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Zahav Review

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  • Dirah May 11, 2008 06:00 AM
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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.

            1. ate at zahav tonight and was overall very pleased. Sat at the bar and had a very helpful bartender. We pretty much allowed him to order fpr us. Started off with the 8 salads which overall were forgettable. Onto the hummus. The traditional was better than the one with favas. The pickled labaneh (yoghurt) was great as was the lamb tartare. the haloumi, fried sheepsmilk cheese was awesome with date paste and pine nuts. The flatbread with boiled egg was also nice as was the cauliflower. Perhaps the best part was the housmade laffa, pita bread. That was, until our skewer....a special for the night was Foie Gras. I've never had foie prepared in this method but it was great. Served with a moleasses glaze and grapes and coal roasted. For $20, there were 3 large hunks of foie, each of which seemed like a traditional restaurant sized serving on their own.

              A few set back were some of the beverage availabilities which as explained to us were due to problems with their licensing. With food, 3drinks each, tax and tip, we paid $140 for two people. A bit more than expected but worth it. We couldve done with a few less dishes. Will return.

              1. Went back for a second meal June 21.
                Had a great meal and ate form the $50 4 course meal.
                Started with the hummus and bread then the Salitim.
                My only gripe was that there really is not enough salads for 4 people on the tray, and they need to look into that, maybe 2 of them would be better, but $7 each for a morsel of salad is absurd.
                The warm mezzes were all good, we had the morrocan cigars, thefried halumi cheese,
                and several others, I can't recall
                For the main we shared the whole fiah, branzino, and the chicken, both were very good.
                We had 4 deserts brought out, all of them rather good.
                I had some turkish coffee also.
                Drinks also were intersting, the Lemonana and the sixth borough made with orange and bourbon.
                All in all, a fun place to visit, very relaxing, good vibe and tasty intersting dishes.

                1. Zahav: Philly's most over-rated restaurant!
                  It definately has its good points: nice decor, food is good and some dishes excellent. The thing is, for the price you pay (minimum $100/ couple for a decent meal) you could do so much better in a good Philly BYOB. The chef certainly can cook, providing an interesting array of flavors and textures in pleasing presentations. The annoying part is the way the food is priced and marketed.
                  For example, the "salads" or "salatim" as they call it. This is a collection of several TINY portions of middle-eastern salads. Very well prepared, but max 1-2 tablespoons-worth each. The kicker: when you order it, you get the same amount whther you're a couple, or six diners AND it's still $10 a-head. What restaurant does that?? When we asked the manager why we were given such small salad portions (in a nice way) we got an arrogant, defensive lecture on how the quality of ingredients was top-notch and were made to feel like we didn't really appreciate how fabulous the microscopic samplers were.
                  We were four and all the appetiziers were in portions for three.
                  We got the group special tasting dinner "mesiba" which was $50 a head and...they charged us EXTRA for more bread...come on....we're spending over $200 here..throw in an extra pita...
                  The hummus is probably the best in Philly though and the lamb shoulder is excellent.When the manager came back and asked "how is the lamb" we said "great" and he basically said a version of "I told you so"...insulted at our complaint of small salads.

                  We will probably go back to try it one more time but here's the thing: for that amount, we could eat at Matyson or Little Fish or Marigold Kitchen, eat 3 courses each, get all the bread we desire, adequate portions, bring our own wine and eat food that is just as good, and probably better.
                  So...when it comes time to decide how to spend our hard-earned money it's hard to convince us to go to Zahav. Also, they told us they do not plan on changing their menu which would mean max 2 more visits for us.

                  13 Replies
                  1. re: amiriliano

                    I have eaten at Zahav several times and came away with very different impressions. The portions are small, but it's small plates and when i've ordered a la carte and spent $30 - $40 on food, I've always walked away satisfied, and this is what you would spend at Matyson or Marigold for 3 courses. the difference, i guess, is that those are BYOs. But in an apples to apples comparison (i.e. food only), I think the value at Zahav is the same as those places.

                    When I ate the mesibah, we were all so full that we took home half a lamb shoulder (i do think it's wrong that they charged you for extra bread), and even for $50, i think it's a deal.

                    When were you there? I'm pretty sure they changed the salads so that now you order a small or large, rather than per person, which i think makes more sense. You get like half a dozen of them, so the portions of each are small, but the last time i was there, we did the large and it was plenty for the four of us.

                    We do agree on at least one thing - that is the best hummus in town!

                    1. re: amiriliano

                      I couldn't agree with you more. Israeli street food worth $15 for over $50 a person! I can never in good conscience spend that kind of money on such ordinary preparations and ingredients again.

                      The salads are the biggest scams of them all.

                      1. re: amiriliano

                        My experience at Zahav was similar to Amiriliano's, including the arrogant defensive lecture from the manager. Four of us ordered salad for four, two large portions of hummus, four starters, four meats, an extra bread, and wine. Excellent flavors, but such tiny portions, we were still hungry when we left. Normally we would have stayed for dessert and coffee, but we decided to cut our losses and go to Franklin Fountain for ice cream. It was a happy, and filling, ending to what felt like a stingy meal.

