Philadelphia's Restaurant Week is on. The semi-annual promotion means you can eat at some of the city's best eateries at the set price of $35 for 3 or more courses.
Tonight, HM and I ate at Zahav, an Israeli restaurant in Old City owned and run by Michael Solomonov, an alum of Vetri and Marigold Kitchen. We agreed that it was the best Restaurant Week meal we've ever had, thanks to the kitchen's excellent cooking, the attentive service, and what we think was a case of mistaken identity.
We started off with drinks: HM with an "Adon Rimon" (Absolut Citron, pomegranate and rose) and I with a Ballast Point IPA (San Diego).
First course: Hummus with oven-hot laffa bread, and a sampler of 8 different cold salads. The tabbouleh, beets with tahini and the carrot with mint were particular highlights.
Second course: Mezze - small plates meant to be shared by the table. Crispy haloumi cheese with dates and nuts; bourekas (pastries) stuffed with mushrooms, feta and chard; fried kibbe (diced raw lamb) with bulgur wheat and pine nuts in a yogurt sauce; and stuffed baby peppers with rice, walnuts and feta. Our waiter also brought, "compliments of the kitchen," an order of burmuelos: crispy leek and mint fritters. This was an absurd amount of food -- I really think one mezze would have been enough for each of us (or maybe we ate too much laffa).
The Ballast Point IPA's bitterness and hoppiness was the perfect compliment to the "three C's" (coriander, cumin and cardamom) that spiced much of the food. One of the busboys saw me checking out the Ballast bottle (no draft beers at Zahav) and struck up a conversation about beer. He was a fan of the IPA, but also recommended the lone Israeli beer on the list, Goldstar. In his words: "It's like Yuengling, but it doesn't totally suck." Classic.
Third course: skewers. Monsieur Merguez (lamb sausage and cous cous) for me and the Galil (baby eggplant, pomegranate) for HM. By this point, we were so full from laffa and mezze that we only ate about half of the skewers and had the rest packaged up.
I should've taken the busboy's advice on Goldstar, but instead I ordered a River Horse Double White -- a good beer, but too soft for the aggressively spiced merguez. The crisp lager would have been a better choice.
After the skewers came our second treat "compliments of the chef" -- glasses of arak served with water and ice on the side. Arak, explained our waiter, is an anise-flavored liquor similar to ouzo or Sambuca. Like ouzo and absinthe, it pours clear but turns cloudy when mixed with water. I've never had ouzo, but I liked arak much better than Sambuca -- it's less sweet and syrupy. Enjoying our arak, we marveled at how Zahav was going all-out for its Restaurant Week patrons: Extra mezze! Free drinks! It was about to get surreal during dessert.
Fourth course: dessert. Lemon-poppy cake and chocolate-pistachio konafi. While we were eating, the chef/owner, Michael Solomonov, came to our table to introduce himself and asked how we were enjoying everything ("excellent!" said we). When he asked "if we were going to any of José's places this week," we knew something was up... assuming he meant José Garces, he must have thought we were high rollers on a first-name basis with one of Philly's hottest chefs. Not us! At first we thought he was making the rounds to all the tables, but he just went back to the kitchen.
I wonder who they thought we were?!?! I mean, we'd never eaten there before, we didn't drop any names, we're not in the business, we don't know José Garces, and we certainly don't eat out that much. We are not important people. It was a strange (and hilarious) end to a great, great meal. All that amazing food for $70 (not including tax, tip, and drinks). I feel like we got away with something.