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The Best City For Dining This Month Is …

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Philadelphia -- At Zahav in Old City, James Beard Award winner Michael Solomonov prepares cuisine from his native Israel in his adopted home of Philadelphia. Diners can choose from a selection of raved-about hummus options, share a few small plates or order from the $45 tasting menu.

Stuck between New York and Washington, D.C. and too established to be considered an “up-and-comer” like Minneapolis or Charleston, South Carolina, Philadelphia’s food scene too often gets overlooked by the national dining intelligentsia. Though Philly does earn its share of accolades – recent nods have included best U.S. pizza and coffee shoprankings as well as James Beard Foundation outstanding chef, outstanding restaurateur and Rising Star Chef of the Year awards – overall, Philadelphians feel somewhat (unfairly) snubbed.

So the city is celebrating mightily this month after being named as home to both James Beard’s outstanding restaurant of 2019 (Zahav) and Food & Wine magazine’s best new restaurant (Cadence). The Beard Foundation doesn’t explain its selections but Food & Wine wrote four lengthy paragraphs of love to Cadence, a BYOB opened last year by three veterans of High Street Hospitality, a powerhouse restaurant group in its own right.

Disclosure: I periodically contribute to foodandwine.com.

Likely on F&W’s radar because of an earlier online story contributed by a local writer, Cadence charmed Restaurant Editor at Large Jordana Rothman with its “simple pleasures and serious food.”

“Where did the feel-good restaurants go?” she writes. “The ones that restore the spirit, the ones that make us feel fed in ways that transcend the obvious, the ones where the hospitality isn’t an algorithmic triple axel but human, heartfelt—’How’s the family?’ You know the type: Hearth in New York City; Rustic Canyon in Los Angeles. To that list, add Cadence in Philadelphia.”

Roth, a New Jersey native, once told New Jersey Monthly magazine (for which I write a regular column) that she loves Philly dining: “Fantastic dining city. I could not be a more ardent fan of Michael Solomonov [chef/owner of Zahav].”

So has something gotten into the wooder (Philadelphian for water) to make dining critics and award committees suddenly move the city of cheesesteak love from the perpetual runners-up column to the top of the big best-of lists? I asked a few noted local restaurant writers what they think has or hasn’t happened here lately.

  • Rachel Vigoda, Editor, Eater Philly and Author, Moon Philadelphia: Chefs and restaurateurs take a big risk opening a restaurant anywhere, but in a place like Philly, where costs are lower than a city like New York, there’s often more room to be adventurous, try new things, experiment, evolve. We’re lucky to have so many culinary stars in Philly taking these risks and it’s exciting to see some of them, like the crews behind Zahav and Cadence, earn national recognition for their talent and hard work.
    Philadelphia -- Michael Solomonov is the chef and co-owner of Philadelphia’s Zahav, The Rooster, Abe Fisher, Federal Donuts, Dizengoff and Goldie. He is the 2017 recipient of the James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Chef, and shares two James Beard Foundation Awards— “Book of the Year” and “International” Foundation Book Awards for Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking—with business partner Steve Cook (not pictured).

    Philadelphia — Michael Solomonov is the chef and co-owner of Philadelphia’s Zahav, The Rooster, Abe Fisher, Federal Donuts, Dizengoff and Goldie. He is the 2017 recipient of the James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Chef, and shares two James Beard Foundation Awards— “Book of the Year” and “International” Foundation Book Awards for Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking—with business partner Steve Cook (not pictured).

    J. FUSCO FOR VISIT PHILADELPHIA

  • Alex Tewfik, Food Editor, Philadelphia Magazine: I like to think that our dining scene is sort of a rose that grew from concrete , in that we were able to succeed despite the odds being stacked against us. We don’t have an especially large talent pool, we don’t do the volumes or have the kind of money you’d find in “traditional” food cities like New York or Los Angeles. Pennsylvania’s liquor laws make doing actual restaurant business in Philly so incredibly difficult. All those restrictions pushed us to be better, to be more creative and smarter and more resourceful. That’s why a place like Cadence rolls with so much swagger — it’s a BYO bootstrapped into existence, doing really lovely food with charming service. They can’t hide behind design theatrics or fancy cocktail lists, so they just have to own whatever it is they do — and that kind of confidence is not only attractive, but it’s felt everywhere in the dining room. Everywhere in the city, really.
  • Michael Klein, Dining Columnist, The Inquirer: I think it’s coincidence that two restaurants from the same city won these awards. Nothing against the restaurants but look at the methodology. Food & Wine is simply one critic’s opinion, while Beard is based on a poll of its people. I’ll give Food & Wine credit for “discovering” Cadence, which has not received a national award and is largely off the radar. Zahav has won so many awards leading up to this, it was almost a given that it won in its first year of eligibility.

If you’re looking to book a table at either restaurant, don’t let rumors of a three-month waiting list fool you. On Thursday night, Zahav’s website showed a two-person table available the following Tuesday evening at 9:30, though management has reportedly told this blogger that patrons typically wait two months for a table at a more reasonable hour. Insiders know they can eat at the bar without a reservation but need to show up around 4:30 to score a seat for the night when the modern Israeli restaurant opens at 5.

As a lesser-known restaurant, Cadence seats are easier to get. A late Thursday search for a two-top on OpenTable.com showed tables free at 6, 6:15 and 9:45 the following (Friday) night.

[“source=forbes”]

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