Archive for June, 2011

Zahav: Israeli Cuisine in Philadelphia

Posted 22 Jun 2011 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining

This time, rather than simply pass through Philadelphia on the way to another destination I decide to take a quick drive from the airport into the heart of the city. Time is on my side and the restaurants, architecture and history in Philly are drawing me in like a magnet. The cab drops me off at Washington Square at the Corner of 7th and Walnut. I am smack in the middle of the historic district and just a block away from Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell Center so I begin walking around through the narrow alleys past three storey brick row houses that make me feel like I am in London. After a few minutes I am at Independence Hall, its two storey brick façade capped with scaffolding and protective screening as it undergoes a major renovation. Hunger kicks in and I click of the Zagat NRU app on my phone to see if any nice restaurants are nearby. I am in luck; Zahav is just three blocks away so I head east toward Society Hill to see if I can get a seat.

Zahav has been on a tear since opening in 2008. The restaurant features cuisines of Israel, Eastern Europe, North Africa, Persia and the Eastern Mediterranean. After opening in 2008 Esquire Magazine named Zahav one of the country’s best new restaurants and in May 2009, Philadelphia Magazine named it the best restaurant in the city. Capping off a fantastic first three years Chef Owner Michael Solomonov won the James Beard Award for best chef mid-Atlantic region for 2011.

Solomonov and his partner Steve Cook or Cook and Solo Restaurant Group have a fantastic reputation in the city second only, perhaps, to Jose Garces who seems to have a restaurant on every corner. Cook and Solo’s other restaurants include Percy Street Barbecue, the modern Mexican Xochitl and Federal Street Donuts. I arrive at Zahav hoping to catch up with Solomonov but he isn’t in (it’s a Tuesday night).  Instead, I am greeted by restaurant manager Eilon Gigi.

Eilon, who I have never met before, greets me like a regular and escorts me across the restaurant to one of the two cocktail table deuces set along a large glass window at the end of the bar. I have a perfect view of the restaurant to my right due to the taller height of the cocktail table and a great view of the garden and Society Hill to my left out the window. Eilon floats away and Kailey my server arrives with a menu. She’s has a delightful affect and explains the menu, takes a drink order and disappears for a few minutes.

Following Kailey’s advice, I order the TAY’IM (Taste of Zahev) tasting menu. For $36.00 this five course menu represents an incredible value.  The first course consists of a plentiful portion of Salatim and Hummus followed by two Mezze, one skewer and a dessert.  Five courses for $36.00: I am in! Kailey brings me an ice cold glass of Riesling, takes my order and a few minutes later food starts arriving. The food is everything I expected and more. Eilon sees me soaking in the room with a mouth full of silky smooth hummus on crispy Laffa bread and does a drive by smiling. I smile back…this is good stuff!

Salatim (house selection of eight salads), Hummus & Laffa Bread

Hummus Foul with Warm Fava Beans


Red Cabbage Salatim

Roasted Eggplant Salatim


Grilled Duck Hearts, Carrot Turnip Salad

House Smoked Sablefish, Molten Fried Egg, Poppy Seed


Katafi with Valhrona Chocolate, Labaneh Ice Cream, Kumquat


Pistachio Ice Cream with Coconut Macaroon



237 St. James Place (Society Hill)

Philadelphia, PA


Freemon’s General Store: Creede Colorado

Posted 11 Jun 2011 — by S.E.
Category Travel, Warms My Heart

Sometimes a meal is more about emotion, peolpe, and place than it is about the food. As a professional chef, I know how emoion plays into an overall food experience. Perhaps this is why Freemon’s, to me, serves the best burger in Colorado. Tucked away outside the small mining town of Creede, Freemon’s is a seasonal mom and pop restaurant, general store, ice cream parlor and tackle shop that is known mostly to locals. Early summer is the best time to go.

Outside, the grass is still green at this altitude but the air is getting hot so we have the windows up and air conditioner on as we drive north. Later in the summer, this part of Colorado will dry out and the grass will become parched and brown but today the scenery is green and bright. Eve is driving us to lunch in her enormous black Suburban. Buddy the neurotic Border collie is in the back glaring though nose-smudged rear windows at the occasional rabbit or marmot scurrying in the underbrush, odd alien sounding whimpers rising in his throat at each sighting. Freemon’s is just minutes away now and my mind begins to wander as I think about Eve and how gracious it is that she is taking me to the place where she used to go regularly with her late husband Billy.

Rio Grande National Forest

Eve owns a cabin in this part of the state that she built years ago with Billy.  They had planned to fully retire and spend time here in the twilight of their lives until Billy, aged 74, fell to a bad case of cancer. Actually, it wasn’t the cancer that killed him it was the surgery that did him in. He was one of those New Mexico cowboys with a western drawl, Wrangler jeans, tan Resistol hat, and big silver belt buckle inlaid with turquoise. He was tough in a John Wayne sort of way but uniquely intellectual with a Ph.D., in French Literature. I used to kid him about his inability to control his drawl as he spoke French. Although fluent, he sounded like a cross between Ross Perot and inspector Clouseau. She loved him deeply, he loved her, and together they visited Freemon’s on a weekly basis. Eve invited be to the cabin for a visit and to lunch knowing I would make the trip.

