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Sep 9, 2012 09:50 AM

Zahav chef's counter reports?

I know the public reservations only recently started, but just wondering if there are any reports as of yet. Scored an Oct 27 reservation, and just looking to build the anticipation, I guess...

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  1. Gloat a little. 32 seats a month. Aren't you lucky?

    1. Reviving this thread because I'm interested in hearing from anyone who has done the chef's table yet. Also, comment on whether you opted for beverage pairing and how that worked for you.

      2 Replies
      1. re: famdoc

        I meant to update this thread with my experience a lot sooner... I literally tried 3 times, 1 browser crash and 2x intervention by a 14-month-old "editor" killed the posts. In the interim, my memory has faded a bit, but I'll recall what I can. Excuse the more or less random ordering of various comments.

        First, I guess I'll start off by saying - yes, with 32 seats a month it's somewhat of a pain to get reservations... But most of us set our alarms to get up 5 days a week - so just set you alarm for 11:50AM the next 1st of the month, write our your email, be somewhat flexible in giving a couple of dates, and hover over that "send" button until the clock flips to noon. If you are too late, try again next month. It really is a phenomenal value for the cost. I'm sure they could easily charge 25%-30% more and still book it solid and have people walking away happy - but they're probably being very smart in using this just as much as a hype/buzz generating tool than for revenue - the extra grand or so a month they could charge is a pittance compared to the marketing angle.

        Overall... the menu was either 11 or 12 courses - I don't recall exactly and I believe there is variation from night to night. The portions were on par with what I'd expect for a ~7 course menu, so it was quite a bit of food. Expect to be there for ~3 hours. I've only been there once before, for Tayim, nor am I an expert on Israeli cuisine, but they seem to use the chef's counter to push their normal boundaries and creativity. While that's generally the case with any tasting menu, given their normally very narrow cuisine, it's noticed more. Point being, if you've dined here before/often, don't necessarily expect "more of the same" - for better or for worse. Case in point, our server said while they aren't certified kosher, their normal menu tries to adhere to those guidelines - and the first course was deep fried bay scallops (shellfish being a kosher no-no).

        Menu highlights... carrot soup w/ gnocchi - not a pureed carrot soup, but clear-broth, extremely earthy, intensely flavorful. I never get excited about soup, but this blew me away. Grilled halmoui cheese w/ quince (it was supposed to be served w/ foie gras, which would have made it even better, but my wife objects and it's easier to along...) was amazing. Fried romanesco... I don't remember the exact preparation any longer, but it was also mind-blowing.

        Misses... Keep in mind with 11-12 courses, there will be some that don't appeal as much, so "misses" is relative... early course of sliced radishes that didn't taste much more than near-raw radishes with some butter. First dessert course of apple sorbet in a very strong pool of alcohol - I don't like an alcohol taste in my desserts, in general, and this was overwhelming, actual sorbet was good, however. Main red meat course was a rib-eye, it was actually very flavorful, included in the "not so hot" section for me simply because it wasn't very creative/imaginative compared to the rest of the meal - but I generally don't order steak when going out as I consider it somewhat "boring". Someone else could easily put this in the "hits".

        Pairing - we did elect to go with the pairing... There was one course w/ a non-alcoholic pairing (an amazing house-made ginger ale) and I believe one course that did not have one (intentional omission or a flub, I don't know). Doing the math, that's 9-10 drinks, all at least a half pour, some approaching a full pour. So... we were pretty "loose" by the end of the night. Ran everywhere from champange, cocktails, hard cider, sherry, wine of course... Alcohol excites me much less than food, so I'm not as good a judge on quality here, but I don't think you can beat the price point, and would not hesitate to recommend getting the pairing.

        Service... attentive, but not cloying or pretentious, and importantly (to us) - fun. The chef's counter did get special attention, but the overall "attitude" (i.e., heavy on the good food, light on the "frump") is similar to what I recall as a normal diner. We were going for our 2nd anniversary, which I mentioned when confirming the reservation. They noted and remembered it, which was a nice touch - including Solomonov who came over and greeted everyone at one point during the meal.

        Atmosphere... At first, it seemed strange sitting with our backs to a very busy and lively dining room, but that faded quickly and left a sense of privacy, even if it was false. It was interesting peeking into the kitchen for a bit, but honestly that didn't last too long. For any going that's interested in "star gazing", solomonov mostly was manning the oven for the laffa and doing some QC, generally out of line of sight from the counter.

