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Taste


robert brown
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Talk about a restaurant that's so far away from both buzz and the culinary radar screen, then Eli's (as in Zabar) is front and center. It seems to be an establishment where just people from the neighborhood go, and not always a lot of them at any one time. Because of summertime and then 9/11 I hadn't been there since May until last night. Before then I considered myself a regular customer. The hiatus, however, gave me the chance to see it in fresh eyes. In my opinion Eli's is still a culinary diamond in the rough. The staff, which experiences very little turnover, is comprised of men and women who are without exception friendly, efficient, and caring. The chef Scott Bieber prepares food that is somewhere between comfort and sophisticated American, and which is a very good accompaniment to wine. (As a lot of serious eaters, Eli is a Burgundy/Cote du Rhone partisan as reflected on the wine llst. I also bring my own which is a practice  that is heartily accepted there).

Since my last visit, there appeared to me to be an effort to make the restaurant more affordable. I had a lusty, flavorful terrine of rabbit with cranberry relish and a small salad of mazuna and Parmesan all put on the same plate. (ป). A mixed grill of two quails, mild Italian sausage and a superb lamb chop was immensely satisfying (ว. if memory recalls). Their classic lemon merinque cake is a favorite (it's a very big piece you get) as is a chocholate parfait with peppermint and pistachio ice cream. A cheese cart with 16 varieties (and no limit on the number you could choose) all looked to be ready to eat.

To me it's a civilized restaurant, attracting the same kind of crowd as Cafe Boulod or the old Sant'Ambreous: older and seemingly sophisticated and well-travelled. Friends have complained about the ambiance, but for me the room is in good, subdued taste with serious, unobstrusive background music. I find Eli's to be a rarity in New York: a tranquil restaurant that's meant to go to regularly, without pretense, and conceived for gastronomy and nothing more.

(Edited by robert brown at 1:59 pm on Dec. 29, 2001)

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Now that's a tout. I'm a big fan of civility. My favorite neighborhood joint is likewise customer-friendly and I have gotten kind reception there with and without reservations. It's the Odeon. Perhaps I'll start a thread in 2002...

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Robert, maybe we should try to generate a list of restaurants that fall into this category: Superior local places -- I mean with serious, talented chefs and ambitious menus; not just one good dish or a well-executed bistro menu -- that haven't been properly integrated into the thinking of the food media herd. I'll nominate the Morrell Wine Bar & Cafe (http://www.morrellwinebar.com/) and its chef, Michael Haimowitz. This should probably be a new thread, but I'm suddenly overcome with laziness.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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  • 1 year later...

Had a very enjoyable meal at Taste, the restaurant at Eli's market at 80th and 3rd, on Saturday night. The food wasn't perfect, but a number of small touches made it a very nice solo dining experience.

High Points

*The dining room was lightly populated (between 7:00 and 8:00 pm on a Saturday) - as a solo diner I'm not crazy about packed rooms;

*There is plenty of very comfortable seating around the bar, with menus already on display and bowls of nicely marinated olives and somewhat soggy but still very tasty house-made potato chips. Take my advice - plop yourself down right between a bowl of olives and a basket of chips - you'll thank me;

*The woman behind the bar seemed to be genuinely interested in taking care of her bar customers (all 4 to 5 of us) and presiding over her own little domain (in a good way);

*There are plenty of wines available by the glass, and the pours are fairly generous (although a Chateauneuf du Pape I sampled seemed like it might have been open a while).

Potential Issues

*The kitchen was a bit erratic (but I ordered some things that may have been ill advised);

*There doesn't appear to be a pastry chef, so there aren't many compelling options for dessert.

Here's the rundown:

First course - salad with mixed greens and warm veal tongue - this was a real winner. The temperature contrast was perfect, a rich homemade mayonnaise enriched the veal tongue nicely, and the salad component was very well composed. Accompanied by a 1996 (?) Savenierres from Baumard (? - sorry), this was an ideal course.

(Munching on olives and potato chips between courses - nice.)

