Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Veg Out: Zahav & Kanella

One of my most memorable dining experiences in the past month has been at Zahav, it's one I keep going back to. Society Hill's latest small plates baby has certainly made enough noise. Even blogging about it sets off the radar of local food sluts. All of this would mean nothing if they had screwed up the hummus. Zahav has made quite an impression on my palate.

The service is a lesson in Israeli cuisine, or perhaps, an introduction for those unfamiliar with the traditional flavors. Turkish interpretations have not gone so well in this city, until this year. And even hummus is brought back to roots here, with a true Turkish-style butter-based hummus to lap up with grilled laffa. Or go with what you know, but I'll be a little disappointed in you.

Mezze would be a vegetarian comfort zone, with plenty of hot or cold picks, except all of it is executed with intense flavors. Fried cauliflower reinvents one of the blandest vegetables around and crispy halloumi is sharp and wonderfully nutty. Only stuffed grape leaves are forgettable. Most of the dishes we sample make for profound grazing. The vegetarian skewer, the Galil, is a miss, with mushy eggplant and an overly garlicky tehina. Desserts are for ice cream enthusiasts, with varieties such as sesame, rosewater, and labeneh. Honey cake is merely a vehicle for a revved up coffee ice cream. The Turkish coffee itself is a meaningful end to the long journey. You come to Zahav to study food and culture with leisure, but you'll want to dismiss the check immediately. Education ain't cheap.

Thursday nights get a bit more intimate in the new private room, The Quarter, where six-course $65 tastings, including a separate menu for vegetarians, await those with reservations. There are also new lunch and late-night hours, which are worth checking if you're on a budget.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Kanella, a Greek Cypriot kitchen in my neighborhood that truly feels like an extension of home. It's small, humble, and it's straight out of the Greek Good Housekeeping. I wouldn't recommend it for vegans, but cheese-partakers and spanakopita fiends will find bliss. I'm quite taken by the lunch menu's hummus platter with chickpea fritters. Give me a Greek frappe with that and I've heard all I need to hear. I'll sign a lease.

Zahav, 237 St. James Place
Kanella, 10th & Spruce

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