Freemon’s Screen Door

Earlier today we met at the cabin so I could park my car and drive with her. Walking across the front porch of the cabin, Buddy has a melt-down at the front door and is exiled to the back yard so I can enter. We sit in the living room for a few minutes, large windows radiating Colorado sunshine through the panoramic windows facing north toward the Rio Grande National forest. There’s a white Resistol cowboy hat on the end table by the sofa and Eve hands it to me. “I want you to have this. You know we never had any kids and he would have liked you to have this. He always liked you” she says. I always liked him too and my eye’s wet with tears of humility as I take Billy’s hat and put it on my head. Oddly, it fits perfectly. She smiles, rubbing the small of my back as we head out the door.

Dry Goods

We pull into the dirt parking lot at Freemon’s in a cloud of dust, jump out leaving Buddy in the car (with the windows cracked open) and climb the worn wooden steps up to the entry. I pull open the spring-loaded screen door for Eve and follow her in as the screen door claps closed behind us. As the door swings closed I notice a small sign below the handle to the door with blue lettering reading “no wining, no rudeness” and an index card taped next to it reading “we do business the old fashioned way…sorry no credit cards.” Once inside a steady stream of locals approach Eve, greeting her and engaging in brief conversation. They all know her. It’s a local joint and social hub in this part of Colorado where news and gossip is shared and solidarity and support is offered. It reminds me of what America must have been like 100 years ago.

Service Counter

There’s a counter at the far right corner of the general store and behind it a large grill and ventilation hood. Three older women that remind me of my mother work the grill while others take orders at the cash register and coordinate delivery. Several small tables with Formica tops and beat-up chairs are randomly placed in spots where they fit along with a couple picnic tables with red checkered vinyl table cloths. It’s just about noon, all the tables are full and there’s a line at the cash register. We make our way forward and I order a burger with fries, Eve orders the same and we nudge our way through the crowd to a table that has just cleared and sit down.

Short Order Cooks

I look around the store, taking in the room. The décor is completely random and worn with rusted fishing lures, mounted horns and antlers of varying species, old photos and various ephemera and dusty artifacts. Eve is staring at me and smiling still and I realize I am the only one wearing a cowboy hat; Billy’s cowboy hat. The other men are wearing baseball hats; more than one has a John Deere logo on it. Our burgers arrive (the beef is custom ground by Mountain City Meats in Denver) and I take my first bite. It is absolutely delicious. Eve continues to smile as we feast on the burgers while an occasional visitor stops by the table to say hello. Life slows down for a moment and all is right in the world. My burger at Freemon’s is one of the best meals I have ever had, Eve’s smile part of what makes is all so right.

The Best Burger in Southern Colorado

Freemon’s General Store

39354 Colorado 149
Creede, CO 81130-9558
(719) 658-2954

Menton Restaurant, Boston

Posted 01 Jun 2011 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining

I love the city of Boston for many reasons. It’s a large American city with a great skyline, tremendous history (by American standards), an active cultural scene, great architecture, the best academic institutions in the world, and fantastic people. The city also has the highest proportion of female celebrity chefs in the country and that in itself is worth celebrating.  Barbara Lynch is one of those chefs.

Lynch is incredibly smart. Just over a year ago she chose to locate Menton, her latest fine dining outpost, in the rising Fort Point neighborhood of Boston. Menton occupies the first and lower floors of the FP3 building, an old brick mill building that has undergone a thoughtful adaptive reuse under the watchful eye of Hacin + Associates architectural design and Berkeley Investments. Berkeley started the project during the dark depths of the recession and recruited Lynch as an anchor tenant. Talk about doubling down when times are tough! I love this kind of visionary thinking.

Menton is within walking distance to the Seaport district, Boston Convention center and surrounding hotels and other major new construction projects coming out of the ground in that part of the city. The location is easy to find although parking is tough and valet is a must. The restaurant entrance is completely understated with nothing but a small brass sign bolted to the side of the building marking its presence. I initially failed to notice the restaurant but spied the valet in front just as I was passing. Traffic on this side of the city is light so I spun around and handed over my keys. Just 15 minutes from Logan via the Ted Williams tunnel, I strategize timing for a quick multicourse menu prior to making a run to the airport.

The color palette inside the entrance and sitting area is awash with gray upholstered furniture, rich brown paneling, mustard colored throw pillows and tall table lamps. Entering the dining room, the mood and design shifts to a stark and contemporary yet softer feel.  Each place is set with a service plate, napkin, knife, fork, water and wine glass and candle. Tablecloths are seamless and pressed and servers are formal. The building and environment have a central European chic with a truly local feel as does the food.

And the food starts to arrive. Each dish is carefully prepared but not overly fussy. Flavors are bold and well executed and portion sizes are balance and precise. Foods are locally sourced and perfectly cooked. Seasonal flairs flourish on each plate and I find the culinary aesthetic balanced and well controlled. The food is delicious.


Amuse of Tarragon Puree, Porchetta, Crispy Mandarin Orange, Red Beets

Green and White Asparagus, Araucana Egg, Morel, Fines Herbes

Salmon with Spring Peas, Ramps, Caviar

Casco Bay Codfish with Stuffed Squash Blossom

Giannone Farm Poulet, Porcini, Fava Leaf, Spaetzle



354 Congress Street
Boston, MA 02210-1295
(617) 737-0099