Our friends from TheTownDish.com normally take DishTrips to explore culinary goodness around the country, but they recently enjoyed a staycation in their own chomping grounds of Philadelphia for an undead luau full of zombies, award-winning chefs and lots of fake blood. Chef Michael Solomonov (Best Chef, Mid-Atlantic of James Beard Foundation in 2011) hosted this annual “Down the Shore” soiree, where he transformed his restaurant, Zahav, into a night of the living dead party with blood thirsty guests and our favorite, acclaimed OpenTable restaurants, including The Corner, Bistrot La Minette, Percy Street Barbecue, Bibou, Fork Restaurant,and Meme. Amy Strauss, Editor-in-Chief, TheTownDish.com, reports.
My zombie contingency plan for Philadelphia has me rallying my fellow food lovers and holing up in the city’s most irresistible restaurant, Zahav. Perched on the grounds of St. James Place, overlooking Philadelphia’s Society Hill ‘hood, living out my last leg of my twenty-something life tucked away in this contempo Israeli restaurant would be purely transporting. Of course, I’d hope James Beard award-winning chef Michael Solomonov would be nestled in his celebrated open kitchen, serving up his final, lusty feast.
But honestly, who needs an apocalypse to seek refuge in the home of the city’s most unusual, yet forever-memorable meal? Hell, I don’t — and that’s why I joined more than 100 guests on the eve of the Fourth of July for Chef Michael’s third annual “Down the Shore” themed bash.
Naturally, since we’re in an age studded with end-of-days parables, the acclaimed chef knows best, theming this year’s booze and food-infused soiree as an undead luau. On this particular July 3rd, where else would you spy a room packed with costumed foodies drenched in copious amounts of blood, guts and grass skirts — all itching to try the next best bites.
Joining Chef Solo for the hot-ticket affair (some unprepared locals resorted to pleading on Craigslist for a spot) were several of the city’s forward-thinking, heavy-hitting chefs. Together, the zombified culinary comrades collaborated on a crazy dose of passed, seasonal small plates. With an evening roster speckled with the likes of John Taus of The Corner, Peter Woolsey of Bistrot La Minette, Top Chef’s Jen Carroll, Monica Glass of Fish, Erin O’Shea of Percy Street Barbecue, Pierre Calmels of Bibou, Terence Feury of Fork Restaurant and David Katz of Meme, you’re going to need to take a deep breath before I dive deep into the night’s eats and drinks.
Swinging past the gorific face painting station and after getting lei’d (remember, the theme: mashed blood with Hawaiian trimmings), we opted to quickly snag our first personality drink, one of the signature, fruit-infused cocktails served up for the soiree. Perfect for the brains-pining patrons—and cheekily coined too, was the Bath Saltz drink, a well-balanced blend of Arak, cucumbers and grapefruit on the rocks.
Several of the undead-themed cocktails proved to be addicting, as well, confirming Zahav’s reputation as connoisseurs of all things booze. The Revenge in the Rain took a classy riff on a pina colada, while the Requiem for Maverick’s Divorce offered a refreshing mix of rum, ginger and pomegranate.
Soon, servers swirled around us, triumphantly bearing flesh wounds and heavy coats of blood as they scattered throughout the table-less dining room with trays of perfect two-bite hors d’oeuvres. Our insatiable hunger didn’t have us murmuring “braaaaains,” but it did lead us to doubling our grubbing paws up on duets of pineapple- and jalapeno-topped chicken wings and seared tuna resting atop crispy and creamy potato cakes.
Jen Carroll’s tender opah, plated delicately with pickled pineapple and kava, succeeded in being our favorite bite of the night, and we thank the Top Chef native for pausing on her restaurant space scouting to join us at the beachy bash. Her former 10 Arts sidekick, Monica Glass, the city’s dessert sweetheart now whisking away at Fish, joined her for the occasion, ensuring that this luau was legitimate by coring out pineapples to act as cocktail koozies for many party-goers.
As the Tuesday night unfolded, palm-sized cups of smoked salmon ceviche crowned with cantaloupe sorbet came circling around the room, followed by petite toasts smeared with velvety sweet potato puree and insanely delicious (and well-prepared!) blood sausage.
The main event for many was Chef Michael’s carvings of succulent pork from the party’s pig roast, which arrived to the guests plated bento box-style aside a medley of salads that articulated the heart of his cooking – Israeli’s traditional polyglot cuisine.
With the night still young, we sped to the grindhouse-inspired photo booth, promptly as the zombie-mermaid burlesque dancers hit the stage. Call the evening a melting pot of iconic quirk— if you want, but let me remind you that it’s in Philadelphia where damn good chefs with mind-blowing, innovative skills repetitively gather to collectively offer you your next best meal — sometimes even one worthy of “last supper” status.
So, next time you hear the W.C. Fields’ one-liner, “I would rather be living in Philadelphia,” you should immediately repeal their sarcasm and agree, that this city of culinary camaraderie is after your food-loving heart.