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Zahav, Modern Israeli in Society Hill - 2011 James Beard Award Winning Chef Michael Solomonov on St. James Place

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Tweaked   

Not sure, I've only been to Zahav once and it was during Philly's RW (unbeknownst to us when we made the reservation).  I thought the food was good.  But not as good as what you get in Israel, for example the NYT book review lauds their hummus, but Zahav's hummus that night was a shadow of what you get in Israel.  But I'm a sucker for Middle Eastern cookbooks so I'll be buying it.     

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DonRocks   

Not sure, I've only been to Zahav once and it was during Philly's RW (unbeknownst to us when we made the reservation).  I thought the food was good.  But not as good as what you get in Israel, for example the NYT book review lauds their hummus, but Zahav's hummus that night was a shadow of what you get in Israel.  But I'm a sucker for Middle Eastern cookbooks so I'll be buying it.     

Back in 2009, I went to all three James Beard Semifinalists in Philadelphia: Zahav, Amada, and Bindi. Zahav was *so good*, and Amada was *so much better* than it was on my first visit; Bindi was just plain mediocre. It was never nominated again, and went out of business. How it got nominated in the first place, I will never know.

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DanielK   

I've been 3 times, and my last visit was only very good (not SPECTACULAR, like my first 2 visits) but it was also inadvertently during Restaurant Week, so I wonder if that's a significant factor.

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DonRocks   

"Kitchen Roots: Ruta, Solomonov, and Ehland" by Hal B. Klein on pittsburghmagazine.com

Page two of this three-page article focuses exclusively on Michael Solomonov, and fans of his (as well as anyone from Pittsburgh) will enjoy reading the entire piece. Zahav disappointed me on my last visit, and of course, nagging doubts have now crept in about Solomonov having spread himself too thin. However, I was awestruck by this restaurant before it won its Beard award, and even if it turned into a McDonald's, I will always remember it as being the finest restaurant of its type I've ever enjoyed - and "by its type," I don't simply mean "Israeli"; I mean the whole package, even though I can't quite define what the whole package is. I'll say this much: Zahav certainly opened my eyes to the heights that vegan cauliflower can reach. And those cocktails - yowza!

(And a note to our friends in Philadelphia: Yes, Frank Ruta's food really *is* this good - even though he's a Beard winner, Washingtonians who know great food have always considered him "our own special secret" for close to twenty years (or, at least, *I* have); you have to enjoy his wares in a dinner jacket now, but this man could make silk from a sow's ear (and from what I've heard about the kitchen at the Capella Hotel, he sort-of is!)

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13 friends and I decided to visit Philadelphia for New Year's because, why not?  We had no hard dining plans except dim sum and cheesesteaks when one of my friends had the audacious idea of calling Zahav.  Reservation for 14 three days before New Year's? Fat chance, I thought.  Little did I know: they had a (huge) private dining room available for the night, all we had to do was hit a minimum which worked out to about $140 per person (including drinks, tax and tip).  In exchange, we would get a huge chef's tasting menu and two dedicated waiters.  Expensive, but very reasonable all things considered.  So we did it...and wow.  That place is incredible. 

We arrived at 9 and started with some great hummus and fresh pitas, before turning to a slew of about 8 fantastic veggie dishes (carrots, fennel, twice-cooked eggplant, flash-fried cauliflower that reminded me of Rasika's palak chaat, beets, others I'm forgetting).  At this point, I was pretty full already, and that was before they brought out the lamb shoulder (extremely flavorful but actually a bit dry) and some of the best chicken I've ever had (smokey).  Dessert was good but nothing to write home about.  Too stuffed to finish it all, the wait staff boxed everything up for us as soon as we told them we could eat no more, which made for some great leftovers the next few days.   We left at 12:30 drunk and stuffed.

Considering the rackets that most places try to pull off on New Year's, $140 for a private room with seemingly endless great food and lots of booze at one of the city's best restaurants was worth it, and then some. 

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Rieux   

Headed to Philly for the first time ever this weekend.  Staying at the Palomar near Rittenhouse Sq.  Everyone says we should go to Zahav one night, and I love Middle-Eastern food, but obviously there are no reservations at this late date.

How realistic is it for 2 people to eat at the bar on a Saturday or long-weekend Sunday night?

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dracisk   
On 5/22/2017 at 10:06 AM, Rieux said:

Everyone says we should go to Zahav one night

I'll be there June 3rd, so if you do end up going I'd be interested in a report. I have a reservation, so I'd mainly be interested in thoughts about food. Thanks!!

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DanielK   
8 hours ago, dracisk said:

I'll be there June 3rd, so if you do end up going I'd be interested in a report. I have a reservation, so I'd mainly be interested in thoughts about food. Thanks!!

If you have a party of 4 or more, definitely do the tasting menu with the lamb shoulder. But I've literally not found a miss across the entire menu.

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Simon   
9 hours ago, DanielK said:

If you have a party of 4 or more, definitely do the tasting menu with the lamb shoulder. But I've literally not found a miss across the entire menu.

I was able to do the tasting menu with the lamb shoulder as a single diner.  Lots of leftovers.  FWIW, I had a good time but enjoyed Vernick a lot more (they're very different restaurants, though).  

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dracisk   

I dined at Zahav for the first time Saturday night with three friends. We couldn't do the lamb tasting menu (mesibah) because they were out of the lamb. We were quite disappointed. Our waiter (whom I really liked -- competent, patient, and friendly -- I believe his name was Chris) was very sympathetic and explained that the lamb takes 3 days to prepare and they'd had a couple of large parties order it. Oh, well. I'm kind of surprised they'd run out of the lamb on a Saturday night, but obviously it can happen. The good news is that all of the non-lamb food we ate was delicious.

