The Philadelphia Diet

Zahav’s Mike Solomonov Balances His Fondness for Schmaltz-Fried Latkes By Eating Apples and Carrots

Photo: Mike Persico

Chef Mike Solomonov is a man of many talents. He’s a James Beard Award nominee for his Israeli cuisine at Zahav, he’s an owner of Xochitl and Percy Street Barbecue, which opens today and he’s a man who can consume multiple bags of Sour Patch Kids in one sitting. In the latest installment of The Philadelphia Diet, wherein a local food fanatic documents his dining experiences for a week, Mike Solo fills us in on his “guilt vegetable eating,” details the final brisket tasting at Percy Street and explains why he makes everyone in his kitchen eat a lousy pear when he eats one.

Monday, November 2

At 9 a.m. I had three Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, one banana, and two cups of coffee. It was two days after Halloween, what do you expect? Here’s the thing, I was working on Halloween and my wife bought a huge bag of the individual cups, Sour Patch Kids and Swedish Fish - then she falls asleep during trick or treating hour and I come home to three huge bags of candy. It was unfortunate that I had to do this [Diet] right after that because it was pretty bad. Then at 10, I had two pears and one apple at Zahav. At noon I had the kimchi soup from Giwa. We hadn’t been there before, but Steve [Cook, his business partner] and I went and ate and it was pretty good.

We have potato latkes at Zahav and we normally cook them in vegetable oil, but one of my cooks decided to fry one up in schmaltz instead. So at around 3 p.m. I ate part of a potato pancake cooked entirely in chicken fat. It was great. Amazing crust - they’re almost tempora’d, the outside is so good. I might serve it here - actually, I would probably take away the vegetarian one entirely. But that would be nice to do with some pastrami, I think. If that were the vehicle for a pastrami sandwich, could you imagine?

At 4, I had a carrot. I grew up eating a lot of fruit and vegetables, so I always eat apples and carrots or pears and carrots. I definitely do some guilt vegetable eating. I’ll be like “schmaltz-fried potato” and then… one carrot. Horseshit and then one pear, you know? I like to balance it out. Plus we always have carrots and fruit here, so it’s easy.

At 4:15 I had a kick-ass pasta with Bolognese for staff meal that one of the cooks made and left over cucumber and tomato salad. At 4:30 I had ice coffee in a quart container. After work, I had four mini packages of Sour Patch Kids. Unfortunately, I have to eat them until they’re gone.

Tuesday, November 3

I had a banana and two cups of coffee at home, then an apple and a pear at Zahav.

For lunch, Steve and Sergio, the manager at Xochitl and I shared three pizzas and antipasti at Stella. We were having a meeting and it gave us an excuse to eat pizza.

At 4 p.m. we had a sausage tasting at Percy Street. We were trying to get close to the sausage that we had in Texas, which is very different than German or Italian sausage is - it’s very coarse and mostly made with brisket trim. We were trying to get it done right and we were having issues emulsifying it and it was almost too smooth. But it’s very simple, it’s mostly beef, just a little bit of pork and then put in a smoker. There’s no grilling or anything. Then I had her [Erin O’Shea, the chef at Percy Street] chocolate layer cake. It’s very old school - it has sort of a chiffon base and it’s very buttery and then layers of chocolate frosting. It’s really heavy with cocoa - probably not something you’d have down in the South - it tastes a little sophisticated, tastes more like chocolate than milk and sugar. I ate a couple slices of that.

At 9, I had perfectly cooked penne with squash and pecorino that my wife, Mary, made. My wife is nailing pasta these days. I cook once a week and she’ll cook a little bit, but we don’t normally have meals. But she’s getting really good, especially with pasta. 10 p.m., three mini packages of Sour Patch Kids

Wednesday, November 4

Breakfast was one cup of coffee, a pear and a peanut butter granola bar on the way to work. At noon I had I stole a bite of my sous chef’s chicken cheesesteak from Campo’s and had a cup of coffee.

3 p.m. was a brisket tasting at Percy. That was our last tasting. We nailed it. We were playing around with brining and different amounts of time in the smoker, so this was what we narrowed it down to. Plus beans cooked with burnt ends and coleslaw. The coleslaw is very simple, just a little bit of mayonnaise in there, which personally I’m not a fan of, but it doesn’t gross you out. Very refreshing.

