RATING |

Before sundown on Friday, Yemenite Jews pop pull-apart kubaneh dough in the oven, to wake up to freshly baked Sabbath bread. At K’Far in Rittenhouse, Michael Solomonov, Steve Cook, and Camille Cogswell do kubaneh a bit differently: The dough has been remixed into a Pullman silhouette, and unrelenting crowds have turned the Saturday specialty into a daily fixture. But the overnight bake is the same. As the loaves cook, the sugar and butter inside them caramelize so slowly you’d need a time-lapse video to witness the bread turning from all-purpose white to deep tan, not unlike Solomonov over the course of a summer surfing in Margate.

Cook and Solomonov have experience giving obscure Persian carbs Stroehmann’s-level name recognition. Did you know about laffa before Zahav opened? I didn’t, nor had I heard of kubaneh before eating at K’Far, the first of three Cook N Solo concepts opening by early 2020.

This week, Adam Erace rings the bells instead of Inquirer restaurant critic Craig LaBan, who reported on a trip Michael Solomonov, Steve Cook, and Camille Cogswell took to Israel to plan for K'Far and other forthcoming projects. Craig will return next week with a review of Jean-Georges. Adam has been writing about dining in Philadelphia since 2005, serving as restaurant critic for the Courier-Post, Philadelphia Weekly, and Philadelphia City Paper. Adam is not an anonymous critic, and Dizengoff hummus and Cook N Solo cookbooks are sold at Green Aisle Grocery, which he co-owns.

Named for the town of K’Far Saba and inspired by Israel’s round-the-clock café culture, K’Far opens at 8 a.m. with Cogswell butchering the brawny kubaneh into Texas toast slabs. She slathers some with cloud-like ricotta, a cushion for glistening purple figs, and layers others with ripe avocado, tomato, and thick, tangy labneh spiked with fiery schug. Drippy date molasses and tahini give another toast PB&J vibes. (At dinner, the same sesame-date duo goes black-tie with the addition of foie gras kisses and so many neon-green Sicilian pistachios it could glow in the dark.)

Cloud-like ricotta provides a cushion for glistening purple figs on kubaneh toast.
JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
Cloud-like ricotta provides a cushion for glistening purple figs on kubaneh toast.

The toppings change, but the kubaneh is constant. That slow caramelization imparts the subtlest nuttiness, and the cut sides toast up sturdy, preventing the bossy sauces and syrups from soaking through the tender crumb.

The bread’s brilliance is no surprise. Cogswell, the James Beard Foundation’s 2018 Rising Star award winner, is extraordinarily talented — and self-deprecating. When Cook and Solomonov approached her about K’Far, “I was totally taken aback,” she says. “I was really enjoying my position [as Zahav’s pastry chef] but also kind of struggling in my first role as a manager.”

Executive chef Camille Cogswell was the pastry chef at Zahav before Michael Solomonov and Steve Cook tapped her to lead K'Far.
JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
Executive chef Camille Cogswell was the pastry chef at Zahav before Michael Solomonov and Steve Cook tapped her to lead K'Far.

But Solomonov had been testing Cogswell for years with his grandmother’s boreka recipe, which she reproduces with crinkly layers of dough that collapse around salty Bulgarian feta softened with sour cream and honey. The cheese-and-jam boreka is even better, its filling of cream cheese, feta, and cardamom-peach preserves conjuring Cuban guava pastry. Caramelized onion-and-Swiss chard and spiced potatoes round out the boreka portfolio, perfectly tasty but not as mind-meltingly delicious.

Cogswell bakes 200 borekas daily, double the amount from the first few weeks, when customers bought them up like Hamilton tickets. Should the pastry case be boreka-less, the tender rugelach vibrate with dark-chocolate flavor. The babka comes from the same dough, scented with orange zest. Nutty and bittersweet, the coaster-sized tahini-chocolate chip cookies are instant classics. Dip them into the gingery Yemenite Latte, a dashing mug of undercover pumpkin-spice.

Even if the borekas are gone, the pastry case at K'Far has instant-classic tahini-chocolate chip cookies, chocolate babka, and chocolate rugelach.
MICHAEL KLEIN / Staff
Even if the borekas are gone, the pastry case at K'Far has instant-classic tahini-chocolate chip cookies, chocolate babka, and chocolate rugelach.

Chewy, oblong, sesame-seeded Jerusalem bagels bookend three panini-pressed sandwiches. The smoked salmon and pickles on a caper-buttered bagel is fine. The gooey grilled cheese stuffed with roasted tomatoes, Kashkaval, and sharp cheddar, and the za’atar-and-schug spiced egg-and-cheddar are fantastic.

