Everything You Need to Know About the Return of Eli’s Table
The corner of East 80th Street and Third Avenue remained a little quieter until late March, when Eli’s Table reopened after being closed for three years during the pandemic.
With the reopening came a few changes to the space — it’s smaller than before — but what remains the same is the restaurant’s dedication to serving a market-driven menu that echoes what New York’s storied Zabar family has been known for all these years. Here’s everything you need to know about Eli’s Table before you go.
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1. The reopened Eli’s Table is part of a chapter from a storied past.
The eponymous Eli of Eli’s Table, Eli Zabar, is a scion of the long beloved Zabar’s family, though, as family members will tell you, there’s a difference between the East Side Zabars and the West Side Zabars. On the West Side, Zabar’s has become a beloved New York City icon, known as a gourmet food emporium and grocery store since its opening 1934. Eli Zabar, however, wanted to do something different.
After traveling abroad and falling in love with the food markets of Europe, he wanted to bring that experience back to New York. In 1973, his restaurant and market E.A.T. was born and still stands in its original Madison Avenue location; it became the first venue in the East Side Zabar empire. Eli’s Market opened in 1998, and Eli’s Table began inside the store in 2003. It was followed by its current corner incarnation in 2015.
2. When they say “market driven” on the menu, they mean it.
The market in question, of course, is Eli’s Market, which adjoins the restaurant at 1415 Third Avenue–indeed, you’ll walk past the wine shop and the flower shop to enter. Inside the market there are different shops, all presided over by an expert in each particular specialty. “Sal in produce, his family are from the south of Italy and [are] farmers and Mark, who’s the head butcher, his family has been in the butcher business for a number of generations,” Zabar says. The market is known for its high-end, gourmet foods flown in or foraged from all over the world, in addition to those grown at their 20,000-square-foot greenhouse, made at their bakery, or prepared at their commissary, all of which are just down the street.
In fact, it’s actually easier to ask what isn’t made in-house because so much at Eli’s Table is. The mozzarella, the famed Jerusalem Loaf whole wheat bread (and all other breads), the ricotta cheese, the yogurt, salami, pâté, and so much more; not to mention some of the fresh produce. Housemade soft-serve ice cream comes from a mix they designed themselves. Coffee and espresso beans are roasted on site.
“It’s like we live on a farm,” Zabar says with a smile and a laugh. The menus changes depending on what’s in the market on a particular day.
And when you dine at Eli’s, the waitstaff will tell you anything you want to know about where the ingredients come from, whether it’s French cavaillon melons grown in the Dominican Republic, butter from Normandy, tree-ripened grapefruit foraged in California, sardines from Portugal, or even Eli’s own heirloom tomatoes grown just a few blocks away. Zabar promises it won’t feel like school though: “I think that you’ll be curious and often you’ll end up going to the market and buying what we’ve got,” to cook at home.
3. The menu thrives on simplicity.
While Zabar acknowledges “simple” can have many different meanings, he uses the word to describe the menu not because it lacks complexity but, as his son and Eli’s Market director Sasha Zabar says, “It’s the best ingredients touched as little as possible.” The ingredients are simple, yes, but all together they’re also elegant and multifaceted, a testament to chef Moctezuma Garcia’s skills.
There’s a 28-day dry-aged ribeye, for example, that’s only seasoned with salt and pepper and served on a small wooden butcher block with delicate, subtle potatoes. A pasta dish of homemade pappardelle with a ragout of brisket is prepared over the course of three to four hours with only some fresh herbs and spices. Stalks of French white asparagus are dotted with a whole grain mustard beurre blanc and a sieved egg. They serve cold, juicy slices of their greenhouse strawberries with a creamy, pink rhubarb sorbet. The menu is made of dishes that let the ingredients speak for themselves.
4. Tableside preparations are not uncommon.
Prepare for floaty slices of prosciutto sliced right in the center of the restaurant at a bright red standing slicer. Plus, if you order the cheese course, it’ll be wheeled over to you on a roving cheese cart with daily cheese selections from Adam Rhein, the cheesemonger downstairs at Eli’s Market.
5. Wine is serious business here.
Eli’s Table is home to a wine cellar of more than 50,000 bottles of Old World wines and, accordingly, Zabar says it’s a very important part of the restaurant. “I was a collector, and then I was going to offer these wines to people in the restaurant,” he says. “It just became obsessive. And now it’s equal to the food.”
Wine director Kilian Robin and sommelier Thibault Dubreuil ensure the list is accessible and understandable for diners. “We usually go with the moods and feel the table. And we usually try to nail it,” Dubreuil says. “We’re trying just to be very casual, knowledgeable, friendly. It can be very intimidating sometimes to have somebody coming [to] your table. We’re trying to be more down to earth and talk about good wine … it’s all about good wine and good food in the end.”
6. The decor feels just like home, almost.
Eli’s Table feels fun and not too serious, with a bright, colorful mural depicting Burgundy, but it’s still got a sense of tradition, with dark rustic wooden tables, and hand-cut floor tiles inspired by trips to Italy. It feels like Zabar’s personal living room and dining room at home, and he’s just as comfortable there as he is at his own home.
“I wanted the restaurant to feel classic, that we’re not trying to pull any surprises on you,” Zabar says. “I feel when I come in here, I’m in my house and that I’m going to eat dinner here. I’m gonna eat dinner here multiple times a week and I want to be really comfortable in my own space. I want the napkins to be real linen … I want a really nice glass. These are the things I have at home, and I don’t want this to be any less than I have at home,” he says.
And it doesn’t end there. “I don’t think this is gonna sell anybody on anything but every one of these napkins are washed every day at my house,” he laughs. “I don’t trust the laundry.”
Eli’s Table is open from 5:30 to 9:45 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and is closed on Sunday and Monday.
Elyssa Goodman is a New York-based writer and photographer whose work has appeared in Vogue, Vanity Fair, InsideHook, and other publications. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter. Follow Resy, too.