Thursday, August 21, 2008

Zahav



Wade's Take:
I don’t know how to write about Israeli food. Its flavors, spices and cooking processes are pretty alien to me. But I do know how to eat it… and love it.

August found all of us in the PFB crew at Zahav, the fairly new (and very much critically acclaimed) Israeli restaurant in Society Hill.

My first taste of Zahav came through the Lemonnana, a bourbon, muddled mint, lemon verbena, and fresh lemon drink. It drank easier than a mojito, and was twice as refreshing as a glass of lemonade.

We had a salads course of eight small pickled, marinated and finely diced items in stacked metal cradles. Mainly vegetables, they did effectively whet my appetite for more and prepare me for some of the flavors we’d experience that night. Outside of the eggplant, though, I found most dishes to be a bit too salty for my liking.

We all shared our courses with one another, and the dishes that crossed our plates kept getting better and better. The three dishes I ordered proved excellent.

First was the basturma… scallions, air-cured beef, and garlic. It was my favorite of the night. The meats were rich and dark, rolled and served on a wooden platter. The combination of the cured meat and its toppings was ideal – pulling traces of both pepper and the tang of the scallions.

The chicken freekah had smoky, simpler flavors that worked well with the other dishes. The roasted almonds, in particular, were almost a palate cleanser in between bites of the other foods being passed around.

Last and most spectacular was the Jerusalem grill – comprised of chicken livers and sweetbreads. For those that don’t know, sweetbreads are the thymus gland of lamb, beef or pork (the thymus gland produces the helpful and hardy T cells). This dish had the best chicken livers I’ve had thus far in life (and I have had some incredible chicken liver dishes – thanks mom!). The livers were dusted in a light spice. They were tender and crumbled under light pressure from my fork. The sweetbreads were a heavenly white and overall great specimens. The full flavor of the livers worked well with the gentler flavors of the sweetbreads.

Turkish coffee was my final course. It was the best I’ve had. The deliciouso-sludge was naturally sweet and went down easily. This review was written some 4 hours later at home, at 1:30 am, as I still ride on my caffeine buzz. The Turkish coffee is well worth being a bit bleary eyed at work tomorrow.

Zahav has an open, conversational atmosphere. There are lots of warm brown tones on the walls and large windows with an expansive view of Society Hill.

The service was excellent, and our waiter was genuine and well-informed. Despite what I had read about lackluster service on other reviews of Zahav, we were very pleased with the service.

And am I feeling a little high and mighty and positively biased about the place because we were being photographed for Food and Wine and Esquire the whole time? Yes. Yes I am. Look for us in the December issues (perhaps), over-emoting and enjoying our tasty Israeli foods.

3 out of 4 paparazzi.

Guest Blogger Melissa Ross' Take:
I was honored to be a guest reviewer at this month’s Philly Foodie outing. When Jess said we were going to Zahav, I was excited since I had heard and read good things about it. Well, it certainly lived up to its reputation.

Since the menu was designed for sharing, we all ordered something different and created our own “tasting menu.” I started with the Jerusalem cocktail which consisted of prosecco and sabra fruit. Although it was good, it didn’t excite my taste buds. My favorite libation was actually Jess’s Israeli Salad Martini, which literally tasted like a salad. It was salty with a refreshing twist.

Our first course included of a variety of Middle Eastern salads, the eggplant salad being my favorite. I certainly went back for second and third spoonfuls. Being that we were at a Middle Eastern restaurant, we had to try one of their hummus creations. We decided on the unhealthiest option of all, the Turkish Hummus, with butter, grilled garlic, lemon and cumin. The consistency was unlike traditional hummus, it reminded me more of a mashed potato texture, but none the less, it was delish.

About halfway through our meal, our server mentioned there was a photographer on the premise taking pictures for Food and Wine Magazine. Once we spotted him, we noticed he was taking some pictures of our table. In my secret fantasy of being a celebrity, I chatted up the photographer and told him that we were fans of Food and Wine and if he needed some extra shots, we would be happy to pose for him. It turns out the pictures are also being used for Esquire Magazine.

With hopes of appearing in a nationally syndicated mag, came the hot Mezze course. I ordered the Yemenite Soup, with chicken broth, Yemenite curry, and potatoes. I enjoyed Dave’s fried cauliflower and seafood stew more than my own choice, but that is the loveliness of the small plate trend…lots to share and taste.

For our last course, I ordered “The Galil,” a safe choice of baby eggplant, tehina, pistachios and rice. Again, it certainly didn’t disappoint, but was not a standout creation. I tried Wade’s “Jerusalem Grill” a savory combination of chicken livers and sweetbreads. Who knew that chicken livers taste just as good before they go in the food processor for the perennial Jewish holiday favorite, Chopped Liver? And lucky enough for me I already had two drinks, so it didn’t faze me when Dave and Wade mentioned that the sweetbread was animal thymus. It actually had a very nice savory texture to it. But by far, Dave’s pick of the “Moroccan Pastilla,” the delish dish of rabbit, prunes, and almonds in a sort of phyllo dough wrap, was my favorite of the night.

About this time, the photographer came over and asked Jess and me to talk and smile a lot. Dave and Wade needn’t worry about acting, as they would be out of focus. I hope my friendliness and the fact that I was wearing a cute outfit, influenced the photographer to pick our table for Esquire’s feature of the restaurant. Check out the December issue of Esquire and hopefully you’ll see our unrecognizable faces in a picture where the bar behind us in the focal point. I believe the Food and Wine Magazine feature is December as well, but since it will only be plate shots, I wasn’t paying attention to the timeline as much. At least you’ll know we were there when the pictures were taken.

Overall, I give it 4 out of 4 pita breads. The food was creative and the sharing option allowed enough culinary variety that you are sure to find something you love with each course. Having been to Israel, the decor and ambience was authentic. But really, the best part of the dining experience was the company. I hope they’ll invite me back again.

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