        One of the best surprises for us was at the end of the meal, when we were sent home with passionfruit jelly candies. I mentioned before this was for our second anniversary - we went to Hawaii for our honeymoon and passionfruit was one of our "things" we came away with since neither of us really had a good sample prior to going. For our first anniversary I ordered some homemade passionfruit jam from one bed and breakfast we stayed at, I was too late this year, but low and behold, Zahav came through - very interesting coincidence.

        In conclusion... even if scheduling is inconvenient... do what you need to in order to get there. Despite the "misses" I wrote about, it's still one of the best meals I've had, significantly outclassing more expensive options in the city (*cough* vetri *cough*).

        1. re: bsims76

          It turns out that, despite not being able to reserve seats at the counter two months in a row, we were the beneficiaries of a cancellation and were able to enjoy the counter meal with our dear friends a few weekends back. We chose to do the pairings and had a very pleasant pre-meal strategy session with the beverage manager, so each of us got exactly what we wanted. The meal was a tremendous value, a delicious feast and an enjoyable evening for us. You can expect to be eating for more than three hours and served incredible surprises from start to finish. You will have a server who will be completely attentive to you throughout the meal. We had a very similar experience to you on all counts, including the visit from Michael, who was only too happy to answer questions and make sure we were happy. Two of us traveled from NYC for this meal (let me be truthful: we combined a trip to the Barnes with this dinner, so it was a day that delighted all senses) and, suffice it to say, although we have some of the world's best chef's tables here, Zahav's is unique and worth the trip.

      2. Happy to report that a year later, trip #2 was just as good as trip #1. I was somewhat concerned about there being - if not exact repeats of dishes - somewhat of a similar theme. But was pleasantly surprised that from start to finish, it was almost 100% in a different direction than last year - but just as good.

        Highlights... Lamb "meatballs" with various radishes (the lamb more than the radishes). A savory bread pudding with (I think) gouda, served with roasted carrots - earthy umami-bomb. Rabbit tortellini was just divine. Dessert - the best doughnut I've ever had, and probably will ever have - made with challah dough, filled with apple compote, simple coating of cinnamon sugar, served with a dipping sauce eerily reminiscent of "fruity pebbles milk".

        Pacing seemed a bit slower than last time, we were there almost 4 hours. Not a bad thing, however, as it allowed a bit more time to "recover" in between courses. Even so, both of us were too full to finish the main, two very generous slices of duck breast (although miraculously made room for the doughnut!).

        We did the beverage pairing again, seemed a bit less inspired and plentiful than last time around, but still a great value.

        All around, service was just as good as last time - Michael Solomonov came over several times to check in, which was appreciated.

        So... all in all, still very, very, very much recommended!

        1. Four of us had the chance to dine for the first time at Zahav's exclusive Kitchen Counter this past Saturday, and it was certainly one of the more unique restaurant experiences it is possible to have in Philly.

          The 11 courses were uniformly excellent, providing an interesting mix of traditional and creative, Israeli and not so Israeli. I'm going to post photos below of everything we tried, but I didn't take detailed notes and so it is probably not worth my attempting to accurately describe everything.

          Service was well-paced and personable, attentive but not over-bearing. Chef Michael Solomonov was in the house, and despite appearing to be very busy taking care of the packed restaurant, he came out to chat with us several times (and we were lame enough to ask for his autograph!).

          Amusingly, I mentioned to Chef Michael that I had attended Le Virtu's infamous 40-course La Panarda feast (recently profiled in the Washington Post). So, apparently inspired, he went back into the kitchen and changed up the dumpling soup we were supposed to have into an off-the-cuff dish of fantastic pan-fried dumplings (so good, one of our number spent at least 5 minutes scraping the delicious fond off the bottom of the skillet they were served in).

          Amazingly, the counter menu completely changes from week to week, and has absoultely nothing to do with what is served in the rest of the restaurant (well I guess the hummus and laffa are in common, but ours came with fried lamb tongue). So you inevitably feel like you are in a little world by yourself (despite the fairly loud restaurant behind you), enjoying things the poor regular patrons only dream about (well I guess they did get the famous lamb shoulder and we didn't).

          The standout dish for me was the diced beets served with some flavored yogurt, salmon roe and chives... very different from, but on par with, the famous beet "steak" at The Farm & Fisherman. Unfortunately I was so distracted by how great it tasted, I forgot to photograph it!

          I also particularly liked the beverage pairings (which represented a lot of alcohol, so be forewarned), and I thought they were very well matched with the food, and creatively diverse, ranging from cocktails to wine, beer, madeira, sherry, and some delicious mint tea.

