Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Passover at Zahav
Solomonov has found an ideal middle ground by observing the cultural conventions (or referring to them, sometimes with a wink) but not being constrained by them. Zahav is not a kosher restaurant, but this meal follows the traditions of a Passover Seder, incorporating the expected elements, often with a twist, or update.
We started with good house-made Matzah, their always excellent Hummus, and a tower of various salads. We especially liked the okra, the beets with tehina and walnuts, the harissa-laced eggplant, and the cuminy carrots.
Next was a soup featuring roasted Matzah Balls in an intense, dark, double-strength chicken stock, enriched even further by black garlic and a bit of dill. OK, it's not much to look at, but wow, it was delicious.
But enough being coy - we dug into the brisket, and had surprising reactions. It was falling-apart tender, and strongly beefy, but not as exotic-tasting as we'd expected. But then a funny thing happened: as we ate more, the complexities revealed themselves, and new flavors began to emerge. Before long, it started tasting smoky, and earthy, with hints of coffee, and the already intense meaty flavor was concentrating. By a few bites in, we were solidly addicted, and somehow forgot that we were about to explode from eating too much. I felt that it lived-up to the hype that my friend had generated, and I look forward to having it again - maybe next year, or, maybe later this week...
On of our party couldn't have the ice cream, so they were kind enough to send out a couple of alternate desserts, one a baklava adorned with rhubarb, the other a dense pistachio cake, also accompanied by rhubarb, which made us very happy, as we all happen to like rhubarb quite a lot. I especially liked the baklava, and I suspect that might be on the regular dessert menu, there is usually a version or two of this flaky, crispy dessert.
All in all, it was a delicious meal, and a bargain at $42 per person. This special menu is only running during Passover, so you've only got until Tuesday, April 6 (2010) to get there. I'd highly recommend visiting Zahav any time, but this special meal is quite interesting, and delicious, so it's worth making an effort to go right now. You don't need a long memory of Passover Seders, or to be Jewish, to appreciate this food (although either might help to explain some of the culinary references.) It's just delicious food, with extra cultural significance, but perfectly enjoyable as an abstract dining experience.
Our server was excellent - very friendly, helpful and informed. Chef Solomonov was nice enough to drop by and chat, and generously sent out some extra dishes for us to try, which made the evening all the more enjoyable (and filling...) We were all swooning over the Jerusalem Grill, which features grilled duck hearts on dirty rice. Thankfully, that's on the regular menu, so we can go get that any time. And we will, as this visit reminded us that Zahav is operating at a very high level, among the very best restaurants in Philadelphia, while remaining approachable.
So, go to Zahav, but more urgently, go now for the excellent Passover meal. Reservations are highly recommended, especially for this special menu.
Menu>> (thanks to Foobooz)
237 St. James Place (near 2nd and Walnut Streets)
Philadelphia, PA 19106