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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.

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  1. 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!

    1. I love the place but agree that the small plates can be a bit too small and hard to share. The small plates at Amada and Tinto, for example, I found much easier to carve up.

      1 Reply
      1. re: barryg

        lunch at zahav????? must have been during restaurant week???? not the best week for rating i don't think.....i, for one, LOVE zahav!! when my husband and i go we do order LARGE hummous and LARGE salatim to start so there is plenty to share!
        hope you give it another try

      2. 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.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Buckethead

          +1 bucket!! noise has never bothered me....and i agree....start small and continue ordering thru the evening as you find the things you love....it helps to make the meal last longer as well!!
          love love love zahav

        2. 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.)

          2 Replies
          1. re: sockii

            Have you asked the restaurant? They are best qualified to answer, and in my experience they are good at dealing with dietary constraints.

            1. re: barryg

              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)
              Watermelon Salad
              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)

          2. 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.

            1. I love the service at Zahav! The staff just go out of their way to make your experience perfect. But what really surprised me was when the manager stopped at our table and asked not only what was good about our meal, but what the restaurant could do better. I eat out alot and that has never happened before. In all honesty, very few of the dishes wowed me (although i would definitely go back for the crispy haloumi or fried cauliflower - and i hate cauliflower!), but maybe thats because i'm still learning about that type of cuisine. It was the overall experience that would bring me back there again.

              1 Reply
              1. re: SnowCat

                The tasting menu with the lamb shoulder is amazing. The portions are incredibly generous. I believe they gave us every dessert on the menu and we couldn't come close to finishing them. The hummus we had in Israel was incredible, Zahav's is comparable to what you would find in Israel. That in itself is worth a trip for me. Oh, and that lamb, too. I always ask for a quiet table when I make reservations on Opentable.

              2. Also I should add that if the noise was your main problem, they have a smaller dining room off the main room that is much quieter, I'm sure they would reserve you a table in there if you specifically asked for it.

                1. Wife and I are right with you. The hummus(es), laffa and pickles are fantastic. The cocktails are also great. But the hot dishes are not only small but, on average, aren't that exciting. One way to think of it is that Zahav can be one of the best cheap early dates in the city: if you go for happy hour and get just cold salads and hummus, you can have a great meal and great drinks, in a very nice room, for not much money.

                  11 Replies
                  1. re: GDSwamp

                    we have actually gone for happy hour and had drink specials...and hummous and bread and salatim and then head to amada for a few treats!!! makes for a fun progressive dinner

                      1. re: GDSwamp

                        Thanks to all for making this such an interesting thread. Making Zahav the start of'
                        a fun progressive dinner sounds great!

                        My take home from the thread is to reinforce that I'm just not a small plates person.
                        Seagulls expressed this well:" hard to share a winner, and when you get a loser,
                        you feel extra disappointed."

                        Also, it wasn't that Zahav was extremely noisey, it's more that my need for relative
                        quiet in a restaurant has increased over time. Now, it's very important to me

                        1. re: Bashful3

                          I bet Zahav is a lot like Amada. If you don't like small plates, you probably won't like Amada either (that topic seemed to pop up a while back). But if youever try the lamb at Zahav, there is nothing small about that!

                    1. re: GDSwamp

                      Hah, my problem is I can never eat restaurant-prepared hummus (that damned garlic reaction of mine) and yet that's what most people say is the shining star at Zahav, along with the lamb. Which I have emailed to ask them about and am waiting to hear, as I do have some folks I'd love to try the place with for that (I loooove good lamb), but only if they can reasonably accommodate. So we'll see.

                      1. re: sockii

                        The haloumi cheese with figs and the fried cauliflower are not exactly bad. I bet they could do up a batch of hummus without the garlic for your group...

                        1. re: bluehensfan

                          Oh dear. I thought the fried haloumi cheese would be a rare delicacy, and it proved
                          to be a big disappointment. I had also heard folks rave about the fried cauliflower,
                          but found that ok, but underwhelming. No doubt they would do up a batch of non-garlic hummus upon request.

                          I thought this was a quality place with its act together, but just not right for me, mostly
                          for the small plates concept.

                          1. re: Bashful3

                            I am a big fan of Zahav but I never understood the fuss over the cauliflower at all. One of my least favorite dishes there.

                            1. re: barryg

                              What else is good in your opinion seeing that we are going again soon? I will have to have the haloumi but can do without the cauliflower this time.

                              1. re: bluehensfan

                                We were recently at Zahav and thought the sable and the chicken livers were amazing.

                                1. re: bluehensfan

                                  Almost everything else :) I haven't been there since the winter, but I really liked the sable, the brussel sprouts, and the kibbe naya. And of course the hummus.

                      2. Love Zahav, the people, the place, the food. With that said it is understandable that some would not like It. Good thoughts about a progressive dinner if a change in venue and/or cuisine adds interest at times. We usually find enough variations in the menu. But an interesting idea, indeed. The small plates issue is easily solved as noted here by others. We love the tasting small plates concept, like it order another. We have ordered some items which when presented we thought; too small a plate! They could provide just a bit more quantity on some items. We think the value for quality it very good. Match to another CC regular plates good quality restaurant and one can come out quite nicely ordering additional items one likes. Just love having Zahav in Philly.

                        1. I'm visiting Philly this week and went to Zahav. It has an interesting menu, but for me everything just missed. The hummus was whipped into a soft, mousse like consistency. The spices on some of the salatim were too strong (e.g., way too much cloves on the carrots). I had the haloumi cheese, but it was too chewy. The cauliflower was bitter. Whatever lamb dish I had was too salty like bacon. And dessert was disappointing. The jammed some chocolate into a kataifa, making it too dense and overwhelmed all the other flavors. It could be a very good restaurant, but everything seemed just a bit off for me.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: plasticman

                            Oh man...we ate at Zahav last weekend and I was impressed by everything we tried. Everything we ate was fabulous, even better than our last visit. The bread and hummus were delicious, the salatim were all yummy, especially the eggplant and the carrots. We also had the haloumi with figs that was fantastic along with a deliciuos take on matzo ball soup and a number of other small plates. Of course the lamb shoulder was the highlight of our meal. It was moist, perfectly prepared, and was the perfect relude to three fabulous desserts. We can't wait to return although I honestly still feel full from our meal! :)

                            1. re: bluehensfan

                              I wonder if we were there at the same time, I also revisited it over the weekend and it was as great as ever. Some standout dishes included the sweetbreads (sesame crusted, with baba ghannouj made from zucchini and corn), the soup you mentioned (Gondi), and the grilled chicken livers. The sweetbreads in particular were maybe the best sweetbread dish I've ever had.

                              Dessert was great too, in particular the halvah mousse. I could eat that again right now.

                              1. re: Buckethead

                                Our dinner was great. We went last Friday night and left all of the choices save for the haloumi that we had to have with our excellent server, James, who brought out some great dishes (like the soup) that we would have not thought to order on our own. We did not have the chicken livers or the sweetbreads though but had the house smoked sable over challah with an egg yolk you puncture at the table (that didn't sound right!), fried kibbe, the aforementiond things, and three great desserts including the almond semifreddo, some type of parfait, and my favorite which had a coconut macaroon as part of it.