I recently had the pleasure to dine and eat at the famous Zahav Restaurant in Philadelphia Pa., the 2019 James Beard Award winner for best restaurant in the U.S..
It took months to get a reservation at Zahav, but finally my party of three and I got a dinner reservation for a Tuesday night on a cold, snowy, and icy February evening. We were all super excited to finally try this highly regarded restaurant in our own Philly back yard. It also felt so great to go out to eat and socialize at dinner together, finally at long last, for some delicious food and great conversation.
Zahav is a restaurant that brings Israel’s roots and recipes, traditions and flavors to Philly. They have an indoor restaurant, but unfortunately it was closed in February due to the pandemic and Covid restrictions. Instead, they installed yurts (outside the restaurant) on wood planks set atop the concrete walkway, a Yurt Village. The Yurts were heated teepee-like tents, that each had space for four people to dine around a small round table. The entryway to the yurts was kept open at all times for ventilation.
The yurts were very beautiful inside and out, plus a lot of fun to experience having a meal inside them. I might also add that every yurt was reserved for three separate seating’s on this particular cold winter Tuesday night. Amazing!
In each private yurt, there were light fixture heaters that hung from the center of the yurt to keep the space warm during the dining experience. It worked reasonably well for such a bitter cold evening. Many of them were decorated with hanging string lights and simple chandeliers, making it look both elegant, romantic, and exotic.
The staff was very highly trained and attentive to all our needs from the very beginning until the end. They worked together in groups of about two or three, keeping our water glasses filled, plates and utensils refreshed, and the food courses coming one after the other seamlessly.
When we dined at Zahav, they only offered one menu choice. It was a multi-course prix fixe menu costing $150 per person (not including wine), and a requirement to have four people per yurt per reservation. Plus we also needed to prepay in full for all four diners ahead of time on a credit card to make the reservation. Additionally, there was an optional 3 Israeli wine pairings for $38 per person to go along with the three main courses served (which all four of us opted to do). The wine pairings turned out to be very well worth the money, and they were all really delicious and paired wonderfully with the food served.
The food was as authentic as it could be. It was beautifully arranged in family style larger servings on oversized bold platters, and also presented in old world looking wooden trays that rotated around in a circle to each guest.
The first course really set the tone for the entire night.
It was really amazing to see the beautiful array of colorful unfamiliar foods served, and to taste flavors three of the four of us had never tried before. One of us had been to Zahav once prior.
The waiter first brought us warm house made laffa bread, that was brushed with a drizzle of olive oil and Za’atar seasoning…. super delish!!
Served with the laffa was their signature dish…. the incredible super star of the night…. their famous Israeli HUMMUS!
I had so many people write me to tell me to definitely try their hummus, because it is apparently thought by many to be the very best hummus you can get anywhere.
Me? I would have to say that I completely agree!!!!
Hands down, it is the BEST HUMMUS I’ve absolutely ever had!! Fabulous!
Zahav hummus puts all other hummus’ to shame. It really does. It was so super creamy and smooth in texture, and beautifully tasting with all the various herbs and spices common in Israeli everyday cooking. Absolutely amazing in every way!
The fresh made Laffa…. the incredible hummus… the lovely Israel wine…. well it all was literally perfect! Our night was off to an amazing start!
Next came some other interesting bites and samplings of dips and small bowls of different native small bites, including
Haloumi with Dates, Apples, and Walnuts; Sweet Potatoes with French Onion Labneh and Caviar; and Foie Gras Baklava morsels.
Honestly, I don’t generally love Foie Gras, but their Foie Gras Baklava was quite awesomely delicious. I even asked for an extra one to photograph for my blog post, which of course I ate after taking its picture!
The third course contained three items… Bulgarian Kebab; Pariyot Chicken and Matbucha; Portobello Shishlik, Lentils, Tahini, and Pine Nuts.
The fourth course was Grouper with Tomato Pepper Stew, Pomegranate Lamb Shoulder, and Eggplant with Preserved Lemon.
The fifth and last course was dessert, serving Pistachio Cake with Blood Orange Curd and Hot Sachlav with crystalized Cocoa Nib and Cinnamon.
Dessert course was our collective least favorite course of all, and neither dessert samples were very tasty. We hardly ate them at all, but for a quick taste.
Zahav restaurant was such an enjoyable experience, with every authentic detail accounted for from beginning to end. The food was plated with precision and utmost food art plating, and the flavors of each sampling were on point, intriguing, vibrant, and educational about Israeli food culture. Some of the evening’s samplings were incredibly delicious; others were just fair to not that tasty. All the dishes, however, were created artistically, masterly, attention to detail meticulously met, and everything was presented with beauty, authentic flavors, and a wide variety of dishes to taste and try.
I give Zahav Restaurant 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Our experience was highly enjoyable, the meal unique and fun, educational, expansive in flavor profiles, visually lovely, articulated by master chefs, and with much attention to detail. But it did not always hit the mark and translate positively onto our four random palates though. I would say that anyone who loves international food, are foodies, love trying new things, or enjoys Israeli and Middle Eastern spices and their traditional recipes, then you will love the food here at Zahav. But the food honestly is not going to appeal to everyone, as it did with me for instance. My three guests and me all enjoyed thoroughly our evening at Zahav, but I wouldn’t say it is the kind of restaurant that would draw us in for many return visits.
Also, I feel the price point per person may keep many people away from tying Zahav who might otherwise really love to try this cultural experience. Many may not be able to afford the high cost at $150 per person, plus there is a 4 person standard booking per yurt, so four times $150 must be paid in full on a credit card at the time of reservations being made. I generally don’t like restaurants that restrict some people from enjoying their food and business by way of having incredibly high price points. An example of this is that there are very few people these days that have $600 to spend for just dinner and water at a restaurant, let alone have room on their credit card to make reservations and pay in full for four people months ahead of actually eating at Zahav. I think to myself that many millennial kids and their friends would really benefit from a unique place like this one, and thoroughly enjoy this special culinary experience. It would be great for them to learn about new foreign foods and flavor profiles of other beautiful places far and beyond the US, that they may never have a chance to experienced otherwise. But the price points are just so high that it removes many potential good customers from their business. I really wish they had multi-level price ranges for their menu items, so young adults (and adults alike) could go in for their delicious hummus and laffa bread, and even maybe have a glass of Israeli wine of this unfamiliar region as well….. without spending half a weeks wage.
All in all I did love this restaurant, and our experience there was awesome. We all had a fantastic night and meal at Zahav.
I never had authentic food of Israel before, and I really loved tasting the culture by way of herbs, spices, and signature dishes of the people and traditions there. The evening was an expensive one for sure, but it was also a very pleasurable experience dining in the yurt, the food was super unique to taste and enjoy, and my guests and I had so much fun. I will absolutely remember Zahav fondly for many years to come. Hopefully one day I can go back for some amazing hummus and Israeli wine for an evening out that is a little more budget friendly.