A bowl of Israeli style hummus at an event hosted by EatWith, a platform for sharing home-cooked meals. / Courtesy of EatWith
I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn. Periodically I receive an email from “Brooklyn Hummus” with the message that the following day there will be either hummus, masabacha (chickpeas swimming in a rich tahini sauce) or both for sale. Orders must be placed before the day is over; the hummus can be procured anywhere along the 2 or 3 subway line from Prospect Heights in Brooklyn to Chelsea in Manhattan the next morning. The email is signed “Noam,” no last name.
Last summer I met Noam Bonnie, a 40-year-old Israeli expat software developer, outside Brooklyn’s Boro Hall. He unzipped a small cooler and handed me a white plastic bag filled with warm Tupperware containers of hummus and masabacha, as well as pita. He instructed me to eat the hummus soon and not to refrigerate it. I paid him in cash — $7 for each container — thanked him and slipped the goods into my canvas bag.
Bonnie has been selling his hummus like this for seven years. “Before I moved here I knew I was going to miss it,” he told me. Anticipating his longing for the dish, he learned to make hummus before he moved to New York, experimenting at home and talking to talented hummus cooks. Once Bonnie arrived in New York, his Israeli colleagues and friends quickly caught on to his skills and asked to purchase the dip. A side business was born.
Local Israelis were grateful for a taste of home. “The first time he arrived at my place, I cried,” Naama Shefi, another Israeli living in New York who works on various culinary projects, told me. Similar underground hummus operations have popped up in Berlin and New Jersey, feeding expats as well as those like me, who once called Israel home.
“In Israel, hummus is a religion,” Bonnie said. More than a bowl of ground chickpeas, it provides expats with a cultural and emotional connection to home. The dish holds a unique place in the Israeli imagination; there is an entire culture of customs, etiquette and traditions that surrounds it. “The experience of eating hummus is the ultimate freedom: You eat it with your hands, outside, and with your friends. It’s very spontaneous. All of these characteristics are so typically Israeli. So it’s not just the flavor that’s so hard to bring to life [outside Israel], but also the experience of eating it,” Shefi said.
Anthony Bourdain’s tour of Israel last fall left me (and most viewers) desperately longing for a real exploration of Israeli cuisine. Bourdain alluded to a meal of roasted baby watermelon in Gaza that never appeared on camera and somehow managed to skip one of the region’s culinary capitals — Tel Aviv — entirely. Where Bourdain failed, I hold hope American-Israeli chef Michael Solomonov will succeed, in his PBS special “The Search for Israeli Cuisine.”
Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait until Spring 2015 to catch the entire program. In the meantime, filmmaker Roger Sherman who traveled with Solomonov to Israel last fall has released a taste of what we can expect.
Catch shots of stunningly bright food, simple hummus and a corned beef stuffed pita at that inspires Solomonov to declare: “You can keep your truffles and foie gras, this is where it’s at.”
Viewer digression is advised: Do not watch this while hungry.
It was an overcast Monday afternoon in Tel Aviv’s beleaguered Hatikva neighborhood, and Chef Michael Solomonov was gamely accepting dish after dish at Bosi, a small-family owned restaurant, surrounded by cameras and sound men. Facing skewers of meat, a mounting stack of fresh flatbreads and a dozen salads including beet, several eggplant dishes, coleslaws and hummus, he rattled off descriptions for the camera. Using the salads to illustrate the Israeli melting pot, he attempted to name the origin of each one — one is probably Yemenite, another looks Palestinian — and turned around to feed a bite of kebab to his cameraman, documentary filmmaker Roger Sherman, who was towering over him.
Solomonov is partnered with Sherman, a two-time Academy Award nominee, to film an upcoming PBS documentary on Israeli food, “The Search for Israeli Cuisine.” They have traveled the country up and down, from Metullah to Mitzpeh Ramon, in search of what Solomonov termed “grassroots” food experiences. Along the way, they visited vintners, farmers, cheesemakers. Solomonov also stopped in the homes of talented cooks and attended a poyke dinner after dark in the desert. The list of sites was pulled together by Solomonov, Sherman. producer Karen Shakerdge, who is half Israeli, and Avichai Tsabari, a local tour guide and sommelier. All in all, the trip was the result of one and a half years’ worth of planning and fundraising to date, to be packaged into four half-hour episodes scheduled to air next year.
Is Philadelphia hungry for Israeli and Jewish foods? Chef Michael Solomonov certainly thinks so.
Solomonov and his business partner Steve Cook announced that they’ll be adding two more restaurants to their group, which already includes the award-winning Israeli-style restaurant Zahav: A laid back Israeli-style Hummus restaurant named Dizengoff, and a restaurant with “traditional Jewish Diaspora” foods named Abe Fisher. Both are slated to launch down the street from each other in spring 2014, on 16th and Sansom Street in center city Philadelphia.
