Adventures in Eating & Cooking
When taking part in Restaurant Week, one must be wise about selecting the most delicious restaurant with the most delicious deals. Most of the time, restaurants are overcharging a $35 dinner course-meal that’s in the ballpark of a prix-fixe menu. However, getting a $20 lunch at a fancy Middle East restaurant like Zahav is totally worth it!
First of all, Zahav was very generous to provide complimentary salatim & hummus (salad & hummus) with the RW lunch menu. For our table of 8, each group of 4 received four small plates of salatim, consisting of: fresh pickled onions (upper left), cucumber-squash salad (upper right), purée beet salad (lower left), and carrot salad (lower right). As someone who usually hates onions, I was astonished to find myself favoring the pickled onions. They were crisp, tart, and a tad sweet. There wasn’t the slightest hint of onion-iness left, which shows that these were quite masterfully pickled. I also enjoyed the mini-cubes of cool cucumber and sweet squash, which left a refreshing aftertaste.
Weshima loved the purée beet salad the best, and I can see why. The beet salad had the most complex flavors, with a rich earthy sweetness derived from the natural beets, and sourness from either lemon or vinaigrette. There must have been a few other spices added, creating a multidimensional taste. The carrots were less memorable, but we ate them for our beta-carotene.
But don’t even get me started on the hummus. As a disclaimer, I am a hummus-lover at heart and will eat all kinds of hummus no matter what the origin. However, this hummus is probably the best I’ve ever eaten. It was rich and creamy without being overbearing. The chickpea flavors were also prominent throughout. I think the red stuff must have been roasted pepper-olive oil of some sort. Anyways, I could not stop spooning large portions of hummus onto my warm laffa (warm dough that resembles chapati sprinkled with parsley) It was sooo delicious, I had to stop myself from shamelessly licking the bowl.
For my first course (Mezze), I selected the Fried Cauliflower based on my friend Pri’s recommendation. In general, I am a fan of broccoli/cauliflower, so I could enjoy these without the labaneh sauce. They were crispy and cooked in a way that brought out the natural flavor of the cauliflower. Steff loved the labaneh sauce because it was minty. Indeed, it resembled a delicious minty tahini.
I also stole a bite of Weshima’s Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Steff’s Grape Leaves (no photos). The brussels sprouts were also quite good, embellished with a sweet ricotta-like feta. The grape leaves were excellent (which again surprised me because I usually don’t like grape leaves). These thin, chewable grape leaves had a grilled meaty filling that resembled some sort of sausage kebab.
We also received a serving of Crispy Haloumi, on the house – say what?! Maybe because we were such a large group of people (we maxed out with a group of 8), or because we were a group of attractive young ladies (at least my friends are), or because they thought I was a disguised Zagat editor with my dSLR (hahaha, if only). Or you know, Zahav’s chefs (James Beard & Michael Solomonov) could just be a really nice guys!~ Anyways, the Haloumi is definitely one of Zahav’s best Mezze dishes. These cubes of fried cheese were delicious, with a firm, layered, not-too-creamy, not-too-cheesy consistency inside. It was almost like a slightly salty, non-sticky mozz. Very hard to place a finger on this cheese, but it’s quite addicting. What made the Haloumi more special was the topping of sweet dates, walnuts, and urfa. It was the perfect combination of sweet & salty, and cheese! Honestly, I could have made a meal out of just the Haloumi, Grape Leaves, and Fried Cauliflower.
Especially because my entrée really pales in comparison to the Mezze dishes. I won’t deny that this Spiced Eggplant is a beautifully presented piece of work, but my tongue didn’t think it lived up to the expectations of my eyes. The eggplant was skillfully grilled with some spices, but didn’t feel special. The lentils were out of place, not to mention boring. (They tasted just like flavorless canned beans.) Siri was equally unimpressed with her Chicken Shishlek. Perhaps the Branzino (fish) would have been a better choice.
Most of us got the Kataifi for dessert, which is traditionally sugar and honey with Kataifi dough (all the little stringy pieces that look like a bird’s nest). It’s known to resemble baklava, except made with stringy Kataifi dough instead of phyllo dough. Inside the bird’s nest, there is a bundle of warm dark chocolate ganache that oozes out, yum! On top, there is a thin layer of passion fruit “soufflé” sprinkled with crushed pistachios. To me, the “soufflé” has more of meringue/pavlova consistency. Either way, it’s really tart, fruity, and delicious. I wish this layer was thicker because the rich chocolate greatly overpowers the passion fruit (not that I’m really complaining because I love chocolate). But for a better balance between chocolate and fruit, I would recommend the pastry chef try infusing the passion fruit into the chocolate ganache.