Drinks and Apps, Part 2 (Or So We Thought)
Zahav, 237 St. James Place, Philadelphia, Pa 19106
- Entry: Accessible at the rear of the restaurant, off of 3rd Street and through the courtyard.
- Bathrooms: Accessible and spacious.
- Interior: Slightly crowded, but plenty of end-row tables, fairly easy to maneuver around.
- Recommended: Yes
We still had plenty of time to kill before our movie, so we headed over to Zahav, another Bourdain-visited restaurant located on the hill overlooking the Ritz 5 Theater. We did check Open Table before we left, and there were no reservations available at all that night, but we decided to take our chances at the bar.
Just a word about Taking our Chances at the Bar: Taking our Chances at the Bar is always a hit-or-miss, but usually miss, proposition. Since barstools are almost always high, as is the bar itself, it’s difficult for us to sit comfortably at the actual bar. And not all restaurants have tables in the bar area that bar-only patrons can use, especially on a busy Saturday night. I’m sure this is not at all unfamiliar to anyone who uses a wheelchair and likes to drink at bars (check and check). It’s risky at best. But I digress.
First we had to actually get to the restaurant. From Dock Street (I think), right across from the Sheraton Society Hill, Zahav can be reached by climbing stairs from the street to the front of the restaurant, and then another set of steps leading to the actual entrance. That was right out, so we walked up the hill to 3rd Street, and around the corner to St. James Place and into the courtyard of Society Hill Towers. An employee of the restaurant spotted us making our way to the back door, and directed us right through the restaurant and to the host stand. No sooner had we arrived, however, when we were shut down. No tables were available until 10:30, there was no seating at the bar, and although we were still pretty early for dinner on a Saturday night (5:30 or so), the place was already buzzing with frenzied activity and a Saturday night crowd. Disappointed but not surprised, we made our way back out of the restaurant. We weren’t even across the courtyard, however, when the hostess came running out after us - there had been A Cancellation!! ”Please come right back this way”, and right back that way we went.
We were seated with a view of the kitchen, and right below the mural-size photo of Jerusalem on the wall. The space was definitely crowded and tight, but there were a number of tables on the ends of rows that were easily accessible. The bathrooms were also accessible and spacious.
The menu was amazing - small plates of both classic and reinvented Israeli and middle-eastern food. Perfect for more drinks and more apps, which was what we planned on.
Until, that is, we were told about the tasting menu. Much of what our most excellent and energetic server Chris said about this meal was lost on me - I heard nothing after his description of the centerpiece of the meal - a lamb shoulder that takes 4 days to smoke, grill, braise, etc etc. That’s not drinks and a few small plates as we had planned, but rather a culinary commitment. But the hostess WAS kind enough to chase us down and offer us a table. in a packed house. On a Saturday night. The least we could do is order a *real* meal.
Dishes of Salatim, hummus with baked-to-order laffa bread, 3 appetizers (mezze), and the lamb. Ooooh, the lamb. Crispy and succulent, falling off the bone lamb. Then dessert - very delicious desserts. I wish I could tell you what they were, but by that point I was in an orgiastic gastro-trance, and not making new memories over basic sensory impressions. And then there were the 4 glasses of french and an entire bottle of Israeli wine. Oh sure, we came in intending to sample the mezze, maybe have a drink, but left with no regrets,
Don’t know what any of that stuff - mezze, salatim, laffa - is? You owe it to yourself to find out. Seriously, don’t look it up, just go and eat. Sure, you can tell yourself you’re just going for a drink and a small plate or two…we did.