Zahav x Momofuku: Isreali Breakfast

“Oh, you write about food? What’s your favorite restaurant?”

It’s a question I field regularly, from travelers coming to Philly for the weekend to casual acquaintances at networking events; from friends and family to total strangers that ALSO wanna gab about food. And, to be honest, there’s an easy answer, but it hurts to share.

Zahav hits every checkbox in my dream resto:

  • Diverse array of tastes served in one meal
  • Impeccable service, from the hosts to the folks tidying up the table between courses
  • Killer soundtrack (seriously, who’s curating the Zahav Spotify playlist, and can I get your info?)
  • Masterful presentation (from the open kitchen to plating of individual dishes)

This is unfortunate because, in addition to being one of the most wonderful places to dine, it’s also one of the toughest reservations to get in Philly, so I try not to boast too much when I do manage to get a meal on my calendar. But this… this was something special.

Zahav collaborated with the team from Momofuku’s Ssäm Bar (known for some killer Korean-style meat and Asian fusion dishes) for a one-time Israeli breakfast for the ages.

When I saw the tickets go up live Thursday, May 18 I’d purchased a table for 4 before 7:30am. When an opportunity like this occurs, you pay first, ask questions later. I had no trouble finding three willing dining companions and, Saturday at noon, we were seated with no idea what we’d be eating (but a certainty that it would be delicious).

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I’m going to do that thing that some people love and others hate, which is rehash the menu, so if you don’t care for that kinda thing, feel free to scroll through the photos.

First Course:

  • Israeli Breakfast Breads – we’re talking Kubaneh (linking to David Chang’s Lucky Peach article, keep it in the family) and a sweet Rugelach (perhaps date flavored, I must admit that detail was hazy)
  • An insane rose(?) and strawberry jam that I wanted to drown in (yes, we ordered extra)
  • Bentons Bacon Salad – frisée, poached egg, and smoked / cured egg yolk
  • Country ham – sliced paper thin, served with red-eye coffee gravy
  • Beef tartare – made with Yuzu Kosho (an incredible citrus chile condiment you should put on all dishes) and MORE egg yolk
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That beef tartare, though…

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Making frisée fun again…

Second Course

  • Short Ribs Al H’aesh – this was an incredible dish that was (I believe accidentally) brought to us three times. I apologize, Zahav, for not mentioning our second and third portions, but if you bring me short ribs on a skewer, I will eat them all without question.
  • Shakshuka – with smashed English peas, tomato, Saffronella, and an egg. I wish Zahav offered this for dinner, too.
  • Spicy pork sausage with rice cakes – easily my favorite dish, this dish had texture, heat, and an egg. What more could a girl ask for?!
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Shakshuka & banchan (Korean side dishes like kimchi and ginger scallions, that went with EVERYTHING!)

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Added bonus to spicy sausage dish – when your friends can’t take the heat, you get extra.

We were promptly rolled out of Zahav and into the street, where we blissfully walked the 20 blocks home on cloud nine, stuffed with the best foods around.

Zahav – you dog. You got me again. I’m unabashedly enamored with the entire CookNSolo restaurant group (and like to maintain a healthy obsession with Federal Donuts), so just keep doing what you’re doing, and I’ll keep blindly throwing my money your way.

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Gratuitous food pics

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Taste Testing with Chef Jose Garces

Slamming my phone into my pocket, I raced out of the office building. I scanned the street and, as luck would have it, spotted the trolley pulling up along 36th and Market. Flashing my SEPTA pass, I hopped in and prayed for a quiet ride to 22nd Street. Time seemed to be moving too quickly, the trolley too slowly, for this to ever work. But I jumped out the vehicle, scampered up the stairs, and dodged snow piles and construction as I made 23rd Street my 40-yard dash (ok, more like my 500-yard walk-sprint, but who’s counting?) I collected myself for a moment, hoping I didn’t look exactly like the sweaty mess that I knew I was, and walked inside.

“Donkey Sauce.”

And, just like that, I was in.