At 4:20 p.m., we had huevos rancheros for staff meal at Zahav. And chocolate cake scraps! Picture it: we make the tehini chocolate cake on sheet trays and all the ends get cut off - and then there’s a stainless steel bowl full of the trimmings. That’s why you have to counter with the pears and carrots - there’s just no other way around it. The older I get - I just turned 31 - you have to balance things out a little bit. Luckily, this is sort of a low saturated fat kitchen compared to most, but not when you’re eating a sheet tray of cake. There is no amount of apples or carrots that will make up for that.

At around 6 p.m. we had lamb belly seared on the griddle. We got in these domestic lamb saddles that come with the belly for a special event at somebody’s house. So we just cut the bellies off and then salt, pepper and on the griddle. Fucking sick! We just cooked it and rested the hell out of it and sliced it really thin across the grain and we just ate it for snacking. All the cooks were eating it, with lamb juice everywhere. I’m a big fan of that here -if we get something out of the ordinary or just delicious, everyone has to eat it. I ate a really shitty pear earlier today and I was like, everyone has to take a bite of this, it’s awful. Just so I don’t have to suffer by myself.

At 10 p.m. I had five mini- packages of Sour Patch Kids and at 10:30 Triscuits with bullshit cheddar cheese. NY State cheddar cheese, you know? Bullshit, but delicious.

Thursday, November 5

At 7 a.m., I had a cup of coffee and a granola bar. At 10 a.m. I had another cup of coffee and a turkey sandwich from Subway on the way to New York. I didn’t want to starve myself because I knew we were going to be doing a lot of eating. We went to eat Korean fried chicken and to meet Ana Sortun, she’s the chef at Oleana in Cambridge and she was cooking at the Beard House, so I wanted to say hi to her.

My cook, Jeff - the same guy that fried the potato pancake in schmaltz - he told me about this banh mi place that was the best and I was like I don’t know dude, we have really good Vietnamese here and I’d be willing to say the pho in Philly is better than New York. It was off Canal Street and the front of the store is like a cheap jewelry store and in the back is a fucking counter with a kitchen and they sell banh mi! It was incredible - the best I’ve ever had. I don’t know the name of it. They called it charbroiled pork, but it was really pork confit, the same that you get with carnitas, and then they had this pork “pate” that almost acted like the mayonnaise of the sandwich and then they had pork roll and I don’t even know what that is, but it was delicious.

4:30 p.m.: We had a bowl of ramen further uptown. It was so freaking good. Also, we ate an amazing dish that was steamed rice, spiced ground chicken, and a raw egg yolk.

5:15 p.m.: We had a burger and lemonade at Shake Shack. The burger does not disappoint, despite having to eat while in route to our next meal. I did almost wipe out while throwing out the burger wrapper in a trash bin. We were moving pretty quickly.

5:30 p.m.: Korean fried chicken and hot kimchi with tofu somewhere in Koreatown - it looks like a dilapidated office building when you walk in, but then you go upstairs and it looks like an English pub. I wasn’t too thrilled with this version of Korean fried chicken. The chicken itself was overcooked and bland. While washing my hands in the bathroom, another customer finished washing his hands and asked me if this was the kind of restaurants they gave blowjobs at. Apparently, a group of kids who were sitting behind his wife and him mentioned something of the sort. I promise that it was not me. Afterwords, I did have to wonder if we had come on an off night: bland chicken, no blowjobs. This is so weird.

At 9 p.m. I had a Take 5 at the bar back at Zahav followed by a shitload of seltzer water.

Friday, November 6

Breakfast was coffee, a granola bar, one mini pack of Sour Patch Kids and a banana.

At 11 a.m. I bought a hot dog from across the way and dumped our homemade harissa on top. It’s pretty good.

4:15 p.m.: I had staff meal mashed potatoes that were so good that I ate them with my hands. I scared my staff a little bit. Somebody took a picture.

11:30 p.m.: An apple.

Zahav’s Mike Solomonov Balances His Fondness for Schmaltz-Fried Latkes By Eating