Anyways, my evening got off to a rather embarrassing start. I've got a idiot for a brain and I managed to mis-remember the time, one hour later than it actually was. A frantic call and a few very sheepish apologies later, I sat down at the table late, but my dining compatriots were gracious and once we ordered, our minds (and cameras) were focused on the topic at hand.
We all ordered cocktails. I went with the Whiskey harif, (pepper-infused whiskey, orange juice, campari), which if you’re like me and like your drinks to go down not smoothly, but with a kick and few punches to your throat, was fantastic. There was a good pepper flavor, as well as secondary herbs and spices from the campari.
As for the food, we all went with the tasting menu so we could try more dishes.
Now, my experience with Israeli and Middle Eastern food has been fairly limited, but I’ve had some renditions that have been at one extreme of presenting some extremely challenging flavors (like stuffed grape leaves, oof) or at the other extreme of overly-simplifying their spices to be more accessible. Here, it was impressive that there was a level of accessibility in all of their dishes and yet they still maintained an impressive variety of flavors, textures and spices.
Hummus & Laffa Flat-bread
Salatin - 8 salad sampler - fennel, tabouli salad pomegranate, double-roasted eggplant, carrots. Can't recall the details of each, but a great variety of flavors and textures.
Crispy haloumi - cypriotic sheep’s milk cheese, dates, pine nuts - Loved this stuff. A fried cheese that for me had the initial bounce of mozarella, and the more lingering of something more familiar, say a cheddar, except with a lingering flavor and its own unique taste. It was paired with a fig sauce, which was a nice combo of savory (cheese) and sweet.
Moussaka - kashkaval cheese, eggplant, tomato - Really interesting stuff. To me almost tasting like a mushroom in texture and taste.
Fried cauliflower - labaneh with chive, dill, mint and garlic - Interestingly, not as crunchy as you might expect from looking at it (and from hearing "fried cauliflower"). Covered with some sort of batter that masked much of the cauliflower taste. I was intrigued by its somewhat still moist texture.
Jerusalem grill - grilled duck hearts, dirty rice, pine nuts - A wow. The first time I've had hearts that hasn't had that rubbery texture. This was like eating a juicy, moist piece of beef, with flavor of heart. I really liked this
The Farsi (Left) - lamb trio: leg, rib & tongue, artichokes - The rib was lovely, very tender and flavorful, because of a good amount of fat. Other lamb pieces were more gamey, but decent.
Monsieur Merguez - house-made merguez, cous cous, matbucha
The Bulgarian - ground beef, lamb, cumin, rice and beans - A very satisfying combo of beef and lamb, topped with the charred carbon grill flavor.
Pine Nut Tart - Honey, Whipped Labaneh - Pine nuts were surprisingly soft, almost with a cooked, but slightly crunchy bean texture. The tart was mostly dominated by the flavor of the creme filling, which was something quite familiar but I couldn't place. All in all, the tart wasn't overly sweet and was paired with a labaneh, a moderately tart yogurt, which was an eye-opening combination. I liked this as well.
Zahav has an interior that exudes open space, with tall ceilings, an open kitchen and its elevated location, overlooking the cobble-stoned street and Ritz 5 cinema below, and despite it raining outside, it was a warm and relaxed atmosphere inside, that was great for a dinner like ours. All in all, I can see why there has been buzz over Zahav. This was a great dinner: good food, good portion-sizes, a very comforting atmosphere and solid service, accommodating our gluten-free dining friend without issue (I will note, though, that the gluten-free dessert selection was very slim pickings indeed).
I'm really glad to have had the chance to chat with my fellow Philly food bloggers, especially over a good meal. Thanks again Lauren!
237 St James Pl Philadelphia, PA 19106 (Map)
($Mediterranean / Middle Eastern, $Philadelphia, $Recommended)