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Nestled in the back of 24, Garces’ newest Philadelphia venture (“Italian-inspired wood-fired fare”, overlooking the Schuylkill River), is Estudio, the test-kitchen of the Garces Group, the restaurants that make up the Chef Jose Garces EMPIRE!

In this kitchen, Garces and his team get to play mad scientists with menu items for any of the 16 restaurants in the family. And, in a brilliant move, Chef Garces decided to open this kitchen up to four lucky fans using Instagram to give out a secret password (hence the rushing to be one of the first four and the breathless gasp of DONKEY SAUCE.)

My sprint through Philadelphia was handsomely rewarded, though, with a special treat: we were testing the early stages of brunch development for Distrito, Garces’ modern take on Mexican taqueria fare.

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Chilaquiles verdes with chicken, crema, queso fresco, avocado, and egg

I’ve gotta say, food always seems tastier served out of its own cast-iron skillet.

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Sope benedict featuring poached eggs, guajillo hollandaise with just a slight hint of heat, and chorizo

Whoah. New favorite take on an eggs benny.

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Torta ahogada (“drowned sandwich”) – this torta was stuffed with carnitas, glazed onions, and eggs, then smothered in a red chile sauce 

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Huarache Desayuno (sort of like… a Mexican breakfast flatbread, topped with black bean puree, crispy potato, egg, tomatillo/poblano salsa and queso mixto

Though I did not partake in the alcoholic portion of the breakfast cocktails, even the virgin versions were tasty enough to tip back with enthusiasm!

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Yup, that’s MORE chilaquiles – This time served with a Mezcal Maria (hold the Mezcal) – Typical garnishes include shrimp AND olives.

Also on the cocktail menu:

  • Carlito XO – Garces & Sons Espresso, Patrón XO Café, Kahlua, Brown Sugar, Canela, Mexican Chocolate and Crema.
  • My TOP choice A Mango Bellini (or was it with vodka? Hard to recall when you don’t choose the booze!) PLUS a smoky spicy rim

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Throughout the experience, Chef Garces answered questions AND took constructive criticism. In fact, he welcomed it. When one of us suggested an ingredient or flavor, he not only noted it, but chased our commentary with some other ideas of how to best incorporate the concept.

One of the first meals I had in Philadelphia was a lunch at Amada in Old City. I was hooked.

When Bar Volver opened, I visited five times in one week, bringing different friends and family each time to share the amazing concept and cocktails. Village Whiskey serves the drippy, finger-licking burger of my (and my sister’s) dreams. I remember eating a birthday dinner at Tinto and periodically adjusting my tiara, because I kept tilting my head back in pleasure with bites of tantalizing tapas.

My experience at Estudio was exceptional. However, the opportunity to dine one-on-one (well, four-on-one) with the man who’s made so many of my culinary dreams come true… That was extraordinary.

Cheers, Chef. Thanks for the memories.1334x1334.jpeg.jpg

Philadelphia: City of (M)otherly Love

A fondness for Philadelphia runs in my family. I’ve been lucky enough to have my brother move in across the city and my parents are frequenters, though they maintain suburban roots. I must say, though, no one has embraced this incredible city I’m lucky enough to live in quite as much as my mother.

Our first Diner en Blanc!

Our first Diner en Blanc!

She spent much of her life living within spitting distance of the city, but since my move, she’s been itching to try anything and everything that makes it all so very PHILADELPHIA. And, in case your mom is the same, here are a few of my favorite “Mom Friendly Finds” for the City of BMotherly Love.

  1. Bird’s Eye View at XIX at the Bellevue 

    Find a time, ideally during the day (whether it’s Sunday brunch or lunch any other day, or teatime), get on OpenTable (still reservations for Mother’s Day!!), and grab a reservation for 2 (or 3, or 6. TRIO OF MOM/DAUGHTERS [or sons!]), and request a table by the windows at XIX. And prepare for one of the most picturesque meals of your life.

    Photo yanked from DrinkPhilly

    Photo yanked from DrinkPhilly

    It’s quality food on a very reasonable budget, and the ambiance just kills it. If you grab lunch or tea, splurge and get a glass (or bottle) of bubbly. Your mom is worth it. And so are you.

