Friday, December 13, 2013

#26: Zahav

Okay let’s get a few things out of the way first. This is Ryan’s cousin Kenny, guest blogging for our trip to Zahav. I was quite honored when two days before we went, Ryan asked me, or more so told me that I would be doing the write-up/review. Thanks for the heads up by the way, Ryan. To be honest, this should have been done over a week ago, but subconsciously I think I was procrastinating because of the following that 52 First Meals has developed, I did not want to disappoint. She was so annoyed at how long it took me to write this that she took to Facebook and publicly shamed me. 

Ryan invited me to go to Zahav with her because I am the more…adventurous of eaters and the menu offers some not-so-normal eats. She of course arrived before me because it took just about two hours to go 20 miles (man I do not miss driving 76 one bit), almost costing us our reservation. But Ryan adapted well and had herself a glass of wine at the bar (shocker) while waiting. Once we were seated, we both felt a bit overwhelmed by the menu and the options.

Our waitress was fantastic. She offered us a complimentary bottle of sparkling water, which we graciously accepted. Then we were asked if we had dined at Zahav before, which we had not, so she made a recommendation to do the Taymin – Salatim & Hummus, Two Mezze (small plates), One Al Ha’esh (grilled over coals) and One Dessert. It was ample amount of food for the two of us.

The Salatim and Hummus was outstanding. I had never tried hummus before, but Ryan assured me that I would enjoy, which I did. This course was served with House-Baked Laffa (basically an oversized tortilla). Pickled Beets, Cucumber and Dill, Eggplant, Asparagus, and an Israeli salad. Cannot rave enough about what a great starter this was, a good way to dip your toes in the water. Truth be told, we needed a second Laffa to finish off the Salatim & Hummus.


We each chose two Mezze. This is where we decided to be audacious, but ordered one “safe” Mezze’s…just in case. The Fried Potatoes were what you expected, a solid choice - Kashkaval Cheese, Crispy Okra, Shifka Peppers.

Our other safe choice was the House Smoked Sable which was fish and a fried egg served over Challah with poppy seeds. Loved how the yolk broke open as we ate this dish. The sable looked like and also tasted suspiciously like crab...

Next, Crispy Lamb’s Tongue, served with – Snap Peas, Smoked Grapes, Pistachio Tehina, Peaches. For me, the best Mezze we had. To put it simply, it was comparable to a jerky. I did not try it with the sides it was served with, but the Tongue had great flavor.
No picture, sorry kids! Use your imagination......

Finally, Grilled Duck Hearts, served with - Green Chickpeas, Falafel, Amba Tehina. Yes, duck hearts. This was brave and I give Ry all the credit for giving it a chance. The taste itself was great, with a nice smoke from the grill. Our only drawback was that you had to work through chewing it, because with each jaw movement you started to think about what exactly it was that you were chomping down on. 

Onto our Al Ha’esh. Ryan went with the Veal-stuffed Grape Leaves - Pine Nuts, Tomato, Snap Peas. I think I startled Ry a bit when I said that I had eaten grape leaves before and was not a fan. I of course waited until after she put her order in, so there was turning back. But she quickly found out on her own that she enjoyed it. 

I went with the Kofte - Ground Beef and Lamb, Cumin, Peppers, Carrots. Lamb again right? But this was tremendous. If you don’t like spicy, I would not recommend this dish. There were a lot of layers of heat to this plate, which I thoroughly enjoyed. The chickpeas provided a nice balance from the heat.

Somehow we were able to muster up the energy to order dessert as well. I decided on the Carrot Basboosa - Cream Cheese Mousse, Candied Hazelnuts. Basically a fancy carrot cake. A perfect ending to the meal for me.  

Ryan went with the White Chocolate Cake - Poached Pears, Vanilla, Cardamom. A little sweet tooth ending to an out-of-the-box meal.

Overall, I could not encourage you more to go and experience Zahav. The server was one of the best I’ve ever had. She knew she was dealing with a couple of rookies and she took her time when explaining everything and made sure we fully understood. There was perfect timing between each course, which I know Ry is a stickler for. We did not feel rushed one bit. We took our time and enjoyed the food to the full extent.

If you’re still reading, I give you credit. My apologies for being longwinded, it’s a nasty habit of mine. Finally, I know Ry gives a final price. All things included, the bill was $102. Thankfully she had that $50 gift card or I was leaving her there to wash dishes to pay off the rest of our bill.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

#25 Smith & Wollensky

After a semi nice dinner in Rittenhouse we decided to stop by Smith & Wollensky for a night cap. I know, all of you out there, scoffing at me for going to Smith & Wollensky to just sit at the bar for drinks and dessert and not a steak. But, I'm poor. And, if you take a look at all of the other steak houses on my list, you'll notice I will have just a few more chances to enjoy an expensive steak dinner in the city.

