If you are a Facebook friend of mine, you will have seen pictures from the other night of the kitchen and several of the dishes I had at ABE FISHER's in Philadelphia.
It is owned by Michael Solomonov, the now-famous Israeli chef of Zahav, but offers a completely different style of modernized "Jewish" cuisine and is run by Chef Yehuda Sichel, who also hails from Israel.
As I arrived, I was asked if I would like to sit at one of the two seats at the kitchen counter which allowed me to see almost all of the final prep that went on before dishes were served and to chat extensively with the servers as the came to the window next to me; it was a ton of fun. I was greeted by General Manager, Eilon Gigi and then met one of my servers, Tehila; I was beginning to think this was an Israeli invasion, but a good one!
The menu consists of three columns called 1, 2, & 3 each with 5 plates and priced at $10 each, $12 each and 414 each respectively in each column. There is an option for a fixed price meal of $39 with a choice of one from each column plus dessert and this is an awesome deal for sure. All the wines are priced at $12/glass or $50/bottle. The décor is dark leather, tile floors and a big busy bar, and my only real complaint was that as the crowd grew, the noise grew. It was like a combo between a hot bar spot and deli.
It was almost impossible to decide which items to choose from each column, but I was so lucky that I kept receiving tastes of the items I did not order. As soon as I had chosen, Sara arrived with a large cigar box in hand and opened it to reveal warm savory rugelach. I chose one of each and while the Caramelized Onion & Fennel Salt was superb, the Pastrami Short Rib with Spicy Mustard & Caraway was a dream come true.
Flaky, warm, tasty and indeed savory, I would have to return just for these.
I ordered a glass of refreshing Grenache/Cinsault Rose 2014 from Elicio in Cotes de ventoux which went with almost everything.
My first plate arrived and was a magnificent Jerusalem Artichoke Caesar Salad with Snow Peas, Radish, Pickled Onions, Pine Nuts & Pecorino Cheese. I was eating Spring and then tasted a small smooth, yet firm, crunchy and sweet fruit that I could not place. Sara said it was Asian Pear, and it was the perfect foil to this dish, although I love the fact that almost every dish here has something pickled on it! Roasted Jersualem Artichoke Chips come with the dish instead of croutons and are a true treat.
My first treat arrived and was a Borsht Tartare which I had been watching be prepared before me multiple times as it is one of the hit dishes on the menu. It is pickled beets with Smoked Trout Roe and a home made Sour Cream-Onion Potato Chip (that I could have eaten a whole bag of) and topped with fresh dill. The ideal dish for someone watching their weight, as was the Artichoke Caesar.
My second treat arrived seconds later in the form of Chopped Liver on Toasted Rye with Pastrami-Onion Jam, Pickled Red Onion and fresh Dill. It is one of the best I have ever had on earth and is of the creamy variety served in a smooth quenelle form which you can shmear on the awesomely buttery crisp thick rye bread. I wished I could take an entire pound (ok, a 1/2 pound) home, but I was headed to the opera and that might not keep.
For my second plate I chose the Matzo Brei just because it came with Smoked Tongue, Fried Egg and (yes, to my surprise) Maple Syrup. When I posted this on facebook, one person mentioned that smoked tongue is so rare (and another suggested he put cigarettes on his tongue....). OK, jokes aside, this dish was phenomenal in that the "brei" was of a kugel consistency in chunk form under the fried egg which I was able to break the yolk on for extra runniness which I adore. The two large pieces of tongue were accompanied by small crunchy pieces akin to bacon bits; I was in love. I might have thought the sweet of the syrup was weird, but NO, it was brilliant, and the fried egg was topped with crunchy thin scallion slices for even more flavor. This seemed to be the only dish I had (as well as dessert) without anything pickled!
Another treat arrived in the form of a one bite Corned Pork Belly Reuben. The folks had asked if I ate pork as they did not want to send out the one non-kosher style meat on the menu (this is not a kosher place for sure, but as I said, Jewish-style modern) and I shook my head "no-way." The bread again was toasted and buttery with pickled green tomato on the side and melted cheese on top. Instead of sauerkraut, this Reuben sported pickled cabbage/health salad with a zippy seasoning that was very different from your average Reuben and especially tasty.
Again, when it came to #3, I was in a conundrum between the duck and veal, so needless to say, they sent out both. The Duck Blintz is heavenly with a thinner than blintz pancake, but thicket than crepe and filles with Duck Confit, smothered in Foie Gras Butter and topped with a tasty tangy Sour Cherry Sauce. No bubbie makes blintzes like this! Although I would venture that Chef Sichel (who by the way will be cooking many of these dishes at James Beard House on June 17), must have someone in his family tree who tried to tweak our Jewish cuisine heritage!
The Veal Schnitzel Tacos are a revelation and I am so glad I chose this as my main course. There are two per plate and each soft shell is filled with a rolled up veal schnitzel that is flash fried before serving giving it a somewhat falafel crunch, yet the meat is so tender, it is soft inside. The team explained they were going for that fish stick taco look....no way, this was an awesome original creation topped with Health Salad or superb (and not bitter) radish shavings and pickled Cabbage with a to die for Anchovy Mayo drizzled on top. If you wanted spice, there were two lemon slices laces with Espalette Pepper for punch, and I didn't even think before squeezing them on. The overall experience was indeed "himlische", "meen ha-Shamayim" or heavenly.
For my main courses I had a glass of superb 2013 Petit Sirah from Peirano Estates in Lodi, California which Sara recommended. Right on the spot.
I had seen every dessert go by and was completely full by now so I asked for a small plate of the Fluffernutter Crullers which looked like fried sugar-dusted bombolini and were filled right in front of me with creamy peanut butter and the placed on a shmear of Whit Chocolate Cream Cheese Fluff and garnished with poached Rhubard. the dish called for a mini-sprig of chervil, but the prep chef in front of me was not happy with the quality of the herb, so mine had none. No matter, I was so full and satisfied, that sprig would have been the After Six mint of Monty Python.
I can't wait to go back to Abe Fisher's in Philly for more food and fun. Thanks to the entire super staff as well.