The news of the latest restaurants in the works broke last week, as the two were in the air, returning from a food tour they had led in Israel.
At Dizengoff the focus will be “really great, consistent hummus,” says Solomonov, who was born in Israel and spent his childhood moving between Israel and the United States.
The menu at the 25-seat restaurant will be very limited, he says. At the moment, he isn’t willing to commit to serving anything beyond hummus and tahini.
“Minimalism is kind of going what we’re going for,” says Solomonov. The restaurant will be “accessible” in terms of both concept and price, he says.
For Israeli-American chef Michael Solomonov, this weekend’s dinner in an Israeli park had been in the making for 10 years – ever since his younger brother David was killed on duty in the Israel Defense Forces.
Michael Solomonov, the owner of Zahav, an award-winning Israeli style restaurant in Philadelphia, was just launching his culinary career when David Solomonov was killed by a sniper just days before he was scheduled to complete his military service. His brother’s death is one of the main factors that pushed him to focus on Israeli food, he says.
A picture of his brother hangs in the room of Michael Solomonov’s 2-year-old son, also named David. The father and son say “good-bye to Uncle David” every time they leave the room, the chef says.
“That ‘good-bye, Uncle David’ thing we say every morning, that’s what we’re doing here tonight,” he told the crowd of 120 at the dinner in the Tel Aviv suburb of Kfar Sava.
Solomonov. 35, was born in Israel to a Bulgarian-Israeli father and an American-Israeli mother, and grew up moving between Israel and the United States. He and his brother had lived on different continents in the years prior to David’s death, but they reconnected a month beforehand.
That’s when Solomonov visited Israel for the first time in four years, “and got to sort of rekindle a very meaningful relationship.” He and his brother spent several weeks together, which happened to include a lot of eating.
Then, on Yom Kippur 2003, shortly before David was due to be discharged, he was killed while patrolling on the Lebanese border, near Metulla. A few months later, Solomonov, then sous-chef at Vetri, hosted a dinner for David’s army unit in partnership with his employer, chef Marc Vetri.
Even for a veteran filmmaker whose widely praised documentaries have explored subjects as diverse as the O.J. Simpson trial, the classic American Chevrolet, the Kennedy assassination and the life of Broadway musical giant Richard Rodgers, this could be considered a rather unlikely topic.
And that might explain why Roger Sherman tends to bubble over with excitement when you get him talking about his latest project: a four-part special on Israeli cuisine scheduled to be broadcast across the United States on Public Broadcasting Service affiliated channels in 2014.
Make no mistakes about, cautions Sherman − it’s not what you think. “This is not going to be a cooking show and it’s not going to be a food show,” he says, as he sits down for a break during a recent jam-packed pre-production trip to Israel. “What I’m doing is looking at this country through the lens of food. It’s going to be part travelogue, part biblical history and part food tour.”
In the series, which will be divided into four 30-minute segments, Sherman will follow Israeli-American celebrity chef Michael Solomonov, crisscrossing Israel with him, as they search out ethnic, immigrant and regional specialties. During their journey, says Sherman, they will sample dishes at Tel Aviv’s most exclusive eateries, nibble at street food in backwater holes, and enter the kitchens of Israelis from all walks of life to discover what’s simmering in their pots.
Read more at Haaretz.com.
You might think wearing polyester on the first day of July would be a big mistake, and normally you would be right. But on Monday night, leisure suits, sequins and tube socks were all on proud display as Philadelphia’s most-popular “modern Israeli” restaurant, Zahav, kicked off its fourth-annual Down the Shore.
This year’s disco-themed event was entitled “Klezmer Inferno” and it more than lived up to its name, combining the Eastern European sounds of a live Klezmer band with the Burn, Baby, Burn! heat of an open-air, mid-summer disco.
Previous years have had Zombie Luau and Love Boat themes, but for this year’s Klezmer Inferno, Zahav’s James Beard winning chef Michael Solomonov stuck a bit closer to his culinary home. Recruiting some of the city’s best chefs Solomonov pitched the even as a European Jewish BBQ for disco-crazed diners, young and old.
Well, that didn’t last long. We’re talking about star chef Michael Solomonov’s tenure at Citron and Rose, the hot new kosher fine dining establishment in suburban Philadelphia. Only half a year after opening the restaurant with owner David Magerman, Solmonov, known for his innovative Israeli-inspired fare at Zahav, and his partner Steve Cook are pulling out —and they are taking their chef de cuisine, Yehuda Sichel, with them.
To fill Sichel’s spot, Magerman has brought in Philadelphia native Karen Nicolas, the former executive chef at Washington, D.C.’s Equinox. One of Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Chefs for 2012, Nicolas has some serious cooking chops, but she’s never cooked kosher food — or Jewish cuisine for that matter.