Smith & Wollensky was basically empty on a Friday night at 9:30pm. Immediately when I walked in I loved the atmosphere. They were decked out with Christmas lights and it had warm and intimate feel. Perfect for a rainy night. The bar was a decent size and there were a few other people sitting around it. The crowd at the bar that night was.... diverse, you could say. One couple eating dinner, one man sitting by himself, and then 3 drunk young attorneys attempting to drink martinis. Needless to say they provided our entertainment for the night.

We ordered 2 drinks and a dessert. The dessert menu was pretty extensive, but I decided to go with the New York Style Cheesecake since I am obsessed with cheesecake and it is pretty much my go to when I can't decide. However, the bartender quickly talked me out of that one. He said it was too small and that we would finish it in 2 minutes. He gave me a few other suggestions and we decided to go with the Apple Crisp. It was amazing. Not only did it taste amazing but the presentation was amazing as well. Am I saying amazing too much?

I have to say that I felt pretty classy sitting at the bar at Smith & Wollenksy for a drink. But then the bill came out to $42 and I realized why we don't do this often. We gave him our gift certificate, which was basically a letter written on Smith & Wollensky letter head. He wasn't able to give us change and made no indication if we could use the left over $8 for a tip or not. Probably because he doesn't typically come across people who are as cheap as we are. Since we were too embarrassed to ask if the left over money could be used for tip, we decided to just leave cash. Par for the course, I only had $4 in cash and Brendan had none. Not enough to leave a decent tip. Stressing about what to do (order another drink, leave the $4 and run?), Brendan went inside the Rittenhouse Hotel, which is connected to the restaurant, and tracked down at ATM. Problem solved! Lesson learned: take out cash before you use a GC at a bar.

#24 Melograno

With the holidays right around the corner, Brendan and I were looking for an inexpensive date night (aka, gift card & byob). We decided to go to  Melograno, an Italian BYOB on 20th and Sansom, fairly close to his apartment.  We made these plans at about noon on the day of, pretty typical. Can't get Brendan to plan anything in advance. However it was pretty easy to make a reservation for 8:30 on the night of, which surprised me.

So, as the day goes on, it begins to pour. And then it doesn't stop. All. Night. The last thing that we wanted to do was trek out in the rain but, Friday night is date night and that is what you do. Luckily we got a cab immediately as we walked out of his house, which doesn't happen often. During this cab ride we discovered  that I cannot for the life of me say 'Sansom' correctly. It usually comes out 'Samson', 'Sanson', 'Samsom' or some other variation.

We arrived at Melograno about 15 minutes early and they were able to seat us right away. Now, you all know how much of a stickler I am with wait staff, so when this waiter came to our table to open our wine without introducing himself or asking how we were and avoided any attempt to create small talk, I wasn't pleased. Crickets as he was opening our wine. Like, hello, anybody there? Then, he left us for about 20 minutes. I mean the place was full, but come on! This was how much I had left in my first glass before we ordered:

When he finally came to our table to order he just stood there looking at us, waiting for us to speak. After more awkward silence we ordered our meal. This guy. Anyways, I will cease my rant about the waiter and talk about our food. Before I begin, I would like to apologize for my picture quality. Melograno was dark and my boyfriend gets embarrassed when I use my flash.

To start, Brendan ordered calamari (which, by the way, has been a central theme of 52 First Meals- maybe I should write a sister blog called '30 First Calamari Dishes'). His calamari came with cannellini beans, diced tomato & lemon over baby spinach. The calamari was not fried, so I kept mistaking the beans for squid. It was good though. I ordered the Prosciutto di Parma e Rucola salad which was arugula, prosciutto & shaved parmigiano with lemon vinaigrette dressing. I enjoyed this dish, it was light enough to leave me hungry for dinner.

Now on to the main dishes. Brendan got the Pappardelle Al Ragu di Cinghiale (braised wild boar ragu) & I got the Ravioli di Patate (sweet potato & leek ravioli, brown butter sage sauce). I liked my raviolis but ordered the dish solely based on the sweet potato and brown butter sage and those flavors weren't really coming through for me. The entrees were fine. Just fine. Nothing really special about them, but coupled with the wait staff, we weren't overly thrilled with Melograno. No wonder it was so easy to get a Friday night reservation!


I am not going to say that I won't go back to Melograno because it is a super convenient BYOB, but there are way more quality BYOs in the city that excite me much more than Melograno did. Thankfully, the night was not over yet - on to gift card #25 ;-)