapioca?  I don’t think so. A $9 blood orange margarita is in order.  Not too sweet, either, I’m pleased to report.  In a few minutes we are surrounded by plates of appetizer tidbits, three each of first-rate spring rolls, chicken scallion shumai and savory fried sprimp-pork-ginger potstickers plus papaya salad…sauces mostly bland, peanutty and sweet.  I long for a genuine hit of stinky fish sauce. (It’s one of those love-it-or-hate-it accents, but Gifford defiantly uses it anyway in the papaya salad, she tells me…alas, I can’t really taste it tonight.) Frankly, I’ve never yet met a beef satay I actually like, but the guys are not complaining.

    In the two and a half years since she took over the kitchen, the chef has made the menu her own, but the Sunday feast is meant for the house’s regulars who long for Rain classics, like penang beef, red curry chicken, stir fried Asia vegetables, and pineapple fried rice.  All of it is pretty good, except possibly the black bean shrimp and tofu with sweet peppers, scallion and celery  -- we like the fried tofu more than the listless shrimp.  Three mini ice cream cones served alongside a small bowl of fresh tropical fruit is a perfect finale.

    Sunday Night Summer Asian BBQ, a new $33 feast, begins on July 4th.

    Rain 100 West 82nd Street just west of Columbus 212 501 0776  


Providing a continuous lifeline to homebound elderly New Yorkers