Thursday, August 29, 2013

Zahav - Kitchen Counter

The boys at Epic Meal Time may have a challenger on their hands.  There is a little known kitchen counter seating available at Zahav that boasts 10 courses and nearly 5 hours of dining extravagance and gluttony.  There isn't even a mention of it on their website. You have to really want this. You have to shell out $90 per head  two months before you even sit down. And it will be one of the best meals you've ever had.

We've done Zahav several times over the years and it is always amazing. The menu continues to evolve, so there is always something new to try. The service is impeccable. And, my god, the hummus. Craig Laban gave this place four bells for a reason.  If you are a good planner and you can remember to log onto the CookNSolo website at noon on the first day of the month, you may get lucky enough to score a pair of four coveted seats at the Kitchen Counter.  There is only one seating per night and it is only on Friday & Saturday.

Do yourself the favor and go all-in by opting for the beverage pairing option. You will get way more than $50 worth of drinks, and it won't be just wine - we had several cocktails, champagne, and some intermezzo shots. There was also the joy of exploring the sommelier's secret stash of little known wines that causal diners never order.

Throughout the meal, Chef Solomonov (we now know him as Mike) stops out to introduce himself, checks up on how the meal is going, and personally thanks you for letting them cook for you.  He is one of the warmest people you could ever want to meet. Not a touch of arrogance or pretentiousness.  If you're lucky, you might even get some of his personally made origami pieces to take home. Thank you, Chef,for letting me eat.

*Disclaimer - nothing we ate is on the normal menu.  While the servers and chefs did a great job of describing each dish - and we asked lots of questions - over the span of five hours it's not the easiest thing to remember every detail. I've done my best to reconstruct the meal as best I remember it.  My apologies to the Chef if I've gotten any of this wrong.  If you do go none of this will matter since your meal will be completely different.  

It started off innocently enough, with a lovely negroni to wet our whistles. How did they know this is my favorite cocktail? They must be following the blog. The negroni started a theme of all Italian drinks. Lots of robust Italian red wines, prosecco, crisp whites, and even an aperol spritz thrown in there. 

You are literally on top of the action with the best seats in the house. Watch the line work it's magic and Chef Solomonov orchestrate his crew to feed the masses. It is a masterful thing to witness.

Our first course! Roasted local sweet corn with uni (sea urchin) sprinkled butter.  A gorgeous umami flavor after rolling the corn through the massive pat of butter. And a hot towel to clean up! 

Oh, that beautiful baked-five-minutes-ago laffa bread. You watch it come out of the brick oven with bated breath, knowing what awaits.  Warm and puffy, with a healthy sprinkle of za'atar. 

And laffa's best friend, the magical hummus that they have become famous for. It is so smooth and creamy, it seems almost impossible. This version is dotted with fresh chick peas and pieces of roasted duck loin, because why not. 

I got a little overzealous and attacked this plate of roasted baby eggplants and tomatoes before I remembered I'm supposed to be blogging this. Regardless, they were fantastic. Perfect little heirloom cherry tomatoes roasted to just blister, and super savory eggplants. 

Tomato soup, poured at the table over a mound of risotto and crispy chicken skin for an incredible flavor profile.  Some fresh dill on top brings freshness to the piquant and luscious soup.  This was the 4th course, if you're counting. 

A throwback to Chef Solomonov's days cooking at Vetri with a name-drop worthy pasta.  Ribbons of house made pappardelle and a ground lamb sausage that was at once sweet and pungent.  A healthy sprinkle of toasted breadcrumbs for texture and a bit of shredded parmesan puts this into the mind-blowing category.  

Underneath that perfectly cooked sunny side up egg is a kale leaf stuffed with a mix of what I remember being veggies and some ground lamb.  You cut through the egg yolk and let it run into and all over the stuffing like hot lava on an ancient Italian city. 

A stunning plating of fish, a Hawaiian type similar in taste to yellowtail.  Forgive me, as I don't recall the exact name of the species.  This is course number 7, with at least as many drinks. Things started getting a little fuzzy at this point.  I do remember that the fish was incredible and the simple dressing of olive oil and lemon juice heightened the flavor without getting in the way.

Getting full yet?  For course 8 they brought out the big/expensive guns with a skewered and grilled foie gras /lobster combo over a bed of saffron rice paired with roasted goose berries. You thought you couldn't grill foie gras?  You thought wrong, sucka. The foie was amazing, crispy on the outside but creamy and decadently rich on the inside. The lobster was actually kind of chewy and really the only misstep of the night. Maybe it was on there a bit too long? Hard to say, but usually grilled lobster is half steamed and then cooked in the shell.  This one was grilled completely over an open flame.

Hope you have room for one more succulent dish - and this one is substantial.  Seared slabs of lamb loin with roasted and glazed figs dusted with some more of that za'atar. I had to eat half of the wifey's portion. Nearly fork tender meat and the sweet figs are almost more than you can handle at this point.  #putmetobed

Our 10th and final course (or so we thought) was a merciful little helping of sorbet to cleanse the palate and allow you some time to digest and breath. There were a couple little extras that made their way out to the counter in the form of pastries and after dinner drinks.  We were then treated to nearly 20 minutes with Mike and his sommelier to discuss the meal and the highlights of the night.

We sat down at 7:30pm and left the building just after 12:30am with very full bellies and grins from ear to ear. This is without a doubt the best dining experience in Philadelphia and one of the top three meals I've had in my life. The food coma and hangover the next morning were totally worth it. Simply extraordinary.

A preview of what your meal will look like:

To book the Kitchen Counter :

Food Baby Rating: Octomom!

237 St. James Place
Philadelphia, PA 19106

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