Originally when I started this blog, I had thought of adding a whole section on reviews of restaurants that I have eaten at but somehow during the course of establishing this blog (where the primary idea was to introduce healthy and great-tasting recipes to the readers), somehow that section got completely neglected. But now that the blog is over two years old and has over 200 recipes, I can go back to adding more posts to the recommendations and the food sources sections.
Over the past couple of years our family has tried many times to go to a restaurant in Philadelphia’s Society Hill neighborhood called Zahav, but somehow we didn’t manage to get there until yesterday. For one, we had to plan a whole day-trip from Washington DC to Philly (which required a major time commitment) and also because reservations at this restaurant are a little difficult to come by. But after yesterday’s experience I completely understand why this restaurant is so popular and gets such rave reviews. Its take on modern Israeli cuisine is spot-on!!!
Since it was our first time there, we chose to go with the chef’s tasting menu. And although it was meant to be tapas style plating (i.e. small dishes) by the end of the four courses we were completely stuffed. The first course consisted of a variety of vegetable salads – grated beets with tahini, twice cooked eggplant (my personal favorite), the traditional Middle-eastern cucumber salad, a green bean salad, a dish on thinly sliced cauliflower stems and another dish of sliced cooked carrots with cumin and sumac. These salads were served with freshly made Za’atar covered Laffa bread (which was so tempting that I had to abandon my low carb diet for this one meal!). The first course also came with a choice of Hummus (from six different varieties on the menu). I also ordered a wonderful cocktail called the Dessert Rose – which was ruby red drink with grapefruit juice, hibiscus, cucumber juice and gin.
For the next course we got Fried Cauliflower with a salty mint based sauce on the side, some steamed asparagus with a Baba Ganoush base, a Chicken Pastilla (with an apricot sauce), crispy stuffed Grape leaves, a crispy Haloumi with a base of dates, walnuts and pickled onions (not enough good things can be said about this Haloumi dish!!!) and a beef stew (comfort food at its best).
Between my husband, our daughter and I, we shared all the main course dishes too – that way we all got to taste everything – we got a Lamb Merguez sausage (with mashed carrots and some peas as the base – this was OUTSTANDING!!!), a fillet of Bronzino (with a perfectly cooked crispy skin), a dish of trumpet mushrooms and the manager was very generous and gave us a complimentary dish of the Kofte (meatballs made from a combination of ground lamb and beef). All the dishes were cooked to perfection and tasted delicious. If I have any criticism, it is that some of the dishes were a tad too salty for me. I understand that this may be because in any attempt to decrease my salt intake for health reasons, my tongue has become very sensitive to salt and that may be the reason why some of the dishes seemed over-seasoned to me. My own philosophy while cooking is that I like to taste the natural taste of the ingredients that go into the dish and when the quality of the raw materials is very good, a minimal amount of salt is needed . I feel that often chefs and even home-cooks mask the tastes of the ingredients by over-seasoning the dishes. In this instance, I found that some of the dishes could have done with a little less salt but this may just be because of my own personal preference and others may like the level of seasoning.
We ended the meal with a variety of desserts – I got a Semifreddo, my daughter got a custard and my husband got a Konaffi. The desserts were good but I think the mezze and the main courses were indeed the highlight of the dinner. The chef’s tasting menu had more food than the three of us could possible consume and the $39 per head price is indeed a bargain. For us, the dinner was indeed worth the two and a half hour drive to Philly!
Of course, besides the food, what makes the whole dining experience is the kind of service that one gets at a restaurant. I have to add here that the staff at Zahav was extremely friendly, courteous, helpful with questions, and very prompt. The décor at the restaurant is clean and minimalist and if you sit at the bar, you can also see the chefs at work behind the glass.
I love Middle-eastern cuisine and regular readers of my blog know that in making up my own recipes, most often I draw inspiration from Mediterranean flavors – so this was indeed a heavenly meal for me!!! The best part was that apart from Americanizing the size of the Turkish Coffee, all the dishes were very authentic to the cuisine and this is one restaurant I would highly recommend to anyone!