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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Zahav’s Temporary Transformation: The Lamb Shack

If anyone says they heard the term “Lamb Shack” and didn’t immediately start thinking in terms of the B-52’s 1989 hit, they’re a liar. Or they were born in the 1990s. Either way, I probably would avoid hanging out with them, and instead click this link and listen to it while you’re reading along. It’ll bring you along for one of the more delicious rides of my life.

(apologies for the lousy pictures, hate to whip out the DSLR on a date in a fancy resto…)

Having followed Mike Solomonov’s work religiously since I moved to Philadelphia like some sort of food-groupie, when I heard that one of the most coveted dishes in Philadelphia was going to be available to the huddled masses, I immediately called to make a reservation. If you’re not “in the know”, this legendary dish, a whole lamb shoulder, is described better by Adam Erace, so I’d recommend checking out his review. This dish is typically reserved for parties of 4+ and has to be ordered in advance. For the brief month of February, though, Zahav decided to offer this decadent meal to every visitor for a mere $36 per guest (along with the standard fare of hummus tehina, house made pita, vegetarian salatim, and a dessert).

Oh, it’s also BYOB.

Yup, the hits keep coming. But let’s get to the good stuff.

Salatim and hummus

Salatim and hummus

Six different vegetarian sides that almost almost make you forget you’re about to devour a hunk of lamb so rich, so flavorful that you can taste the fields in Colorado where the lamb grazed. My absolute favorite sides were the pickled cabbage and onions, the twice-cooked eggplant, and a tabbouleh salad with pomegranate arils littered throughout. All of this served with house-baked pita that was sprinkled with spices.

Don't worry, I promptly cleared this plate for the main event.

Don’t worry, I promptly cleared this plate for the main event.

But I knew, despite the cloud-like pillow of pita in front of me spread with assorted salads and dips, the best was yet to come. And then…. it came. And it might just be the delicious smells that surrounded me, or the killer 90s soundtrack that blasted through the tented rooms that resembled the inside of some sort of casbah… maybe it was the second glass of Shiraz. But I’m pretty sure that my waiter was briefly replaced with an angel who floated a tray of meat my way.

hubba hubba

hubba hubba

That angel deposited the goods on our table, my date and I shared a moment or pre-meal bliss, and we began to carve our lamb.

One word: Nirvana.

Served on a bed of Persian rice and chickpeas, this hunk of fatty, flavorful, tender and incredibly juicy meat just fell apart at my touch. And then I fell apart with each bite. We tackled as much as we could, but we made sure to hold out a bit of extra space in our tummies.

The grand finale:

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Chocolate kanafi – basically a bird’s nest of shredded phyllo dough filled with a melted chocolate ganache and topped with a dollop of passionfruit mascarpone (which was maybe a hint too tart for my tastes). The ganache was like a gentle chocolate lava that oozed into my mouth and filled me with assurance that everything would be okay.

We waddled home, our to-go bag running over with leftovers, knowing full well the glory that awaited us the next morning. Because you better believe, when a meal is this good on a Saturday night…

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…Topped with an egg or two, it’s going to be even better on a Sunday morning.

They’ve still got a few reservations if you wanna try to sneak in before March hits Philly (give them a call at 215-625-8800). And if you can’t get in before then, find yourself a handful of friends that dig good food and round em all up. You won’t regret it.