after dinner sneeze

a lot of g says, t says

Posts Tagged ‘Israeli

Zzzzzz is for Zahav

with 2 comments

g says: Zahav was one of the few places that t had ventured without me, so I knew we would eventually end up there — because I was really interested in what Israeli food tasted like, and also so you could hear my take on their acclaimed food as well (important for any fair and balanced blog). It was a hot Friday evening, and we were looking for something to do. Walk over to Old City from Rittenhouse? Sure, sounds like a great idea. No matter that it was hotter than Hades and we were walking further than we would on any other day with much cooler temperatures — we were going to DO something. (It really did seem like a good idea at the time…) Anyway, it was 95 degrees at sunset, and we ventured off into the night. Besides the profuse sweating, my dress blowing up in the wind, and getting slightly lost, we arrived at our destination without much incident. But we were admittedly gross, tired, and desperately wanted to use the restroom to freshen up – a couple of hot messes, indeed! Maybe we should have realized then that the evening wouldn’t be quite as smooth as we were expecting…

7/2010, 9:30pm, Party of 2. We walked in right on time for our reservation and were greeted by two well-dressed guys — one friendly, the other not so much. Not-so-much showed us to our table swiftly, and even pulled out my chair for me (what a gentleman)! I was thrilled to be there for about 5 seconds until I started noticing how many servers were constantly bustling all around us (and a bit too close to me for my taste). I get a little claustrophobic, so I scanned the dining room for other seating options. There were plenty of tables as well as seats at the bar, so I suggested to t that we ask to switch tables quickly before we were too settled in.

Now, I completely understand that restaurants seat their diners at specific tables to keep order in their dining rooms, and I would never normally ask to move, but I was feeling really anxious so I thought it was worth the embarrassment of being one of “those people.” t asked our server, who had stopped by for a minute to introduce himself, if it would be possible to switch to one of the other open 2-seater spots. To which he replied that we would have to leave our seats and ask the host ourselves. I was perplexed. I’m no expert, but isn’t that his job? Once we wrapped our heads around this new concept, we walked back to the front desk and posed our request. Friendly guy was professional and accommodating. Not-so-much was clearly annoyed — he would have to walk us about 30 feet to our table again (the nerve of us). The new table’s location was totally fine, and I was happy, though I wondered why the seating thing was such an issue to these people. My guess is that not-so-much acts like not-so-much to the rest of the staff as well, and our server wasn’t looking to mess with him.

Our server is a whole other story. He looked like a nice enough young fellow, but I felt like we didn’t look nice enough to him because he kept staring off in space when he would speak to us. I thought maybe he was new and nervous (scared of not-so-much, still?) but t seemed to remember him from his first visit, and it has been a while since then. He warmed up to us a little throughout the meal, though, so I wasn’t feeling quite so awkward by dessert time.

What’s that? You’re tired of me yammering on about the people and want to hear about the food? Well, here goes: we both ventured the tay’im, the smaller of the two tasting menu choices, and ordered different items so that we could try more dishes. I anticipated some of the best food I would have all summer (with such rave reviews, how could it not be?) but felt overall the dishes were a little hit or miss. The hummus and flatbread were simply divine — sorry, Audrey Claire, you have been booted from my #1 hummus spot, because this stuff is amazing! The salatim (8 different little salads) were also fairly tasty, but didn’t seem like something that I could not make for myself at home. For entrees, I chose the fish kofte (total hit! they were delicate and savory, and not too fishy either), tahcheen (a bit of a miss for me, but there was just some sort of spice in the rice that I wasn’t wild about), and the hanger steak (another hit, as I very much liked the flavors of the steak and pureed eggplant, but this just wasn’t seeming so special to me – there are a few other restaurants I have in mind that do their hanger steak just as well and better). t went for the watermelon salad (could have been a hit, but the watermelon wasn’t quite sweet enough), grilled veal tongue (hit on the meat, miss on the accompaniment), and duck two-ways (a half-hit … duck one way was a hit, but the other way – a dry ground duck patty – was a miss). My cashew baklava won in the battle of “who-ordered-the-better-dessert,” but that’s mostly because t’s pistachio cake with cherry compote was a bit dry — there was definitely potential there. Like Marlon Brando, it could’ve been a contender.

While neither of us were wowed by very many of the dishes, I certainly wasn’t unhappy with anything that came out of Zahav’s kitchen. I think t was a little disappointed that he had such great food on previous visits, and this time it was so-so. I, too, was looking for the wow-factor, but found it to be a little bit of a snooze.

But I think I have learned a very important lesson from this experience (besides the one about not trying to walk 25 blocks before dinner in a heatwave): Israeli food isn’t really my thing. To me, it is certainly good, but not cravable. I feel similarly about Greek food — rarely will you ever hear me talk about being in the mood for Greek food. I have nothing against it, and would absolutely accept an invitation to dine at a Greek restaurant, but I would not choose it over other types of cuisine. It must be the traditional flavor profiles that just aren’t my favorite, or maybe a few spices rub me the wrong way (get it? spice? rub? MAN, i am on fire!)

