Thursday, October 16, 2014

Zahav Kitchen Counter

View from the bar
So, last Tuesday afternoon I was browsing my Twitter feed and what should pop up but a notice that two spots were available for Wednesday night's Zahav Kitchen Counter. After about a 3 second discussion with Beth I snagged the seats (there are only four each week).

For any of my 5 or so readers who don't know Zahav, it's Michael Solomonov's flagship restaurant here in Philadelphia. He serves what is usually described as "modern Israeli cuisine". You can be the judge.

The meal is 10 courses (and a bit more) with an optional beverage pairing. We decided to go with the booze. Let this be a warning! If you show up much before the 7:00 PM seating you'll be tempted to have a happy hour drink at the bar. Do not do it! You've got what amounts to 7 or 8 full drinks coming. So let's get started...

Course 1: Chicken Liver Mousse, Concord Grape and Nigella Toast. The Concord grape droplets were incredibly concentrated - like that grape jelly everybody had as a kid times 1,000. This course was served with a "Cortado" Sherry - a very unusual choice for a first course but it paired well with the mousse. That was a full pour of the sherry and a hint at what was to come.

Course 2: This being a Solomonov restaurant, hummus should surprise no one. It's topped with a little crumbled merguez sausage and pine nuts. There was also a delightful fluffy fresh baked pita rather than Zahav's classic laffa. It was accompanied by Uinta's Hop Nosh IPA. That's one strong IPA that cut through the unctuous hummus wonderfully. (Half a bottle each)

Course 3: Pomegranate and Walnut Tabbouleh with marinated anchovies. Oh man, this was great. Served with Wyndridge Cranberry Cider (again, half a bottle each).

Course 4: Crispy Lamb's Tongue, Roasted Turnips, Sumac - sounds scary but was delicious. I'm not sure what was in the green tehina but the whole thing was great. This was served with the first full sized cocktail - a "Smashing Pumpkin"  made with rum infused with baharat.

Course 5: Royal Trumpet Mushrooms, Cous-Cous, Herb Tehina. We love mushrooms. This was very good. Until we tasted Misfits Wine Co.'s The Golem Adelaide Hills Riesling. F*ck Me. Absolutely the best match of the night. Full pour, BTW as are all the wines.

Course 6: Kabocha Squash Soup, Brussel Kraut, Pepitas, Reggiano. Beth's #1 of the night. Served with a Manzanilla Sherry "Salty Dog" cocktail. Shaky picture courtesy C2H6O.

Course 7: My Favorite of the night. Simple crudo of Bronzino, tzatziki, apple granita and a little apple salad. Served with a Sicilian Cataratto - Grecanica blend. Delicious, but since I've had my head up elBulli 2005-2011 the last few months such a "simple" dish might need snazzier plating. The pieces of fish looked a little random and Morimoto might have something to say about the slicing.

Course 8: Beef: carpaccio, tartare, and a deep fried beef tongue stuffed olive. I loved it. Beth ran into a texture issue with the tartare. By now we're pretty much toasted. This came with a delicious, jammy Loire red from Domaine du Chapitre.

Course 9: Oh god, when will it end... Halibut Chaiwadge, Romanesco, Zhoug. Thank god I haven't passed out. This was wonderful. Another Loire wine,  the sparkling Monmousseau JM Blanc.

Course 10: Lamb Neck Tagine, Fig Jam, Pistachio Rice, Lam Jus. This dish alone would make a reputation. Perfect in every way. Served with an Israeli Bordeaux blend with some added Shiraz from a winery named something like Yato - my notes are very hard to read at this point...

But wait, there's more!

Pre Dessert in elBulli speak. That's pear sorbet, Sesame praline, and chestnuts (or maybe Turkish Hazelnuts). Served with a cocktail made with Arak, grenadine, grapefruit juice and whatever else I wrote down and can not read this evening.

Dessert. Served with mint tea thank God. Carrot Basboosa, Orange Blossom. Sachleb Labne, Hazelnut Praline. Basboosa is a semolina cake flavored with almost anything. The red things are poached cranberries and the white schmeer is whipped cream cheese with some sort of flavoring which I could probably make if I could remember it...

Bottom Line: Expensive. $90 per person plus $50 P/P for the drink pairing. Total $360.40 with tax and tip. Absolutely, 100% worth it. Probably the best value chef's tasting menu in Philadelphia.

Those of you who are already familiar with Zahav have probably noticed that none of the courses are offered on the regular menu. In a conversation after the meal we learned that the Kitchen Counter is used not only as a creative outlet for Chef Solomonov and the staff but as a test bed to perfect dishes that will appear on the regular menu in the future.

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