Zahav is a modern Israeli restaurant that opened in May 2008 at the foot of the Society Hill Towers in Philadelphia. The name Zahav means “Gold” in Hebrew and is a reference to Jerusalem, with the design of the restaurant mimicing the hidden courtyards of Jerusalem with golden limestone floors and walls, hand-carved tables and soaring ceilings.
A tradition of ours has been to take each other out to the restaurant of choice on our birthdays. With Russ’ birthday being in mid-May, it is often impossible to get a reservation at a top-notch establishment that time of year due to all of the graduation, wedding, and Mother’s Day celebrations. End result: we usually bag a res several weeks later and continue the celebration; and this year was no different. Russ had heard great things about the food at Zahav and he was determined to have his feast there.
Chef/Owner Michael Solomonov was born in G’nei Yehudah, Israel and raised in Pittsburgh, PA. At the age of 19, Michael returned to Israel. With no Hebrew language skills, he took the only job he could get — working in a bakery — and a culinary career was born!
The soul of Zahav lies in the laffa bread, baked to order in their wood-burning Taboon; in the creamy and nutty humus; and the sizzling skewers of meat grilled over hardwood charcoal. Their small plate offerings are ideal for allowing guests to sample the large variety of cultural influences on the cuisine of Israel, from Eastern Europe to North Africa to Persia and the Eastern Mediterranean. And the best way to do this is take advantage of the Tayim, at $39 per person, so that’s what we did…
We were blown away with the abundant wait staff all of whom were extremely efficient and courteous. Never having dined here before, we did have a few questions for our attentive waitress, always ready with a beaming smile, and she gave us satisfactory details about all of our concerns. And if you have any food allergies, don’t worry, they ask you up front if anyone in your party does.
They have an extensive wine list of boutique Israeli wine from one of the largest selections outside Israel, but with the least-expensive bottle starting at $48, we opted to try one of their award-winning cocktails instead. Our choice was the same, we each ordered a “Lemonnana” made up of Jim Beam, muddled mint, fresh lemon and verbena, similar to a Mojito we thought.
What arrives at your table first is six small dishes of various veggies and grains — all perfectly seasoned; a side of laffa bread and the most heavenly humus you have ever tasted! All half-dozen dishes were described to us in detail, although, truth be told, I can’t remember the details, but I can tell you that the dishes of carrots, eggplant, roasted beets, green beans and tomato, quinoa and crushed walnuts, and zucchini were delicious and a good omen of what was to come.
Our four “Mezzes” started arriving next: Roasted Potatoes with kashkaval cheese, anchovy, spring onion and shifka peppers; Crispy Grape Leaves with beef, pine nuts and paprika; Fried Cauliflower in labaneh with chives, dill, mint and garlic; and Pastilla which is spiced chicken, apricot and almond. While the portions of these incredible small plates were not huge, I was starting to feel full and wondered if I’d be able to continue with the “Al Ha’esh” items grilled over coals.
On the house they delivered two small, but heavenly, radish slices with an absolutely divine smoked salmon!
Well they were just too tempting to resist. The Duck Kebab with dirty rice, rhubarb and English peas was not really a skewered item at all, but rather two plump, round patties so tantalizingly tasty we just oohed and aahed with every bite. Our second Al Ha’esh was the Ribeye Cap, perfectly tender filet mignon pieces in lovage pilaf, tomato and green beans.
As an extra treat to Russ’ dessert, they added a birthday candle; and since dessert is not my thing, they wrapped up my choice to go–for Russ to enjoy later in the week…
NOTE: In May 2009, Philadelphia Magazine selected Zahav as the #1 restaurant in Philadelphia; and in 2011, Michael was recognized for his achievements with the Best Chef Mid-Atlantic award from the James beard Foundation.