With Love Letters: Star Chef Michael Solomonov Dishes on His Favorite Pho, B&Bs in University City and Percy Street Barbecue’s Targeted Opening Date

Chef Michael Solomonov (Photo courtesy of Zahav)
Chef Michael Solomonov (Photo courtesy of Zahav)

Welcome to a new post series on uwishunu called “With Love Letters,” in which our With Love Philadelphia campaign interviews noteworthy Philadelphians in order to learn more about their relationship with the city and why they love it here.
Today we’re talking with Rising Star Chef / Restaurateur Michael Solomonov.

Note: links were added to the interview during editing.


Chef Michael Solomonov’s restaurants include Zahav, Philadelphia’s only modern Israeli restaurant where he’s Executive Chef, Xochitl, serving authentic Mexican fare, and the highly anticipated Percy Street Barbecue coming to South Street this Fall.

Since opening Zahav in May 2008, Chef Solomonov and the restaurant have received rave reviews including: #1 on Philadelphia Magazine’s 50 Top Restaurants 2009 (May 2009); Conde Nast Traveler’s 50 Hot Tables in the World (May 2009); Travel + Leisure’s 50 Best New U.S. Restaurants 2009 (May 2009); and Esquire – Best New Restaurants 2008 (November 2008).

In 2009, Solomonov was nominated for the James Beard Foundation’s prestigious “Rising Star Chef” award.

In Philadelphia, it’s clear that his star has already risen.

The With Love Letters Q&A:

With Love: Hi Michael, thank you so much for talking with us. Ok, first question — be honest: have you ever run up the Rocky Steps?

Solomonov: Of course! I thought that was a required activity for all Philadelphians…?

With Love: Yeah, you’re probably right about that. Ok, let’s dive right into some food-centric questions. What do you love about Philadelphia’s restaurant and food scene?

Solomonov: What’s not to love? I think that our restaurants are a perfect example of the best thing about our food scene: the diversity. Philadelphians weren’t always so open-minded, but today, ours is one of the country’s foremost restaurant cities, with excellent examples of just about any cuisine you’ve ever heard of, and even some you haven’t.

With Love: We love lots of choices too! Ok, so when you’re not working at your own restaurants, where are some of your favorite places to eat in Philadelphia?

Solomonov: I’ve always been a fan of Osteria — it’s just a personal favorite, and I loved working with owner Marc Vetri at his first restaurant, Vetri a few years ago. I’m also hooked on Pho 75, which serves Vietnamese pho, a soup that is typically only eaten for breakfast. Finally, I guess I’m a sucker for the newest thing, because I love checking out the latest restaurant openings all over town.

With Love: Pho 75 is sooo good, it’s almost unfair. And you have to keep up with what’s new… it’s just too much fun. (Not to mention tasty.) Ok, how about when you host friends and family from out-of-town; where do you like to take them? Are you especially hot on any one Philly neighborhood right now?

Solomonov: I love taking guests to brunch at Fork, especially since my old friend and mentor Terence Feury took over the kitchen there this past year. While we’re in Old City, I’ll take them to see some of the neighborhood’s historic synagogues, or to a photo show at one of the galleries, much like the one we hosted at Zahav when we opened the restaurant, displaying my friend Michael T. Regan’s images from our inspirational tour of Israel as we brainstormed how to bring the flavors of that country to Philadelphia.

After the jump, we find out what food Chef Solomonov is craving right now, one of his favorite hotels in the city, and when he’s targeting for the opening of Percy Street Barbecue on South Street.

With Love: They all sound like good ideas to us. Ok, what about hotels — what are your top hotel recommendations for visiting guests?

Solomonov: I always encourage guests to look into some of the lovely, small bed-and-breakfast type places that are scattered all over town, especially out in West Philadelphia and University City, an area that I fell in love with while I was working at Marigold Kitchen. When it comes to the bigger name hotels, I’m a fan of the Sheraton Society Hill — it’s gracious, and just happens to be right across the street from Zahav.

With Love: It’s true — the Sheraton has a great location in the heart of Historic Philadelphia. Ok, back to food — is there a specific dish in Philadelphia that you are really craving right now? How about a drink?

Solomonov: I’m definitely craving some barbecue. I just got back from a food tour of Austin, Texas, as research for our new restaurant, Percy Street Barbecue, and I can’t wait to bring those unmistakable flavors to Philadelphia.

With Love: Yeah, we can’t wait either. Ok, is there a piece of news about your two (soon-to-be three) restaurants that you would like to share with our readers at this time?

Solomonov: The biggest excitement in my world right now is the upcoming opening of Percy Street Barbecue on South Street. Our incredibly talented chef, Erin O’Shea, did amazing things with her Southern cooking heritage at Marigold Kitchen, and we’re beyond thrilled to see what she will do with barbecued foods. We’re looking to open this November.

With Love: It surely sounds amazing. November can’t come soon enough, as far as we’re concerned. Ok, one last question: how has Philadelphia shown you love? What do you most appreciate about the city?

Solomonov: Philadelphia has been the best home I could have imagined. If you’d told me ten years ago that I would open my own authentic Mexican and Israeli restaurants and be nominated for a James Beard Award for “Rising Star Chef,” I would have laughed! But Philadelphians have embraced all of the unfamiliar flavors that I and my team have shared with them, and I feel incredibly lucky to be a citizen of such an amazing city.

With Love: Well we definitely feel lucky to have you. Thank you again for taking the time to talk to us. Congratulations on all of your success, keep up the great work, and best of luck to you on the opening of Percy Street Barbecue this fall — we really cannot wait!

With Love,

Zahav Restaurant [Official Site]
With Love Philadelphia [Gophila.com]

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