I’d read about the onion crepe, and it was as good as I’d imagined: onions cooked so slowly that they’ve turned into a sweet, dark jam, inside a crisp crepe and sitting on top of a truffle-scented foam. But it’s chef Marc Vetri’s spinach gnocchi that I can’t stop thinking about: I’m usually the first one to clean my plate, but I eat each little pillow in slow motion and get a little chill each time as it melts in my mouth. Other courses include acorn squash on polenta and butternut squash ravioli — not enough variety for a $155 meal, I think — but then again, it is February.
If Vetri is one of the best Italian restaurants on the East Coast, then Zahav in Philly’s Old Town is surely one of the best Middle Eastern ones. And Israeli chef-owner Michael Solomonov celebrates vegetables, so even though Zahav isn’t vegetarian, I feel just as catered to as my friend Josh does. We get a parade of mezze, including the best hummus ever; it uses particularly clean, nutty tahini, which our waiter tells us is from the West Bank. We probably could have made a meal out of the hummus and “salatim” (collection of vegetable salads) alone, but why stop there when so much else awaits? Brussels sprouts, greens, bulgur, fried cauliflower, eggplant steaks, black lentils — they all show up in various guises, under dollops of whipped feta and dustings of tart sumac; in soups; over dill-inflected yogurt cheese; beneath a date puree; alongside apples; or spiked with fiery harissa paste.