All in all, we had a fun evening out, and we ran into nothing that a glass of cava couldn’t fix. On a return trip, I think I would probably just fill up on hummus and baklava… which actually wouldn’t be so bad, would it?

t says: Just in case you’re wondering about that veal tongue … It looked like a piece of scrapple … in the shape of a tongue. The taste of the meat reminded me of oxtail, but the texture was different, as the strands of meat were finer and shorter. Overall, it was an interesting and delicious meat to eat, but not so delicious that I’d want to try and cook it at home. In short, it wasn’t as good as beef cheek.  Out of all the dishes we had, my favorite style of food was that watermelon salad.  Yes, it was an overall “miss” – but the way the flavors evolved in your mouth was intriguing and unexpected.  A lot of Zahav’s other flavors, while being bold, seldom evolve like this on the palate – and that’s what I like the most when I eat.

On another note – don’t mess with g when she’s on fire.  Not only is she funny (she is funny), but she can get pretty fiesty.  I mean look at that title – pretty harsh, right?  I knew the food might not have been sneeze-worthy – but I didn’t think it was snooze-worthy, either …

Written by afterdinnersneeze

28 July 2010 at 8:55am

Zahav: Impressive Flavors with a Superb Finish

with 2 comments

t says: k had a day off.  I have a flexible schedule.  The result?  Lunch at Zahav!

2/2010, Friday Lunch, Party of 2, Restaurant week.  This was my second visit to this restaurant and it definitely trumped my first experience (a dinner in August 2009 – see “Oh the places we’ve gone …”).  My lunchmate k and I made a 2pm lunch reservation, but had to call the restaurant to let them know we would be a few minutes late (silly Center City traffic).  Although their kitchen closes for lunch at 2, the staff was very nice over the phone, thanked us for our notice, and didn’t rush us at all as we ate (although perhaps they rushed us a little to place our order when we first got there – understandable).

Our waiter was an interesting combination of nice and “chill”.  While the manner in which he spoke was reminiscent of someone who was, shall we say, “high”, he seemed sincerely invested in ensuring that we enjoyed our meal, with frequent visits to the table just to make sure everything tasted “good”.  He also warned k that a dish she was about to order (Morrocan fish stew) was extremely spicy and averted what could have been a disaster for her.  In short, we thought he was both “unique” and great.

The first course consisting of salatim (salads) and hummus was delightful and as bright as I remembered.  They’re still putting together flavor combinations that are new to me, which I enjoy immensely (I found myself constantly returning to the spicy pickled carrots).  Perhaps this isn’t fair for other restaurants featuring Asian flavors, as I then have certain expectations of what to taste, but don’t hate the player, hate the game.

For our first main course, I had the ?braised? lamb shank in a pastry shell topped with sesame seeds which was exactly what I needed on a cold winter day – I don’t think I’ve ever had so tender a lamb (and it was seasoned perfectly).  k went with a dish featuring roasted beets and chickpeas.  They didn’t “blow her away”, but were “regular good beets”; she was more impressed with the combination of normal and al dente chickpeas – we think the latter may have been fried, but remain unsure.  Regardless, the chickpeas offered a brand new flavor-texture combo.

My second course, the hanger steak was good – not as good as Bibou’s, but on par with Meritage.  Despite being seasoned well, I think I would have preferred if it was cooked a little more evenly (one side of each chunk was considerably more rare than the other) and maybe one more chunk of the meat, as the dish seemed a little bare.  k had the swordfish which was cooked perfectly – I blinked and it was gone, so I assume it was awesome.

The desserts were phenomenal – perhaps the best desserts of any Philly restaurant that I’ve visited.  We shared the panna cotta, pistachio baklava, and passionfruit sorbet dessert.  The super-tart and intensely fruity sorbet coupled well with the creamy panna cotta.  And while k found the baklava nothing to sneeze at, I, as someone who loves pistachio and baklava was wondering why no one had thought of this sooner.  We also had some sort of chocolate-hazlenut dessert with salted toffee and cumquat – it had a perfect balance of salty, sour, and sweet (and chocolate).  I will have to make it a point to combine chocolate and cumquat in the future.  These two dishes (as I can’t pick a favorite) were the best ending to a meal I’ve had in a LONG time.

In summary, despite my rocky first visit, I’d be willing to concede that Zahav’s best dishes can live up to the hype that it’s given on the Philly food scene.  And this was during restaurant week (i.e. a time which most people say the quality suffers due to the sheer volume produced)!  I once read that the New York Post suggests that Zahav is to Israeli food as Momofuku is to Asian food – that’s a quite a bold statement (which I’m not sure I agree with); nevertheless, I wish them the best of luck in striving for that level of success!

Written by afterdinnersneeze

17 February 2010 at 6:22pm