Second course - risotto with morels and green garlic - I never order risotto in restaurants, but I was looking for a lighter second course so I broke my own rule. Rules are good. This wasn't bad from a technical standpoint, but the morels just didn't have the depth of flavor you would expect and the green garlic wasn't really apparent and the whole thing was a bit monolithic. Accompanied by the aforementioned CDP (1999 Fortia) - nice but so soft and forward you couldn't help but think it might have been open too long.

Dessert really wasn't attractive (it sounded like an array of items from the pastry counter in the market with various garnishes), so I opted for cheese (an unusual choice for me). The cart was decent - I can't necessarily differentiate between cheeses that have been well cared for and others that haven't, but the aged gouda, stilton, and cheddar seemed very nice to me (the taleggio maybe a bit too youthful). Portions were huge - I actually left some on the plate.

Will definitely return - ordering a more conventional second course and maybe just opting for some cookies or biscotti for dessert. Taste has pretty much eliminated my desire to trek downtown to Gramercy Tavern when I'm in the mood for a nice solo meal at the bar, and that's saying something.

Edited by Robin Meredith (log)
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Robin

A very pleasant review and well written. Thank you. Makes me actaully want to go there. As much as I love this egullet, sometimes I find it a bit technical. Your review was written from someone who didn't want to be a food critic but someone decribing an experience.

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  • 9 months later...

Marian Burros slammed Taste pretty hard in the January 21 New York Times (link here; you may have to scroll down to the appropriate spot), giving it no stars and a rating of "Satisfactory." Your comments, everyone?

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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I live right around the corner and find that there are many places with much better value, service, and food right in the neighborhood. Well written article - but doesn't sound like the overpriced sandwich shop that Taste appears to me.

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I have to admiot to having more than a nodding acquaintance with Eli Zabar. I go through periods of going and not going to Taste. Lately I had been stopping by every two weeks or so before I went abroad for late December and half of January. I have the occasional problem there. I think the management of the place has slipped, but this I find always offset by my long acquaintanceship with server Dorothy, who disappeared to work at Bid, but has now returned. I was disappointed recently with the rib-eye steak, which has changed from a thick Nieman Ranch to some this anonymous one that was overcooked and too meager to really do anything proper with it. However, I didn't understand the "satisfactory" rating, which, relatively speaking, is rather appaling since "satisfactory" is what two stars tend to be. Marian Burro's text didn't jibe with the several dishes she liked. To me, Taste is capable of putting out tasty, honest dishes more often than not. Her review (and others like it) is a good argument for doing away with ratings since, to use one of my favorite sayings, "They try to say everything and end up saying nothing"

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"`Satisfactory' is what two stars tend to mean"? I beg to differ! How many restaurants did Grimes give highly positive reviews to along with a two-star rating?

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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  • 5 months later...

I have been to Eli Zabar's Taste (1413 Third Avenue at 80th Street) a number of times for Sunday brunch. I remember reading a NY Times review that had negative things to say about dinner there. It might very well be the case, I have never had a desire to try dinner there, but for brunch I find it to be quite good.

I was there this Sunday and had a nice table by the front which opens up to the street. I started with some mixed berries which were very sweet blueberries, strawberries and rasberries. I then just had a simple breakfast of sunny side up eggs, bacon and sliced tomato. However, my friend had ordered the French toast, which I ended up eating about half of.

I had never had the French toast at Taste, as I am much more of a savory breakfast type, but this French toast was excellent, and huge. It is described on the menu as an "extra thick slice of buttery challah." I grew up eating challah every Sabbath and it never tasted like this. I would describe it as more of a brioche, but whatever it is, it is delicious. A nice crust on the outside and soft and eggy within. Along with some syrup and a scattering of some of the fresh berries I had ordered, it was fantastic.

The basket of Eli's bread that is on the table is always good (the very thin and crisp walnut rasin bread is addicting). I have also enjoyed a number of the omlets, particularly with very soft goat cheese and roasted tomato.

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