Zahav: A Golden Gem in Philadelphia

I swear to you I have not be compensated in the least for this review.

About three years ago, The Hubs and I were watching Travel Channel’s The Layover with Anthony Bourdain and he stopped at a small modern Israeli restaurant called Zahav. The Hubs and I LOVE trying new “exotic” cuisines, and they showed an amazingly succulent looking grilled duck hearts, something that until that moment I’d never known I wanted to try. We looked up the restaurant and decided that this would be the place we’d try for our next anniversary dinner.

The first half of the video above describes the restaurant’s style and goal as an “event” for diners. We were not disappointed. I think people got tired of me gushing over how wonderful the place was. They made our 5th anniversary truly special. Last year we went someplace local, and it was fine, but not mind-blowingly anything. So The Hubs and I decided that this year we’d go back to Zahav. Once again, we were not disappointed.

I booked the table on OpenTable, and I mentioned that it was our 7th anniversary and that we had spent our 5th there and had such a wonderful time that we were coming back. When the hostess called to confirm our reservation, she sounded thrilled that we were spending yet another anniversary dinner with them. “We love that!” she said. That was just the beginning.

Our reservations were at 5:30 (because we are a pair of 80 year olds, haha) and we arrived about 20 minutes early, having found really good on-street parking, a rarity in Philadelphia! I wore a little black dress and black pumps, but that kind of clothing isn’t a requirement AT ALL in the totally un-pretentious Zahav. People were dining in various states of dress, from sneakers and khakis to dresses and suit jackets. I apologized for our earliness, but was assured it was no trouble at all, and we were seated immediately.

IMG_20151004_171413726We were immediately greeted with sparkling wine and wished a Happy Anniversary by our server! (I honestly don’t remember if this was done on our last visit, but it was so nice!) We were asked if we had dined there before (we had) and if we had any questions about the menu (we didn’t). We told our server we both would be doing the tasting menu, and she immediately brought out the variety of salatim (salads) and the hummus and laffa bread. If you haven’t had the opportunity to try fresh, out of the oven laffa bread, you should. It’s like the pillowiest fresh pita you’ve ever eaten! We also ordered drinks. I got the Desert Rose, which was gin, hibiscus, grapefruit and cucumber, and the Hubs got a sparkling pear and apple cider.

IMG_20151004_171727039
Beets in tehina, pickled carrots, green beans in tomato sauce, pickled napa cabbage, pickled vegetables, Bulgarian pepper salad. (In the background, The Hubs’ pear apple cider.)
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The last salad was eggplant, similar to babaghanoush.
IMG_20151004_171944261
Desert Rose Cocktail.
IMG_20151004_171847311
Hummus with Laffa bread.

While we enjoyed the salatim we ordered our mezze plates. Mezze is like the Mediterranean version of tapas, small plates. I, of course, once again ordered the duck hearts, telling our server I had eaten them there before and that I was super excited to try them again. She was really happy to hear that. All the staff at this restaurant seem ridiculously excited about the food here, and like they actually enjoy their jobs. They strive to make your meal an experience here, which is why we love it so much. I felt like royalty the entire time we were there. (Even when I headed for the ladies’ room. Waitstaff would glide out of the way and gesture politely towards the restrooms with a smile each time.)

Our mezze arrived quickly. The pacing here is perfect: you never have to wait long for your next course but there’s never the feeling that you’re being rushed. With our mezze came a complimentary amuse bouche of deep fried salt cod (SALT COD – THE MAGIC WORDS) with labneh. The manager brought it himself, and inquired as to how we were enjoying our meal. I gushed once again over the duck hearts, and he asked me if I worked in the food industry! I assured him I just really love food, and he nodded knowingly and said that most people who ordered hearts either worked in food or were just really adventurous.

Fried salt cod with labneh.
Fried salt cod with labneh.

Of course, I was pleasantly full by the time we finished our mezze. But that wasn’t the end of our meal! For our Al Ha’esh (which means “grilled over coals”) The Hubs ordered the beef and lamb kofte, and I ordered the duck kebab, because, DUCK. The duck was ground, mixed with Sri Lankan spice (there was a hint of allspice in there), served over celery root puree and plum matbucha and sprinkled with chopped pistachios. Amazeballs. YUM YUM YUM.

By this point was was STUFFED, believe me, but dessert was still coming. I had inquired earlier as to whether or not there was an orange blossom dessert on the menu, and there was: pistachio tart. I love pistachios! The Hubs was interested in coffee, but instead ordered the coffee mousse.

As seems the norm here, they treated us to a third dessert: orchid root powder dusted semi-freddo. Holy crap. It didn’t taste floral at all, but the texture of the creamy, airy semi-freddo coated in the dark powder was so interesting!

IMG_20151004_183205207So, all in all, our second dinner at Zahav was just as amazing (if not MORE amazing) than the first. We’ve even decided to make this place a yearly event. The food in always spectacular, the ambiance relaxed and unpretentious (sort of Israeli marketplace with modern music – we heard The Beastie Boys while we ate). But the service is what makes this place a shining star. I hope to enjoy many meals to come at this wonderful haven of gastronomy.

(Oh, and the entire meal plus tips? Less than $150 for the two of us, so you get VALUE, too!)

I seriously cannot recommend this place enough, and if you’re in Philadelphia, try not to leave the city without snagging reservations at this spot!

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6 comments

  1. […] As you know, my favorite restaurant in Philadelphia, Zahav, specializes in mezze dishes done with Israeli flair. The best part about mezze is the ability to choose many items to try because the plates are small and afforable.  If you love to share food with your friends then a meal made of mezze or tapas is for you! You can even make your own mezze platter at home from things you can purchase easily from your local supermarket. Here’s a quick list of convenience foods that can help you form a tasty, well rounded meal: […]

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