ZAHAV, 237 St. James Place, Society Hill.

Zahav may be Philadelphia’s most popular restaurant. It took us two months to get reservations, and we’re not complaining. It’s great enough to enjoy the anticipation. The atmosphere is superb. Owner/chef Michael Solomonov’s menu is a creative tribute to Israeli/Middle Eastern food and serves dishes like nowhere else in this area.

The best move is to spend $45 for the tasting menu, which amounts to about 10 small dishes brought to your table, from salads to dessert – each with a unique taste and aroma. The fried cauliflower was astounding. The grilled duck hearts – once we got past the fact that it actually looked like a little heart sitting on a plate – was wonderful. And we especially enjoyed our drink, a “Marble Rye,” which was rye whiskey infused with caraway seeds and pumpernickel.

Between my dining partner and I, we sampled 23 different tastes. Alas, the only one we thought fell short of fantastic was Zahav’s version of the meatball, the lamb loin and dry-aged beef kofte over squash and apple. It’s charcoal-grilled meat that incorporates an entire spice rack:  Paprika, cumin, caraway, parsley, Aleppo peppers, onion, allspice, garlic and mint.

That’s an amazing array of flavors. Only problem was, we tasted salt more than any of those all-stars. By no account was this dish inferior. It just wasn’t the No. 1 Seed we were hoping for in Meatball Madness.

Score: 81/100

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