Nicolas is still practicing the pronunciation of classic Jewish dishes and learning what cuts of meat are kosher, but she has ambitious plans for the Citron and Rose menu. Her goal is to make traditional European Jewish food as modern as possible. “Not many people have really done this with Eastern European cuisine on a high end level,” she said. “I plan on modernizing it and making it more seasonable.”
With Passover looming ever closer, now might be a good time to brush up on your kitchen skills.
Luckily there are classes around the country that focus on Jewish and kosher cooking, many of which are taught by well-known restaurant chefs like Michael Solomonov of Zahav and cookbook authors like Joan Nathan.
Here’s a round up of some of the best — both Ashkenazi- and Sephardic-style — that are guaranteed to have you cooking gourmet meals in no time.
The Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture is home to a farm, a farmers’ market and one of the country’s best farm-to-table restaurants, the high end Blue Hill at Stone Barnes captained by chef Dan Barber. On Saturday, March 9th from 1 to 2:30 p.m. famed Jewish cooking expert and prolific cookbook author Joan Nathan will teach Grow Your Own: Passover Seder which will feature her take on the traditional meal complete with seasonality and a touch of the farm ($36 for members, $40 for nonmembers).
This blog post is cross-posted from What Is Your Food Worth.
Ask anyone who’s the biggest macher on Philadelphia’s Jewish restaurant scene, and the answer is invariably the same: Chef Michael Solomonov.
Chef Solomonov is best known for Zahav, his shrine to modern Israeli cooking. But in recent years, he’s added Percy Street Barbecue and the Federal Donuts chicken-and-doughnut joints to his growing restaurant empire.
In early November, Chef Solomonov threw the doors open on his newest venture, the Main Line glatt kosher restaurant and catering company Citron and Rose. He’s re-imagining some kosher classics (chopped liver paired with sour cherry, chocolate and pumpernickel; cholent with crispy duck breast standing in for the classic beef or chicken) and even serving a few kosher cocktails (the Lower East Side, made with gin, cucumber and dill; the Reb Roy, with Manischewitz replacing the Rob Roy’s vermouth). Here’s a look at the complete dinner menu.
Chef Michael Solomonov has been busy this week trying to get a new passport — and he’ll need it. In a few days he will travel to Budapest and Paris for a week long trip of “More eating than you could possibly understand,” as he describes it, with his business partner Steve Cook and sous chef Yehuda Sichel. This trip — which will include visits to the cities’ Jewish quarters — isn’t a glutton’s vacation. It’s research for their new kosher restaurant Citron and Rose, set to open in Merion, a suburb of Philadelphia, this summer.
Solomonov and Cook already own four restaurants in Philadelphia, including the highly praised upscale Israeli restaurant Zahav. But the food they will offer at the sleek new 75-seat place, Citron and Rose will be the “Other side of what we do at Zahav,” said Solomonov. Instead of concentrating on Middle Eastern and Sephardic flavors, the team will turn their attention to Europe. “You think of pierogies and stuffed cabbage — they’re not so sexy, but there’s great European, Eastern European and Central European food that just needs a platform,” he said. The restaurant will focus on meat, but offer numerous vegetables options as well. Meals will be accompanied by small plates in hopes of giving diners a broad taste of these cuisines and dishes. “We want it to be an experience. We want to showcase as much as we can,” he added.
The H&H saga continues. Little-known Davidovich Bakery is stepping up to fill the void. [Wall Street Journal]
What’s the best hummus in New York? The foodies at Fork in the Road offer up their thoughts. [Fork in the Road]
Or, if you prefer your hummus homemade, try this stellar recipe from Michael Solomonov. [Saveur]
This past Sunday, Food Network’s “Iron Chef America” featured Israeli-born chef Michael Solomonov, of Philadelphia’s Zahav Restaurant. Solomonov battled Iron Chef Jose Garces in a head to head culinary competition. The pressure was on for both chefs who had just 60 minutes to create a world-class meal featuring passion fruit, the secret competition ingredient, which was revealed only moments before cooking began.
Solomonov, staying true to his personal and culinary roots, fried up fresh chickpea falafel with passion fruit and amba and served tuna carpaccio stuffed with tabboule. He wowed the judges with his passion fruit infused malabi custard for dessert. Iron Chef veteran Garces, impressed the judges with a “tour of the Islands,” cooking dishes from Cuba and Majorca including an opah ceviche with passion fruit sorbet. In the end, as with so many Iron Chef episodes, the challenger — Solomonov — was defeated.
Following the battle, Jew and the Carrot caught up with Solomonov to discuss his influences and what it’s really like to cook on ‘Iron Chef’.