You always take a chance with a restaurant the first Saturday night after opening. Well, based on the results, the risk proved to be worthwhile. When we arrived at 7:30 pm, the place was crowded (but not uncomfortably packed) and we were promptly seated. The decor was sparse but cool and the bar had about 10-12 seats. There were a number of hightop tables near the bar and there is a long bar on the back wall facing the kithcen were diners sat. The open kitchen makes the scene somewhat loud, but not too overpowering.
It took a while for our waiter to find us, but he was very upbeat and engaging. As we watched other diners, we could tell that the management was still working out the kinks with the service, but they were on the floor and waorking hard. We were surprised that the wine list was so small until we were told that the owner had had problems with the liquor license which had only been recently resolved. The wines were reasonably priced with no bottle over $55, but I had hoped to see some of the interesting wines now being produced in Israel and the region. I'd suspect that the beverage program will only improve with time and as they work out difficulties with sourcing wine in Pennsylvania
As expected the menu focuses on the food of the various cultures which makeup Israel with, thankfully, an overwhelming bias to the sephardic cultures. With but a few fish dishes, the menu predominantly focuses on vegetarian dishes and the traditional kosher meat styles (fish, chicken, lamb and beef). (Note: Zahav is not designed to comply with kosher dietary laws).
The approach to the menu is more akin to tapas-style and designed for sharing. There's a cold salad course designed by the chef in which he selects approx. 8 different salads - we had pickled cabbage, beets, pepper with yougurt, bulgarian peppers, white bean, tabouleh and others I can't remember. The lafta served with the salads was excellent, albeit at an extra charge. Each of the salads were delicious and gave you some insight into the variety of flavors we'd experience over the evening. We did noticed that other diners received different salads than we received - not sure if the selections changed based on availability or because the diners next to us were Israeli and maybe had an "in" on the good stuff.
We then selected 3 hot appetizers - fried cauliflower in a labaneh yougurt sauce, chicken frekah and the morrocan cigars. The cigars (ground beef wrapped in phyllo and fried) had a great texture, but the promised clove and harissa flavors seemed to slight for my taste. The cauliflower and frekah rocked. Super flavorful. There was a rabbit appetizer making it rounds which left us with food envy. The folks next to us really liked theirs.
For the skewer main, we opted for the leg of lamb with saffron rice. Cooked perfectly medium rare and delicious.
At this point, we had the choice of continuing on with possibly another small plate, but opted for dessert. The honey cake with turkish coffee ice cream hit the spot and a copy of extra strength turkish coffee finished the night off. With three drinks, the bill was $95.
The only real gripe we had was the pacing of the meal was slightly off. The word from our server was that the food comes out whenever it is done so things my not come out in order. That said, it was nice not to be rushed and had the food been thrown at us we would have been done in less than hour.
The food is very good and a welcome addition to the Philly food scene. There's really nothing else like it in the city and we have reason to believe that the few kinks we had with the experience will be worked out in short order.