          I will say that although the high counter seating is fairly comfortable, it is a long meal and a little more padding in the seats would be appreciated.

          I didn't find the reservation too challenging to get, even for 4 people (and there are only 4 seats at the counter). It is no longer done by e-mail, but at exactly 12 Noon on the first of each month you can make a reservation via the Zahav website. Of the 32 seats available each month (4 each at 7:30PM on Friday and Saturday each week), 75% were gone within the first 30 minutes. But NEXT it is not.

          For $80/pp (paid in advance) + tax/tip + $50 beverage pairing, it's not cheap, but well worth it if you are looking for a special evening out (and since we started the day at the Oyster House, then watched "We Will Rock You" at the Academy of Music, followed by drinks at Sbraga, it was a memorable day all around!).

          6 Replies
          1. re: PhillyBestBYOB

            More photos from the Kitchen Counter:

              1. re: PhillyBestBYOB

                The black and white photo for Michael Solomonov above was taken through the slightly opaque glass separating the counter from the kitchen, which is why it looks so artsy-fartsy.

                1. re: PhillyBestBYOB

                  Love it. Thanks so much for sharing your experience! We always do Taste of Zahav (at the regular tables) that is amazing but I've had every dish so it's gotten a little tired...except for the lamb! Still the best in the business.

              2. re: PhillyBestBYOB

                Can you describe the reservation process? I went to their web site and didn't see anything about making reservation specifically for the counter. Thanks.

                1. re: Worldwide Diner

                  Here is the link to the counter seating. They are not doing it in February. Next one will be in March. Reservations taken on 1 February.


              3. Sadly, the Chef's Counter will be offered Wednesdays only, beginning March 1.

                11 Replies
                1. re: famdoc

                  Has this been announced publicly famdoc? Did you hear this from the restaurant?

                  1. re: cwdonald

                    From Zahav's Facebook timeline:

                    Wanna be the first to eat at the Chef's Counter in its new Wednesday time slot?

                    Tickets to March Chef's Counters go on sale this Saturday, February 1 at noon.


                    1. re: famdoc

                      16 seats a month. But at least you don't have to make it a year in advance like Talula's.

                      As I said above, I enjoyed it, but it wasn't knock-your-socks-off either. I'd rather eat at Talula's.

                      1. re: PhillyBestBYOB

                        I'd like to eat at Talula's also making reservations a year and advance plus the requirement that you have a big group, make it one of the most difficult if not the most difficult reservations in the country. If anyone from Chowhound ever needs a couple people to fill up their reservation, keep me in mind.

                        1. re: FayeD

                          PhillyBestBYOB and FayeD: I presume you're talking about Talula's Table in Kennett Square. You really don't have to wake up at 5:59 AM 365 days in advance anymore. Simply "like" Talula's on FB and watch for announcements of unexpected openings and cancellations for tables at Talula's. It happens several times a month. And, yes, I'll keep you in mind the next time I grab one of those reservations. I hope you'll do the same.

                          1. re: FayeD

                            They also post cancellations on their web site. Right now, you can book the table for this Sunday:

                            Our Farm Table is available Sunday, February 2nd. Gather a group of 10-12 and call the market (610) 444-8255 to book!

                            1. re: famdoc

                              I'm not so sure about "several times a month." Talula's Table is probably not as hot a ticket as it used to be, but I don't think it's gotten that easy. When they used to send out cancelations to their mailing list, I'd get an email maybe 4 times a year. Looking at FB, that seems to be about how many times they posted cancelations in the past year.

                              I suspect they also offer the cancelations to their regulars. I'm not one, but I've occasionally seen the email trail when I've been invited by friends who are.

                              A Talula's Table chowdown would definitely be popular!

                              1. re: PhillyBestBYOB

                                I'm going to stand by my assertion that TT has cancellations "several" times a month. From their FB timeline today: Talula's Table
                                Our Chef's Table is available on Tuesday, February 11th, at 7pm! Bring your special someone and celebrate Valentine's Day a little early!! Call the market (610-444-8255) to make your reservation before Cupid flies away with it!

                                1. re: famdoc

                                  Unless they are deleting some but not all such posts, I went back over the past year and only counted ~4.

                                  1. re: PhillyBestBYOB

                                    Yes, when the table is taken, they delete the post.

                                    1. re: PhillyBestBYOB

                                      Another TT opening posted on FB this morning: for this Thursday. If only I lived closer.