Friday, February 6, 2009

Restaurant Week Winners - Zahav Gets the GoldStar

Restaurant Valentine's Day, it's one of times a diner must be choosy...great restaurants can slip into a tired 'Greatest Hits' mode, cranking out plate after plate of lackluster food so that tourist-diners can check another restaurant off their 'Eat-Here-Before-You-Die' list.

After seeing a bit of buzz on the web about Zahav delivering great food & service during RW I knew that this place wasn't following the sell-out script...I grabbed a reservation on OpenTable immediately.

There has already been alot of coverage on Zahav, so I won't bore you with the details of how the mixed decor of old desert castle and modern wine-bar flair made for a great dining space.

What I do want to emphasize is the level of service...although we had arrived early for reservations and had parked at the bar, we were asked if we needed a table by a friendly staffer...during dinner, we decided to switch over to sparkling water and just mentioning this to the 'water-filler' server brought on a chilled bottle from our waitress moments plates and silverware were brought for every course....again, normally I don't waste time talking at length about service, but during RW, good service is always worth a mention.

Zahav (which I read somewhere means "gold" in Hebrew) gets the GoldStar...

I told you all that I would try out the GoldStar during dinner and I think the verdict is in...drink this beer! After reading a great post over on BROG about how he had the River Horse Wit with dinner and maybe regretted passing on GoldStar, (I tried it and agree...too much flavor fighting with the food) I made sure that I sampled GS.

The beer had slight honeyed sweetness that helped to hold up with the spicier dishes while maintaining the lager 'drinkability' factor. Better yet, it was served in a Gold Star glass. I want one of these glasses! Although I'm not a beer-glass collector, I loved the gold-star imprint at the bottom of the glass.

The asst. manager overhead me raving to Elizabeth about how The Foodery had picked up GoldStar now and stepped in to introduce himself. It was a little loud and I didn't catch his name (sorry!), but he was very friendly and shared with us his struggle to get Gold Star not only into Zahav, but into Pennsylvannia via the PCLB. It took nearly 8 months worth of bureaucratic wrangling to accomplish but the manger said "I'm Israeli! I'm persistent!" End result is another great go-to option for a food-friendly beer...the guy even recognized this accomplishment, saying "When I saw it on the shelf at the Foodery, I was proud", placing his hand on his chest. Be proud, it's a great showcase beer.

But we didn't come to Zahav just to talk beer...we came to eat!

Much of the RW menu seemed to be part of the regular menu, so here's the rundown:

The Salatim 'tower of salads' was alot of fun; a tiered offering of marinated turnips, tabbouleh, red-pepper and eggplant purees, a chickpea salad..this thing had it all. The hands down favorite though was a beet salad that seemed to be mixed with a touch of honey possibly and dusted in shaved nuts...maybe pistachio or almond?

A beautiful plate of hummus landed alongside the Salatim...smooth and creamy, with enough tahini to give it body. The flatbread carried a healthy dusting of spices as well.

The RW menu had you select a series of mezze plates for a second course. Here you see the famous Fried Cauliflower, which lived up to it's reputation. Although the mini-crisp texture of the fried florets was delicious, the main star here was the garlic-mint-chive-dill-spiked yogurt sauce beneath.
In the background are the fried Haloumi cheese cubes, served with a date puree and pines nuts. This one's going on the list for our next cook-alike party...the date spread was rich and paired well with Elizabeth's glass of Monastrell, a bold red wine.

The Kibbeh was a traditional preparation...sitting on a bed yogurt-tahini spread, these breaded lamb nuggets were not aggressively spiced and allowed for the strong lamb flavor to leap out of the bulgar-wheat crust.

Finally, the leek & mint fritters were a great study of texture...the outside was crispy but the batter on the inside was still a bit gooey...this was the flavor-texture combo I had hoped to have with the Bechamel croquettes at Cafe Apamate.

Third course was the skewer course...and although there were plenty of good vegetarian and 'fish-only' options, we went double-down on meat.
Here's the Bulgarian beef & lamb balls, served on a bed of rice & white-beans with a parsley & tomato sauce. The basmati rice was a nice touch...gave some nuttiness to the beans. The texture of the Bulgarian balls themselves was very dense and chewy...not a crumbly mess, but firm and packed with flavors of lamb.

I had the merguez skewer..the grind on the spicy lamb sausage was fine but like the Bulgarian balls, it held together nicely. Like the Kibbeh before it, the spices were not as aggressive as other preparations I've had of these dishes, which really allow for the lamb flavor to come forward...somebody expecting more oomph may be disappointed, but I think the low-key meat spices helped bring out the subtle aromatics of the herbs and accompanying you see a matbucha...I looked this up after dinner and it's kind of like a red-sauce...roasted tomatoes, peppers, garlic & olive oil.

OK, at this point you're probably done with our review...and yes, we were nearly stuffed too. But there's always room for desert. The Cashew Baklava was served with a scoop of ice cream and a smear of sour berry sauce...the ice cream was listed as an Argan Oil ice cream...I'd never heard of it, but Elizabeth told me that this was a new fad in healthy in Vitamin E maybe?
The baklava were a little dense, kind of like a granola, but an empty plate testified to how much I enjoyed the semi-sweet morsels.
For dessert, Elizabeth had ordered what looked like Cousin It wearing an hat made of a sour yogurt ice cream...this was called "New School” Konafi. Although topped with a tangy frozen treat and coated in crunchy flakes, the center was simply a core of bitter-sweet chocolate. When you scraped a spoonful of the Konafi together each crunchy bite would start with a cool-creamy tartness, then yield to a chocolaty smoothness. Having those contrasting textures and flavors made for a wonderful finishing course.


  1. Great report. First I've read. Karen said you have a blog. Just getting to it. Stay hungary!
    Bill Mitchell

  2. Sounds like a terrific meal! I've got to pick up some Goldstar from the Foodery ... unless I get back to Zahav first.