We ended up getting the other tasting menu (tayim): salatim & hummus with laffa, two mezze, one al ha’esh, dessert. I loved all the salads (some more than others, but they were all good). I particularly remember a fennel salad that for me was marred by cilantro, but I think I would have liked it if not for the cilantro. I think my favorite salad was a beet salad -- nice and earthy and no goat cheese in sight. The hummus was as delicious as advertised. I think because they'd run out of the lamb they gave us a special hummus topped with a small mound of short rib (or maybe not since I now see the daily topping hummus on the menu -- not sure what usually comes with the tasting menu). Anyway, it was delicious.

Among the four of us we ordered most of the mezze. The only one we skipped was the duck hearts. The menu currently online is slightly different than our menu since we didn't have grilled asparagus, and I can't remember what we had in its place. I wasn't particularly impressed with the fried cauliflower, which I understand is one of their more popular dishes. It was fine but just not that exciting. I took this opportunity to try kibbe naya for the first time. I found it to be quite salty (not sure if that's how it always is), but I'd definitely try it again. I enjoyed the interplay of the lamb and the bulgur. I love cheese, so the pastilla and haloumi were mezze highlights for me. I also really enjoyed the crispy grape leaves. I'd never had grapes leaves prepared that way before.

The meats were probably the least exciting part of the meal for me (so sad we couldn't have the lamb!). We ordered two orders of the brisket kofte (my favorite by far) and one order each of the sirloin shishlik (fine and very steak-y but not that exciting) and the branzino (I'm not a huge fish fan; one of my friends wanted to order this). Also possibly because the lamb was sold out the waiter brought an extra dish of a delicious smoky eggplant during the meat course. I wish I could describe the eggplant better. It wasn't baba ganouj, but it tasted like the base of it.

I'm not going to be able to do the desserts justice in terms of descriptions, but they were all delicious. One was a chocolate and coffee concoction (I think coffee custard covered in chocolate). This one didn't excite me too much since it seemed like something one could get anywhere. It was also too rich for me, especially after a big meal. One of the other desserts we tried was a lemon poppy seed (?) cake with a dollop of some kind of frozen labneh (I can't remember the flavor, but it wasn't plain), and the third dessert I think was phyllo dough wrapped around labneh with lots of delicious accompaniments. I particularly enjoyed the two non-chocolate desserts.

Throughout most of our meal Michael Solomonov was in and out of the kitchen and chatting with tables (though not with us). Eric Ripert was also dining near our table with three other people, none of whom we recognized. We noted he was eating the lamb.

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Rieux   

I should have noted, we showed up at 4:30 on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend and were fourth in line for the bar.  Had we arrived 5 minutes later we would not have gotten into the first seating of the bar.  We were lucky we did.  We had the lamb shoulder tasting menu with the wine pairings and it was a spectacular meal.  I mean, really spectacular.  Everything was delicious.  The bar staff was engaging and fun to talk to, and did not rush us.  We left around 7, very, very full proclaiming this one of our best meals of 2017 (up there with Frenchie in Paris).  I bought the cookbook, and have since made the hummus, which is much better than the Ottolenghi version from Jerusalem.

In short, if you can't get a reservation, go early, get a seat at the bar.

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Tweaked   
6 hours ago, dracisk said:

the waiter brought an extra dish of a delicious smoky eggplant during the meat course. I wish I could describe the eggplant better. It wasn't baba ganouj, but it tasted like the base of it.

Was it perhaps this dish

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dracisk   
8 minutes ago, Tweaked said:

Was it perhaps this dish.

Maybe, although the eggplant wasn't mashed. All I can remember at this point was the smoky flavor.

16 minutes ago, Rieux said:

In short, if you can't get a reservation, go early, get a seat at the bar.

And if you do get a reservation, don't count on the lamb (although, to be fair, I don't know if it was a totally freak thing that they ran out or if it happens regularly).

ETA: They handed us a menu without the mesibah printed on it, so I'm guessing they run out of the lamb at least semi-regularly.

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DanielK   

If you call, they tell you that they only make a limited number of the lamb shoulders, it commonly sells out during the Saturday dinner rush, and you cannot reserve one. On my weekend Philly trips, we always either dine at Zahav on Friday night, or an early reservation on Saturday.

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dracisk   
7 minutes ago, DanielK said:

If you call, they tell you that they only make a limited number of the lamb shoulders, it commonly sells out during the Saturday dinner rush, and you cannot reserve one. On my weekend Philly trips, we always either dine at Zahav on Friday night, or an early reservation on Saturday.

Darn, I wish I'd known that. It never occurred to me that they might sell out (though in retrospect I can see how they could). We had a late reservation on Saturday.

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DanielK   

For the record, so the next person reading this thread knows, they also don't have the lamb shoulder at all during Philly Restaurant Week, not just not on the RW menu. I got burned by that one once.

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DonRocks   

(Don't forget, you can literally almost walk across the street for dessert at Amada, if a movable feast is your thing - I've done this. And if you stay at Sheraton Sociey Hill, you can walk home, too.)

Screenshot 2017-06-05 at 6.26.39 PM.png

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dracisk   
2 hours ago, DonRocks said:

(Don't forget, you can literally almost walk across the street for dessert at Amada, if a movable feast is your thing - I've done this. And if you stay at Sheraton Sociey Hill, you can walk home, too.)

Screenshot 2017-06-05 at 6.26.39 PM.png

I had no idea Amada was that close, although I've been before (many years ago). I really don't know my Philly geography. We parked at the Sheraton. They offer discounted valet parking for Zahav patrons.

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dracisk   

Weird. The menu on the website now is the one we received when they had run out of the lamb shoulder for the mesibah/party time menu.

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