after dinner sneeze

a lot of g says, t says

Revisiting Zahav’s Lunch

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t says:  Restaurant week came and went.  g and I actually didn’t make it to a single restaurant [for restaurant week].  Very peculiar of us.  It was mostly because I was really REALLY busy.  Fortunately, I did get a day off from work, but it was a Friday … a day that g had to work.  Bummer!  Nevertheless, a and I went to lunch at Zahav, a restaurant that I had not been to since last year [for dinner or lunch].

9/2011, Lunch, Party of 2.  When we arrived, there was almost no one there.  Of course, we did arrive at 11:45am, so we reasoned that it was going to pick up as lunch really got going.  We sat, we ordered, and I made fun of a’s very bright pink shirt.

What Zahav meal would be complete with salatim?

a and I agree that the salatim/hummus that start the Zahav meals are consistently the best part of the meal.  If for some reason you manage to eat there without getting these, you’re really missing out.  Above, you see carrot and beets in the background and eggplant and fennel in the foreground.  Of these, the fennel was probably my favorite, as they managed to hide some unknown spice in there that meshed nicely with the licorice flavor of the fennel – it was unexpected and pleasant.  I think a liked the eggplant concoction, but it’s hard to tell, as he (like I) was more than happy to eat any/all of the other three as well.  Most visually stunning was the beet … which wins by virtue of exactly matching a’s shirt (ok, ok, I’ll stop with the shirt jokes).

The hummus really needs no introduction ...

The hummus I felt was a little less powerful that I’ve had in the past.  Apparently g somehow knows of the hummus-making guy at Zahav.  I think he’ll need to step it up a little, cuz this time the hummus was very tame.

Sweetbread Nuggets

My app of choice was the sweetbreads.  A very peculiar thing happened after I had ordered them.  The waitress returned to the table and asked, “Your sweetbreads – they’re made from veal – is that ok?”  I nodded.  I turned to a and asked, “why do you think she asked that?  Are they not normally made from veal?  Or is it that the menu didn’t say it specifically and some people find veal objectionable?  Or perhaps maybe she thought I didn’t know what sweetbreads were and wanted to make sure that I knew that I was consuming an animal organ, and not some kind of pastry?”  When the sweetbreads did arrive, I must confess that they didn’t taste very “veal-y”.  I remarked that while they were very tender, the texture and flavor were far closer to chicken than veal organ.  I jokingly remarked, “they’re the best chicken nuggets I’ve ever had”.  The puree (?zucchini?) and the corn salad were a nice way to add some lighter flavors in there, but I had the nagging feeling that they were chicken.  When I came home and looked on the interweb, I found an entry for sweetbreads at Zahav for Restaurant Week which included “braised chicken” in the description.  Now I’m just confused.  I don’t know what animal it was, what organ it was, how it was prepared, or anything.  All I know was that it was tasty.  Weird, right?  Maybe it’s made of people …

a had some tomato-based soup.  My mind has blanked on its contents.  I remember being shocked at how similar it looked to a plain ‘ol tomato soup.  I’m sure he’ll chime in if he feels that it’s a sin to skip over his soup …

Funny thing happened … after they cleared our appetizers, the waitress came over bearing another plate and said, “This is on the house.  We heard you saying just how much you love the cauliflower.”  And shazam:

If cauliflower could kill ... we'd all be dead.

Ok, yes, the cauliflower is/was amazing.  It’s always amazing.  It costs them probably 50 cents to make, but if I could make it like this at home, I’d eat cauliflower every other night for sure.  And the accompanying sauce I think is labaneh with mint and garlic and something else – ?dill?.  But more important was why it was we were even having the opportunity to enjoy this cauliflower.  We had no idea.  a figured it was because he knows someone who knows someone who works there.  That was a good thought, so we went with it.  There were no survivors.

For our mains, a ventured the steak and I ventured the meatball-esque item, ?kibbe?.  I neglected to take a picture.  But to be honest, taking pictures of two relatively unadorned meatballs is kind of boring.  What was also a shame was that it didn’t really have a great texture – the meat was tough – kind of like if I were to try and make a meatball at home (i.e. it’d be packed too tight and be overcooked), which is a little disappointing.  This is obviously not how real Italians like g makes meatballs where it’d be browned on the outside, be cooked the whole way through, and still be soft on the insider … and most certainly not that crazy jello-jiggler meatballs like at Han dynasty.  I think what would have saved the meatball is the flavor – it had some lamb in it as well as a brown jus.  But to be honest, neither of those really added much (well, the jus added some much-needed moisture to the meat).  Of course, I am in no position to say that Zahav did anything wrong – maybe they did it perfectly and I’m just not into authentic kibbe’s texture.  Either way, I will not be venturing it again.

a’s steak was cooked perfectly I believe.  But he, too, felt that it could only be “good”.  Man – there’s just something about these entrees – if they can sexify cauliflower, why can’t they do the same to some meat?