                        1. re: vicarious

                          It seems like the special Thursday menu is the way to go. Mikey Solo can really make some great food (as evidenced by his stellar cuisine at Marigold Kitchen), so it's a shame this is happening with the standard menu.

                          any idea who the manager was? Max Shapiro perhaps?
                          http://blogs.phillynews.com/inquirer/...

                          1. re: vicarious

                            What is it with this Zahav getting all the rave reviews? I feel like it's an emperor has no clothes situation. Me, the girlfriend and two boyfriends went there a couple of weeks ago and spent a lot of money for hardly any food. Are people being taken in by the attitudinal waitstaff, the setting, what?? Sharing a quarter cup of shredded carrots was ridiculous. Stop me before I go on and on...

                            1. re: Notso Picky Eater

                              I am on the same page. Small portions of Israeli street food. Maybe I am spoiled to have had much better for a lot less. I feel like I am being scammed there!

                              1. re: saturninus

                                Count me in. Tell the chef that Israeli food should be full of flavor. I would guess that the three courses that the wife and I ate there contained NO salt or pepper, let alone anything close to "exotic" seasoning. Too much money for too little food and too much mediocrity. I spent the whole night thinking "how did this place earn a spot on the list of hottest restaurants in the country?" Why did they cut my tuna up into cubes and then grill it? Naturally it was overcooked. I can only fathom that the cubing was done to mask the fact that they are not serving never frozen, ungassed, #1 yellowfin tuna loins. And the portion was MAYBE 6 oz.!? Even if they bought sushi grade tuna for $14.00/pound that price is high for 5 or 6 oz. AND they served it with cold mashed potatoes. I don't mean that the potatoes were not hot, they were out of the fridge cold! Disappointing.

                                1. re: saturninus

                                  Where have you had much better for a lot less?

                                  1. re: Buckethead

                                    I had much better food for almost half the price at Ansill last Monday. And the chef there knows where to find the salt and the pepper! She made a better dish with pasta and squid than anything I ate at Zahav in three courses!

                                    1. re: Buckethead

                                      Israel, which I why I said I may be spoiled.
                                      Yes, I know Israel is a long way from Philadelphia BUT there really is no comparison. The quality is infinitely better in Israel and a 1/10 of the price. I'm sure there are many wonderful Israeli restaurants in the US as well.

                                      1. re: saturninus

                                        I'm sure it is much better and cheaper in Israel! But comparing the two isn't really fair. I mean, the pizza is probably better and cheaper in Naples than at Osteria, that doesn't mean that Osteria is ripping people off.

                                        I'm not sure where to start with crispycar's complaints:

                                        "Why did they cut my tuna up into cubes and then grill it?"

                                        Assuming you ordered the skewer (shishlik), it says right on the menu 'grilled over coals', and every time I've been there the servers explain that the large plates are skewers cooked over coals. Did they not do that for you?

                                        "I can only fathom that the cubing was done to mask the fact that they are not serving never frozen, ungassed, #1 yellowfin tuna loins."

                                        I have no idea what grade of tuna they're using, but what would be the point of buying #1 tuna and then grilling it? Most sushi places don't even buy #1. It would be like buying a piece of fantastic beef and then cooking it well-done.

                                        "I had much better food for almost half the price at Ansill last Monday."

                                        I love Ansill, it's my favorite place in the city, but the prices are pretty similar to Zahav. Small plates are $5-$10, large ones $10-$20. Also, the chef at Ansill is David Ansill, not a she.

                                        1. re: Buckethead

                                          Of course, I understand your point. But if I had enjoyed pizza in Naples, I probably would appreciate a restaurant nearby that could come close. All I am saying is that in my opinion Zahav does not. I had posted earlier in this thread about the salad sampler - which was a bore and a complete scam, as well as my miniscule halumi and cauliflower.

                                          Then again, don't bring up Osteria to me either! ;)

                                          I think you just listed the two most over-rated restaurants in Philadelphia IMHO.

                                          1. re: Buckethead

                                            Thanks for reeling me in a little Buckethead. Maybe I was a little harsh. But I was definitely surprised to see my tuna both cubed and well done. Either my server didn't mention the skewer part or I didn't hear it. But no temperature was requested from the server and I assumed that it would be MR or M. Not the worst meal ever but, at least on the night I was there, not top twenty in the U.S. And I did see David check in on Ansill as we were leaving but he was not "manning the range" on that Monday night. I am sure that he deserves a night off and he should feel good about leaving the restaurant in his sous chef's hands. She is top notch!

                              2. Had dinner at Zahav last night. It really was a treat. The only gripe of the night was that we were running late for our reservation, and although opentable informs that there is valet parking, it was not obvious when arriving at the restaurant (according to the hostess the valet parking is general "old city" valet, and not specific to the restaurant...and it's at dock st for interested parties).

                                We started off with the hummus-tahini and salatim. As others have reported, the hummus and bread are wonderful. And they did not charge for extra bread. We took full advantage of the spices and sauces served alongside. Salatim standouts were the beets, Israeli salad, and peppers with yogurt.

