An Upper East Side Day: Eli Zabar’s E.A.T., The Guggenheim and Lady M’s

My summer’s almost at a close. I start school again one week from Tuesday (whoah!) and all the goals I had for myself this summer (a) get in shape, (b) write a masterpiece, (c) star in a one-man show exploring the life of Suzanne Somers (damn! she beat me to it!) shall remain goals for years to come. Ah well. I won’t go feeling sorry for myself. No sirree. Would Suzanne Somers do that? Well, after reading her reviews she might.

One thing I can say for myself, though, is I have met the goal of eating my way across the city this summer. Sure, I stayed 99% of the time in Manhattan, but Manhattan has a lot of ground to cover. There was uptown when the parents were here and downtown when they weren’t. Yesterday I broke that rule and journeyed uptown alone after reading an article about Eli Zabar. Having lived in New York for a year now, I hadn’t yet been to a Zabar’s establishment. Why shouldn’t I hop on the 6 train and eat lunch at E.A.T.? And that I did.

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E.A.T. is on Madison between 80th and 81st street. [It has its own website.] The area up there is pristine and lovely in an old New York way. I felt that if New York is enchanted, some of the enchantment lingers here in these parts. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that it was Monday and the streets were pretty deserted.

As it was, I made my way into E.A.T. and asked for a table. I got one next to two business men having a very intense meeting. The waitress presented me with this bread basket:

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Eli Zabar is famous for his bread and this bread did not disappoint. Well, the raisin bread didn’t disappoint. The multigrain bread was a little too healthy for me. I slathered it with butter to make up the difference.

As for the menu, prepare yourself: E.A.T. is WAYYYY expensive for what you’re getting. Check out the prices at the site I linked above. A grilled cheese sandwich is (gulp!) $14.50. Yowza.

But I knew that going in. And it’s appropriate for the area. E.A.T. can afford to charge that much because Uppper East Siders can afford to pay that much. It’s a symbiosis sort of thing. Don’t question it, just accept it.

I ordered the scrambled eggs and salmon ($14.50) because I was (a) in the mood for breakfast food; and (b) I figured it was a good test of how E.A.T. revs up a pretty standard dish. Here’s the result:

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I had a strange epiphany while eating this. The epiphany was: these may be the best eggs I’ve ever had, but I don’t like them this good.

I know that’s a strange epiphany, but let me explain. From all the literature I’ve read on scrambled eggs (I have an entire collection (just kidding (did I need to say just kidding?))) I’ve learned that the best way to cook them is on a very low heat, sometimes in a double boiler, to produce a custard like quality. That’s what happened here and these eggs were smooth and custardy. Also, there was a lot of butter involved and that contributed to the richness.

The thing is: eggs are comfort food and part of their comfort comes from how reliably bad they often are. My mom cooks them until they’re brown on top and so does the diner near where I go to school. In fact, most of the eggs I’ve eaten in my life are overcooked–not custardy at all. Dry, brittle, harsh. Just the way I like it.

But E.A.T. was definitely an experience. And if you’re still reeling from the price description, check out this display case on the way out:

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You can see in that picture: roast chickens are $18 each. They had a roast turkey there for $40! My how the other half lives.

After lunching at E.A.T. I made my way over to my favorite museum in New York: The Guggenheim.

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(I took that picture, isn’t it cool?)

The thing I love about the Guggenheim is that you never know what to expect when you go. One time I went with Lisa and they were showing the Matthew Barney Cremaster Cycle and Lisa thought it was gross. There was wax everywhere. Yesterday’s exhibit was Mapplethorpe who was obsessed with the human body. His pictures made me feel fat and worthless. I loved it!

The other thing I love about the Guggenheim is that, like the people in Mapplethorpe’s pictures, it’s very doable. You just spiral up that ramp and look at everything and you’re done in an hour, tops. Plus you know you’ve seen everything as opposed to The Met which I’ve been to 8000 times and I really think I’ve only seen like 2% of it. Ok, that’s a lie, but you get the idea.

After leaving The Guggenheim, I removed notes from my pocket. See I take notes before going somewhere unfamiliar. My notecard, which I have in front of me now, says:

GUGGENHEIM

89th & 5th

E.A.T.

Madison btwn 80th & 81st

LADY M’S

78th & Madison

That last part–Lady M’s–came from a last burst of inspiration. As I was leaving, I remembered Amanda Hesser wrote an article in the NYT Magazine section a while back about one of the best cakes in New York made entirely of crepes and I seemed to remember it was on the Upper East Side. Aha! Here’s the article!

Since I’d worked off all my lunch food climbing the Guggenheim, I felt I was entitled to cake. I made my way down to 78th street and tried every corner (SE, NE, NW) until I realized Lady M’s was on the NEst corner. It’s very easy to miss. Do you see this picture below?

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It’s a little stuffy and scary in there. I snapped this picture of the crepe cake:

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And then I asked permission to sit at a table. Permission was granted. I ordered a glass of water (tap!) and a slice of crepe cake. It was brought promptly:

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Amanda Hesser, on this cake:

“Here’s what it is: 20 (as opposed to 1,000) lacy crepes layered with clouds of whipped-cream-lightened pastry cream. The top crepe is spread with sugar and caramelized like creme brulee. A fork plunged into a slice slides like a shovel through fresh snow. You get a whiff of smoky sugar, then layer after silky-sweet layer.”

It’s true. You get all those things. I must say, though, for better or for worse, it tastes EXACTLY like what you’d expect it to taste like. Meaning: a lot of crepes stacked on top of each other with pastry cream in between them. The smoky top part had the most flavor. I enjoyed the uniqueness of the experience but I wasn’t huzzah-ing.

Yet, the cake was so subtle and so (for lack of a better word) special (ugh!) that I feel it’s worth revisiting. I watched the woman behind the counter take a cloth and polish the exposed part of the cake stand from where they’d just cut my slice. That’s passion for you.

And that’s a chocolate turtle.

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I snapped the pic on the way out. I don’t think anyone minded. All the other desserts looked terrific too and the place reminded me a little of Chickalicious in the East Village. Both places have this white and glass modernistic feel and both have a slight whiff of the science lab. Between the two I choose Lady M because you get whole slices of cake and everything looks absolutely drop dead gorgeous. Like the people in the Mapplethorpe prints which I’ll never look like if I keep eating cake! Where’s Marie Antoinette when you need her?

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