And then … dessert …

This would be the true test for Zahav.  They have had a strong history of desserts that satisfy me – but most recently lost their title when they came up with an uninspired baklava and pistachio cake.  This time, it was good to see Zahav return to something near and dear to my heart: chocolate.

Here chocolate, chocolate, chocolate, chocolate. Come out, come out, wherever you are!

As you look at the pic above, surely you’d be confused.  Where’s the chocolate?  a looked at my plate, seemingly puzzled by the obvious lack of dark brown color.  But I knew where it was.  It was hiding behind a crust of finely shredded phyllo dough.  But alas, not even the sturdiest of phyllo dough armors could prevent me from reaching my preciousssss (you gotta say it like gollum from LotR).  In typical Zahav style, they accompanied the chocolate with a bit of bright fruit (apricot this time?) and I imagine that’s some kind of ricotta ice cream.  Kablammo.  That’s how to win me over.  Once again, like the cauliflower, this is probably exceedingly simple, but sometimes you’ve got to play dirty and tug at the heart-strings.

a ventured the “other dessert”, as he knew I was going for the chocolate kataifi.

The "other" dessert.

It was a very delightful parfait involving blueberry and candied chickpea.  Yea, you read that right, candied chickpea.  I really think that made the dessert exciting.  It was a very solid finisher and perhaps I would have taken more notice … had I not been spoon deep in chocolate on my side of the table.

Now here’s where things got weird.  The brought us an extra order of dessert – the third item, the rugelach, which was good, but nowhere near as good as the two we ordered (the rugelach was a bit too dense/dry for my taste).  But that’s not the weird part.  Hmmm – that’s a vague sentence.  I’ll clarify.  The dessert being a little “off” was not a surprise (that’s what happened to the pistachio tart the last time I went with g).  And the receiving a third item wasn’t weird because up until then we figured that this was part of a’s “connections”.  The manager came over to our table and said something to the extent of, “We know that the last time you were here, maybe not everything was perfect – we wanted to prove to you that we can do better.”  Of course, this is not verbatim (I don’t do verbatim), but that was the gist.  And even that’s not weird.  What was weird was that he was looking at me when he said it.  It was as if he knew of my previous disappointment.  Bizarre!  After we thanked him and assured him that the desserts were delicious (we had not yet had the rugelach), a and I looked at eachother and began to put together explanations.  I suggested that perhaps they had overheard our conversations (we’re pretty frank when we’re dining out – no food-related topic is sacred – we will talk about the props/slops of any restaurant, including the one we’re sitting in).  a felt that unlikely.  So perhaps they recognized my name from opentable – did I leave them a negative review?  Oh snap – I did.  Quite a negative opentable review.  And I linked this blog!  Yikes!  But that was over a year ago – was I flagged in their computer?  Do they do this for all people who dis’ them on opentable?  Am I paranoid much?  Yes.  And in that moment a and I realized that service was spotless the entire time we were there.  Our tables were cleared and re-set immediately within 30 seconds of the last bite being taken, and I can’t tell you the number of times they refilled my water even though only two sips had been taken.  What was funny about all of this is that I also realized that the original scathing blog post was a g+t adventure.  This was an a+t adventure.  Did they now think that a was g?  Is that why they pre-emptively placed our dishes in the middle of the table to share?  Is that why a’s dessert had two dessert spoons (look at the pic)?  Double-yikes!  (No offense a, but you’re no g)

On our way out, I shook the manager’s hand and introduced myself.  He introduced himself and was quick with his card.  “Whenever you want to come here again, please let me know and I’ll personally make sure that all of your needs are met.”  I’m pretty sure that was verbatim (a’ll correct me if I’m wrong).  Even though well-intentioned, I feel like it came out a little creepy – it was only a smirk and wink away from being downright illegal.

In the end, the question remains – did Zahav redeem itself?  Yes and no.  Yes – the apps and desserts were of the appropriate caliber as I had had in meals before the one with g.  The entrees, though – agh – the entrees!  Give me something lip-smacking, give me something thought-provoking, give me something surprising/sexy.  Give me something.  Was it bad?  Most certainly not, but am I going to automatically drag any/every diehard NYC-dweller/lover to Zahav when they visit for a night?  No way … well, maybe on night 3 or so.  That said, for a $20 lunch [during restaurant week], it’s a superb deal – probably tied with Amada for bang-for-the-buck.

Written by afterdinnersneeze

26 September 2011 at 4:12pm

Posted in in Philadelphia, Restaurant Reviews

Tagged with ,

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