  2. Na-MOMs-DAY! (Yoga. IN case that wasn’t clear)
    Ok, that was sort of supposed to be Namaste. Whatever.
    Did you know that, during the summer, you can do yoga EVERY SINGLE DAY, overlooking a body of water, for free?!
    Race Street Pier – Morning and Evening M-Thurs, and mornings Friday, Saturday, and Sunday!
    Schuylkill River Banks – Tuesdays at 7am and 6:30pm, Saturday and Sunday 11am-12pm

    Photo courtesy of Yoga on the Banks Facebook!

    Photo courtesy of Yoga on the Banks Facebook!

    What mom wouldn’t wanna see you resume your former role as a “Happy Baby” overlooking the Delaware or the Schuylkill? Chase it with a

  3. All the World’s a Stage 

    When I was younger, my mom absolutely loved checking me out in some of my theatrical performances (started as Sneezy from Snow White, then peaked playing Ms. Goose, a psychiatrist for the characters of Grimm Fairy Tales who have gone crazy). While my days on the stage are over, our appreciation of the arts continues.

    Photo snagged from Theatre Exile's Facebook!

    Photo snagged from Theatre Exile’s Facebook!

    We checked out Theatre Exile’s performance of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and it, frankly, blew my mind. I laughed, I was deeply uncomfortable and, bonus, mom and I scored a drink upstairs at the in-house bar during intermission. Win-win-win. But if that kinda thing isn’t your bag, you could check out the Kimmel Center’s programming (dancing! singers! Broadway!) or the Society Hill Playhouse, great location for dinner after the show.

  4. Festivals for the Restival(l of us!) 

    What better way to show your mom a real taste of Philadelphia than to literally let her taste bites and sips of Philadelphia?! While she’s at it, she can scope out retail tents, local artists, and music, all in one place surrounded by the real “salt of the earth” Philadelphians that live and breathe this city daily?!Outdoor festivals, IMHO, are one of the coolest ways to explore the city surrounded by tens of thousands of your closest (potential) friends. They’re also happening ALL summer long!! And while I’ve already spoken about how to survive them, I’ll go ahead and say that I invited my mom to venture out this past weekend to the South Street Spring and Rittenhouse Row Festivals this past weekend, and she had a blast.

    And who knows, after eating and drinking your way through the crowds, you might end up getting matching piercings at South Street’s very own Warrior Piercing.

    Because the mommy daughter duo that pierces together.... is... awesome together?

    Because the mommy daughter duo that pierces together…. is… awesome together?

    Philly REALLY is a city ripe with opportunities to bond with any family member, whether it’s over food, drinks, performances, fitness, or simply shopping your way down Walnut Street. And, if you’re lucky, your mom can be the ultimate plus one/buddy/guest whatever you end up doing.

Wishing your mom, and really ALL moms, caregivers, and ladies out there, an incredibly Happy Mother’s Day full of all the best things.

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What’s your favorite “Mom-Friendly” activity to enjoy with your mama?

My mom proved she can handle just about anything, so I think my next goal is getting her out to Bob and Barbara’s for their Drag Show.

Dream big, right?

Tasting Chicago

True Life: Of the past 44 hours, 18 have been spent Living Socially. My job is the most fun.  But now that I’m home, cozied up in sweats and slippers, I am fully ready to live anti-socially for a bit. And what’s more anti-social than blogging about myself?

Don’t answer that.

When we last me, I regaled you with tales of my trip to Chicago but, more specifically, to the Goose Island Brewpub. And, don’t get me wrong, that was delicious. But, let’s be honest, no trip to Chi-town would be complete without a solid amount of edible adventures, in addition to the boozier ones. And thus, with empty bellies and a full itinerary, my buddy, Katie, and I hit the ground running in hopes to eat our way through some Chicago specialities on our very own self-guided food tour of Wicker Park and the Loop.

First up: The Bristol for some brunch…

We have arrived.

We have arrived.

Or really, for some duck fat fries.

A bright start to the day

A bright start to the day

Katie, a fanatic for all things duck fat (or really, duck-related), has been eyeing these puppies for a bit. And, when the opportunity to dip crispy fries into mayo-disguised-as-aioli, who am I to say no?

