Am I alone here: underwhelmed by Zahav?
The plus stuff: service warm, helpful. Decor attractive and lively vibe. Laffa bread perfect for
accompanying super humus. Tasty pickle assortment on table; had to ask for more.
Negatives: Very noisy, hard to talk, and this is food that begs for conversation. Quite dark, tables
close together. Handicap access entrance hard to find. location confusing.
And now, my rant: while the salatim were tasty and varied, sharing such small portions amongst four people is not relaxing. The really great tastes were just teases. Some of the small plates
were just plain disappointing, like the branzino, which was dry and tasteless. Others were yummy, but so tiny, who wants to share--I loved the Merguez sausage balls, accompanied by a tiny cast iron
skillet with a poached egg yolk atop something red and tasty. But, I had to share, and it was
I'm sure small plates aren't my thing. Too many misses amid the hits. Quality food, but noise level was the kiss of death to the whole experience.
Nope! Not Alone anymore. My daughter and I had a "date" there for lunch. Going "to the city" is big deal. We did not have negatives. But definetly found out we are not small plate people. We confirmed that with a dinner trip to Distrito. Portions too small to enjoy, really taste and hard to share a winner. when you get a loser you feel extra disappointed. AND they are not Cheap. We had to order "seconds" at Disitro and left with plenty of room, barely enuf cash, to spare for Capogiro ice cream YUM!
If you get a small plate that you love, order another one! They're not expensive. The noise level at Zahav has never bothered me, it's a large room with a lot of people talking but I've never said "Ow, my ears" or had trouble hearing/being heard by the server the way I have at, say, Barbuzzo. It's no secret that Zahav is my favorite restaurant in the city, it gets better every time I go.
I'm not really a "small plates" fan myself. Always feels like I'm paying way more money for way less food, and awkward situations with timing/size of plates when sharing or dining with others (some plates being much smaller than others, so how much to really order? Is something sharable or just a single bite? Most waitstaff not helpful beyond trying to get you to build up a big bill right away anyway...and if the place is super-trendy and busy they don't want you to linger and keep ordering more if you're still hungry vs. turning the table.)
But this is probably more a general Philly restaurant rant of mine than one specifically about Zahav, which I have yet to try (I have a bad raw garlic intolerance which Middle Eastern food almost always sets off. I would like to try them if some could recommend dishes I could be safe to try, but every time I've asked I seem to be met with silence.)
Actually I did recently and was told the following would be safe. Does seem like I'd have to leave a lot out, so I'm wondering what might be recommended as the best to try - I do love chicken livers so was leaning toward that as a definite.
Our current menu is attached. The items with no garlic are:
Daily selection of salads (except the cabbage, beets and fennel)
Crispy Haloumi (leaving off the mustard greens)
Fried Sweetbreads (without the baba ganoush and vinaigrette)
Tuna Basturma (with turnips only)
Kibbe Naya (without black harissa)
Grilled Chicken Livers (without barley mujadara)
Spiced Eggplant (without greens)
Crispy Branzino (without legumes, beans, tomato)
Funny, I think of Zahav as one of the quieter restaurants. It has a nice lively buzz, but never hard to hear. I have often entertained business clients here because the meal is great and it is always possible to talk. Maybe it's a lot worse on weekends? I also don't think of it as dark, and I have bad eyesight so I'm always aware of this.
Personally, I love the small plates concept in general, and Zahave in particular. I love getting a little taste of this and a little taste of that with the salatim. I think of it more as a palate teaser than a substantial component of the meal. With other dishes, if I know it is something I love and will want to share, we'll order 2-3 servings for the table (always order multiple cauliflowers, for example). For other things, that only I like, or that I want to try and see how it is, I'll get one. I always leave full and happy, with lots of yummy tastes in my mouth.