                                We then had the crispy haloumi, the fried kibbe and the tunisian salad. Loved the contrast of the salty haloumi with the dates and nuts. Yum. The bulgur and spices in the fried kibbe gave them a nice earthy flavor. The tunisian salad was fine, but nothing out of the ordinary (tuna in olive oil).

                                At this point, the three of us were fairly full, but we had more coming.

                                I had the foie gras skewer, which was fantastic. Silky texture with a sweet glaze and something tangy (tomatoes maybe?) served with. Others had the salmon and the romanian (ground beef, garlic, peppers). The pomogranate glaze was too strong on the salmon. The beef was tasty.

                                For dessert we shared the lemon-poppy seed upside-down cake. It's served with lemon curd and cucumber sorbet. The sorbet is unexpected, and cuts the tartness of the curd nicely.

                                I had a lemonnana to drink. A little too sweet for me, but otherwise refreshing.

                                I cannot wait to go back.

                                1. Zahav is hands down one of my favorite middle eastern restaurants to eat it.
                                  I visited Israel last year, and everytime I have the urge for a taste of Israel i go back.
                                  My mom and I went to Zahav last weekend to try out their restaurant week and it was a GREAT price for all the food we got. By the time dessert came out, I didnt think I could eat anymore. I just found out that they have extended their restaurant week this week, so I made reservations to take some out of town guests there. For anyone who hasnt tried Zahav yet, this is the week to do it. And for everyone who loves Zahav, this is a great way for you to get a real taste of the MANY things on the items. They are doing this tapas style where they just bring everything and put it in the center of the table and everyone shares. I got to taste so many things I have never tried before. No complaints here! Enjoy!

                                  1. Wanted to echo those who have talked about how good the food is here and what a steal the restaurant week menu is. We went the other night and almost everything was outstanding.

                                    Highlights included the salads to begin, especially the eggplant, tomatoes, and beets, a very solid (but not out of the ordinary) hummus with amazing bread, the fried cauliflower with labneh, the grilled halloumi with fig jam and pine nuts (amazing), and the merguez.

                                    Desserts were also quite good.

                                    I also had a fantastic drink with spiced vodka and grapefruit juice.

                                    Service was friendly but not intrusive. The space is beautiful.

                                    I highly recommend trying to get there before RW ends. The food really is quite good and we plan on trying to get back sometime soon.

                                    -M

                                    1. i thought it would be appropriate to have a few snacks at zahav before heading over to the ritz to see waltz with bashir. though restaurant week(s) is ongoing, they let me order a la carte since i was sitting at the bar. my dinner was cheap, i left stuffed, and my wine went really well with my food. granted, i tried nothing new from what i ordered last time... cannot remember the name of the white wine that i had. i had the hummus tahini, which rang up on my bill as a 'small' for $4 though it was anything but small. the cauliflower is $5 and both times i've been, it's been a generous portion too. that cauliflower is lovely and i need to figure out what that sauce is made of! anyone? the food here is great, some items a little steep but i think it's possible to get stuffed for a reasonable amount, too.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: rabidog

                                        Hey, when you figure out that cauliflower sauce, let us all know! It is fantastic.

                                        My husband and I went their for the first time ever during restaurant week and what a feast it was. And the service matched the food - they helped us find a good wine and basically bent over backwards to make sure we had a excellent time.

                                        Now we're definitely going back and pair it with a movie at the Ritz. I'm pushing to go to the movie first so we can linger over dinner!

                                        1. re: rabidog

                                          this is quickly becoming my before-movie place. seeing a 7:30 film, it's perfect to show up at zahav at 6 when there are NO crowds and sit at the bar. i decided to try something (slightly) different this time at the bartender's rec. i had the turkish hummus and the salmon gravlax. i usually get the tahini hummus, and i'll probably go back to the tahini hummus... it's creamier, less greasy, more flavorful i think. the salmon gravlax didn't taste like salmon at all, which is probably a good thing because it's not my favorite fish. it was very very salty, which went well with a spread of something that tasted like fig, but i don't remember seeing that on the menu and i can't remember what it was. but if you don't LOVE salt, this is probably not the dish for you. i adore salt, and it was borderline overwhelming had my wine not gone so well with it.

                                          my one (small) complaint is i wish they wouldn't bring all the dishes out at once - especially when one dines alone. had i ordered more than two things i would have felt like a real pig with all that food in front of me! plus there is too much opportunity for food to get cold. i will make sure to specify this next time.

                                          service is always lovely and attentive here.

                                        2. I was at Zahav over the weekend and they have a new menu option which basically gives you their restaurant week deal all year round. For $36 per person you get the the salads and hummus (they seemed to just increase the portions of hummus and laffa for the size of our group), and two meze, one skewer, and one dessert per person. Of course we all just shared everything, but by the end of it I couldn't imagine wanting to order more. Zahav was one of my favorite places in the city before, but I didn't go all that often because it was a bit of a splurge. For $36 per person for all that (great!) food, I'll probably get back there more often.