For $5, this portion was generous, and came served with a side of housemade ketchup (which was a little thick for my liking) and tossed with herbs (which were right up my alley). But, honestly, these were the type of fries that would’ve been a-okay even without dipping sauce, the kind that have you licking your fingers and contemplating licking the plate clean of any niblets.

I couldn’t resist the Moscow Mule on the menu, so I guess this day wasn’t entirely booze free.

That's so Jordan.

That’s so Jordan.

This Mule was made with American Harvest Vodka, fresh lime juice, and Barritt’s Ginger Beer, and served in what looked like an adorable tin or copper mug, this cocktail was refreshing, light, and chock-full of ginger taste. I’m into that. I’m real into that.

Our tongues coated in salt and savory taters, we decided our next stop should be something sweet. And what’s sweeter than hot chocolate on a freezing cold day?

Mindy’s Hot Chocolate might be my favorite concept for a brunch ever. Many tables were loaded with mimosas and bellinis and, I’ll admit, it was tough not to blow my load and eat everything on the menu. But I only had eyes for their hot chocolate. Each mug is served with a house-made marshmallow. And I went for the Mexican hot chocolate.

2/3 dark chocolate, 1/3 milk chocolate, fresh cinnamon and cayenne?

Please and thank you.

Please and thank you.

Spicy and sweet is one of my favorite flavor combinations, and this had the bonus of being creamy and piping hot. The marshmallow was a total game changer, and tasted phenomenal even without the hot chocolate (but definitely better with it…)

Katie went for something even more indulgent. The Black & Tan is 1/3 hot fudge and 2/3 medium hot chocolate.

I know, right?

Yes.

Yes.

I tasted a sip or two, and felt as though it was meant to be poured over ice cream. That, or directly into my gullet.

We took a little breather over at Casa de Sierra, author of Posh Meets Pavement AND former classmate from UNC , and I irresponsibly didn’t take any pictures. But check her out, she’s living locally in Chicago and, in her free time, travels the world and runs half-marathons. Crazy person.

Four hours later (ish. Felt like no time at all, the beauty of bonding with college friends), we were ready to revisit the world of treats. And, as I’d Yelped my way through the entirety of Chicago earlier (maybe a little less, but that’s what it felt like), I knew where we were headed next.

Magnolia Bakery for their infamous banana pudding. Katie went for a B&W cupcake.

I won this game.

I won this game.

Full disclosure: The cupcake was meh. Nothing to write home about, in my humble opinion, but that didn’t bother me. I’ll tell you why.

This banana pudding was about as life-changing as I think banana pudding can be. I feel like, despite having many experiences with banana pudding before, I have never truly tasted it before this banana pudding.

You might think I’m exaggerating.

I am not.

This is the banana pudding by which all future banana puddings will be judged. The bar has been set, banana pudding. I’m calling you out, and you must be pillowy, flavorful, full of bananas, fluffy, and also made with love.

That’s all.

Road pudding

Road pudding

And, I know it was a little out of order, all that dessert before dinner, but that’s the reason we became grown-ups, right?

We knew what we needed to eat for dinner. It was meaty, it was cheesy, and, of course, held in a deep dish.

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Pizano’s Pizza was, quite simply, the closest spot with solid deep dish pizza reviews. But we were SO pleased.

The crust tasted almost like a savory pie dough. The sauce was super-flavorful. But I think my FAVORITE part was the cheese. It was like…. cartoon cheese.

Let me elaborate. You know in cartoons you watched as a kid (or yesterday), when they’d order a giant cheesy pizza and, when the characters grabbed a slice, the cheese would go on forever?

Cheese me.

Cheese me.

It was that kind of cheese. And it was PERFECT.

After we waddled our way back to Katie’s home and sat back in full-belly bliss, I appreciated Chicago cuisine utterly and completely.

And then, I shamelessly grabbed another spoonful of banana pudding.

Chicago, you did me dirty. I loved every bite, and I can’t wait to come back.

What cartoon food would you LOVE to taste in real life?

Ever had a dessert that rocked your world quite like that banana pudding?