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May 11, 2008 06:00 AM

Zahav Review

You always take a chance with a restaurant the first Saturday night after opening. Well, based on the results, the risk proved to be worthwhile. When we arrived at 7:30 pm, the place was crowded (but not uncomfortably packed) and we were promptly seated. The decor was sparse but cool and the bar had about 10-12 seats. There were a number of hightop tables near the bar and there is a long bar on the back wall facing the kithcen were diners sat. The open kitchen makes the scene somewhat loud, but not too overpowering.

It took a while for our waiter to find us, but he was very upbeat and engaging. As we watched other diners, we could tell that the management was still working out the kinks with the service, but they were on the floor and waorking hard. We were surprised that the wine list was so small until we were told that the owner had had problems with the liquor license which had only been recently resolved. The wines were reasonably priced with no bottle over $55, but I had hoped to see some of the interesting wines now being produced in Israel and the region. I'd suspect that the beverage program will only improve with time and as they work out difficulties with sourcing wine in Pennsylvania

As expected the menu focuses on the food of the various cultures which makeup Israel with, thankfully, an overwhelming bias to the sephardic cultures. With but a few fish dishes, the menu predominantly focuses on vegetarian dishes and the traditional kosher meat styles (fish, chicken, lamb and beef). (Note: Zahav is not designed to comply with kosher dietary laws).

The approach to the menu is more akin to tapas-style and designed for sharing. There's a cold salad course designed by the chef in which he selects approx. 8 different salads - we had pickled cabbage, beets, pepper with yougurt, bulgarian peppers, white bean, tabouleh and others I can't remember. The lafta served with the salads was excellent, albeit at an extra charge. Each of the salads were delicious and gave you some insight into the variety of flavors we'd experience over the evening. We did noticed that other diners received different salads than we received - not sure if the selections changed based on availability or because the diners next to us were Israeli and maybe had an "in" on the good stuff.

We then selected 3 hot appetizers - fried cauliflower in a labaneh yougurt sauce, chicken frekah and the morrocan cigars. The cigars (ground beef wrapped in phyllo and fried) had a great texture, but the promised clove and harissa flavors seemed to slight for my taste. The cauliflower and frekah rocked. Super flavorful. There was a rabbit appetizer making it rounds which left us with food envy. The folks next to us really liked theirs.

For the skewer main, we opted for the leg of lamb with saffron rice. Cooked perfectly medium rare and delicious.

At this point, we had the choice of continuing on with possibly another small plate, but opted for dessert. The honey cake with turkish coffee ice cream hit the spot and a copy of extra strength turkish coffee finished the night off. With three drinks, the bill was $95.

The only real gripe we had was the pacing of the meal was slightly off. The word from our server was that the food comes out whenever it is done so things my not come out in order. That said, it was nice not to be rushed and had the food been thrown at us we would have been done in less than hour.

The food is very good and a welcome addition to the Philly food scene. There's really nothing else like it in the city and we have reason to believe that the few kinks we had with the experience will be worked out in short order.

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  1. WE ate at Zahav Thursday night. We had four salads which we selected, not the chef -- the bulgarian peppers (very good), the white beans, the twice-cooked eggplant and one other I can't remember. The waiter was very patient and kind in explaining the menu, as was the manager, Although we did think some of the items could have used an on-menu translation, as is common in Italian and other ethnic restaurants (i.e., gamberas usually have a line underneath explaining that they are shrimp). We had the hummous, which was very good but not unusual. We also had a bowl of Yemenite soup which was also good but not unusual. We followed that with 2 skewers, the lamb that Dirah had and the chicken skewers. They were very well cooked -- still moist and juicy -- but in our opinion way too salty. What we didn't like was that they brought our skewers while we were eating the salads. When we asked them to hold the skewers until we finished our appetizers, they took them back and explained that the food comes as it is ready -- but we don't know where they would have put them on the table! The bread (lafta?) served with the hummous was outstanding.

    We didn't have any of the fried things -- we don't normally eat fried food -- and we try to avoid salt as we are older and have high blood pressure. We had hoped to find a place where we could regularly dine after movies at the Ritz 5, but I think the sodium level is way too high for us.

    1. I went last night and found the food quite pedestrian, which is fine, but not for the price. Portions are not expensive but very small. The salad sampler was boring, nothing stood out taste wise - I found the okra and white beans inedible. The cabbage slaw, tabouleh and carrots were good but uninteresting. The best salads were the beet slaw and twice cooked eggplant - but still nothing special.

      We ordered two small dishes, and they were SMALL. 4 fried cauliflower (the best part of the meal) and fried halumi cheese (good, but halumi cheese is always good, although it wasn't warm enough).

      My dessert was actually quite terrible. It was described as layers of phyllo dough with honey I believe. Perhaps it wasn't cooked right? It looked as though it should have been crisp but it was just warm and odd tasting.

      1. Visited Zahav and Ate at the kitchen bar on saturday night. Loved it, except we waited for 10 minutes to be waited on and i had to say something to the maitre d. He was very apologetic and after that we had good service.
        The food is delicious.
        Started with hummus and excellent homemade flat bread.
        Also had the salatim tower, some of which was great some not so tasty.
        Had the fried cawliflower which was yummy.
        Then the lamb skewers which were very tender, but did not like the bed of saffron rice, it was gewey and tasteless.
        My wife has the salmon which was great.
        Had 2 cocktails which I loved . The Lemonanna, a kind of mojito-like drink, and the 6th borogh, a martini made with bourbon and orange bitters.
        I would have liked to see an israeli beer on the menu, like Maccabi Beer to lend some authenticity to the alcohol selection.
        For desert we split a phelof pastry tower with dark chocolate and yoghurt icecream.
        Also would have liked an israeli chopped salad choice, no bread basket either.
        By the way the Chef M Solomonov gave us a complementry tasting of the Leg of lamb, which was stunningly delicious. It's available to share for as part of a four course meal for $50 each.
        Great addition to Philly restaurant scene

        1. I've been to Zahav a couple times now and I think it's excellent. The price is like that at many other small-plates type places: it can get expensive quickly depending on what you want to taste. On the other hand, two people can split a hummus, a couple mezze plates (the kibbe naya and crispy halloumi are two of the best I had), and a couple skewers and pay $50 plus drinks, tax, and tip.

          1. Went with a few friends a couple weeks ago... other than some serious hostess attitude (rectified by the manager) and a big snafu of the waiter putting all of a neighboring table's food on our bill (which meant that we spent most of the night insisting that we didn't order things that arrived, and we had to fight to get the salads we actually ordered), found the food to be pretty tasty. We found that we didn't need to order as much as the waiter suggested to be overly full. Highlights were the hummous, fried kibbe, and chicken skewers.

            My only issue was with the salads that you order "per person." Our salads for four were exactly the same size as the neighboring tables salads for two (we know since they came to our table), but we paid $10 more per person for them.