Shave Ice is the Best New Thing at Cafe Zaiya (But the Frappes and Soft Serve are Pretty Awesome Too)

A few things have happened since Kathy YL Chan (from A Passion for Food) compiled her Food Porn Guide to Navigating Cafe Zaiya (on 41st btw. Mad+5th) for Midtown Lunch. Beard Papa is now gone, replaced by a coffee and dessert bar.  Since Kathy is our resident coffee, dessert, and Cafe Zaiya expert we told her to go whole hog on their new offerings and report back.  Here is what she found…

Since you’ve already had a first look at the menu and set up of Cafe Zaiya’s new coffee and dessert station, let’s just get straight to the point. The best thing on Cafe Zaiya’s new drink bar menu is SHAVE ICE. It’s near impossible to find shave ice in this city, much less a decent bowl of shave ice. It’s a terribly painful fact for someone who grew up in Hawai’i, consuming shave ice bowls on a daily basis. Zaiya’s shave runs $3.79 for a small and $4.29 for a large, and comes in one flavor: Green Tea. Unlike most places which fill the cup with shave ice and then put on the syrup, Zaiya fills half the cup with shave ice then pours on green tea syrup and plenty of condensed milk. Then more ice, till it forms a decent mound, and then more syrup and condensed milk.

How about the toppings?

To top, spoonfuls of azuki beans and mochi. Mochi… as in ONE mochi. That was my only complaint. One. Single. round of mochi. Just one. Aside from the ridiculously paltry serving of mochi, this shave ice is a winner. Not because of the ice (which could be shaved finer), but because the syrup flavor is tops, and the deep matcha flavor is generously poured. And of course, condensed milk makes everything better.

Frappes are also offered on the menu in flavors of black sesame and green tea. I blogged about the very lovely black sesame on Serious Eats New York. Note, these are not ice cream based drinks, but rather a milk and ice blended frappe. Think Starbucks frappucino gone Asian, but less sweet and much tastier. Like the shave ice, and the soft serve below, the matcha flavors shine through more boldly than expected, which is a good thing. Whipped cream is optional, and it’s worth nothing that the matcha frappe comes dusted in matcha powder if you opt for the whipped cream.

The frozen treats have me quite excited here. Cafe Zaiya started selling pints of frozen ice cream before the new Cafe opened, but now they’ve added soft serve to the collection! Soft serve comes in black sesame and green tea. And if you simply can’t settle on one, the most awesome part is that you can twist both flavors and not miss out on anything.

In this Manhattan world where soft serve is all the rage, Zaiya’s version ranks among the top tier. Ice cream is offered in both those flavors as well as rum raisin and caffe latte. The ice cream is decent, if not passable, but the soft serve is definitely worth your stomach space.

Your typical mochas, lattes, and chais are on the menu as well, and range from plain and expected to reliable. However, the Green Tea Chai piqued my interest as I had never consumed the two flavors together. The end result is more green tea-y than chai-y, and on both occasions I had this drink it was served SCALDING hot. So don’t say we didn’t warm you! Price-wise, this is a better deal than your neighborhood Starbucks, and besides, wouldn’t you rather support Zaiya?

P.S. The Cafe is hoping to roll out a bubble tea menu at some point this summer. We’ll be sure to keep you posted!

Cafe Zaiya, 18 E. 41st St. (btw. 5th+Mad.), 212-779-0600

Read these other posts by Kathy YL Chan:


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