K’Far is tall and narrow, a mauve-and-emerald giraffe wearing rose-gold jewelry. You order at the register, grab a seat at the communal counter or bubblegum vinyl banquette, and the efficient staff delivers your food. Beware: At breakfast one Saturday morning, a frenzied customer tried to save seats as if they were lifejackets on the Titanic. General manager Yasmin Roberti, who started with Cook N Solo as a busser at Zahav, referees with grace.

The daytime energy at K'Far is frenetic, but the pace is slowed by dinnertime reservations.
JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
The daytime energy at K'Far is frenetic, but the pace is slowed by dinnertime reservations.

Reservations soothe the frenetic energy at dinner, when the central question about K’Far comes home to roost: Can Cogswell, a pastry virtuoso, do savory?

Consider the evidence: Trapezoids of honeydew, plunged into Aleppo-peppered melon vinegar and set over sheets of basturma. The weeping fruit seasons the rosy dried beef with ferocious heat and acidity. Prosciutto and cantaloupe who?

The Arabic salad is equally relentless. Save the raw red bell peppers, I’d eat this mix every day: crunchy romaine, cucumbers, tomatoes, Castelvetrano olives, feta, and Jerusalem bagel chips tossed with zingy sumac dressing and so much za’atar the bowl looks covered in felt. Grains of freekeh suspended in a tahini-thickened mushroom broth create a cozy mock risotto. I love the bristly seared maitakes on top, camouflaged among fresh cilantro and dill. A Jerusalem bagel and bowl of olive-oiled labneh and briny, jet-black lumpfish roe is the ultimate bread course.

Grains of freekeh suspended in a tahini-thickened mushroom broth create a cozy mock risotto.
JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
Grains of freekeh suspended in a tahini-thickened mushroom broth create a cozy mock risotto.

So I’d say Cogswell can do savory. Things only go awry when spicing gets shy. More hawajj, the turmeric-based Yemenite blend, on the roasted cauliflower, please. A double coat of sour cherry glaze on the succulent lamb shank ornamented with pickled rose petals, as well. Where are the promised saffron and chamomile in the t’bit, a homey Iraqi Sabbath chicken-and-rice casserole? The surrounding wreath of Little Gem lettuce tossed with vibrant amba (pickled mango) dressing has more personality than the casserole, which features bouncy boneless chicken thighs with under-crisped skin.

Already those thighs have been swapped for beef cheeks, a better-suited protein, evidence this kitchen knows when something isn’t working. Plenty from the dinner menu is.

Stepping stones of dry-aged strip steak cross two assertive sauces, sweet-and-savory red pepper-walnut muhammara and dill-forward green tahina. It’s nice to see a fine steak, often a dinner-plate loner, out making new friends. A preparation typical of Moroccan restaurants in Israel, the chraime starts with peppers, onions, garlic, and tomatoes, slowly cooked with tons of olive oil and Cogswell’s “Three Cs: cardamom, cumin, and caraway” until they meld into a fragrant magma. Hunks of cured cod poach and steam in the stew, turning opaque and flaky, then get finished with fried shallots, preserved lemon, cilantro, and mint.

In K'Far's take on the traditional dish chraime, hunks of cured cod poach and steam in the stew, turning opaque and flaky, then get finished with fried shallots, preserved lemon, cilantro, and mint.
JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
In K'Far's take on the traditional dish chraime, hunks of cured cod poach and steam in the stew, turning opaque and flaky, then get finished with fried shallots, preserved lemon, cilantro, and mint.

Desserts are less elaborate than at Zahav, but they’re no less delicious. Breakfast pastries resurface à la mode: orange-apricot ice cream for the chocolate babka; spiced Turkish coffee ice cream for the walnut cake. Almond brittle and rosewater-quince jelly cover the supple malabi custard. For the konafi, mozzarella is encased in a frizzy sweater of crispy dough threads, blasted with pistachios, and drowned in dark Pennsylvania maple syrup. Sweet and salty, crunchy and squeaky, it’s something you could crush in a late-night haze, as you might in Israel. “It would be totally normal at 10 or 11 p.m. on a Thursday to go meet friends,” says Solomonov, “and those friends could be drinking and eating till 2 or 4 a.m.”

For the konafi, mozzarella is encased in frizzy, crispy dough threads, blasted with pistachios, then drowned in dark Pennsylvania maple syrup.
JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
For the konafi, mozzarella is encased in frizzy, crispy dough threads, blasted with pistachios, then drowned in dark Pennsylvania maple syrup.

That late-night action may be the only facet of Israeli culture not imported to K’Far, where the latest weekday reservation is 9:45. Which works out anyway. The kubaneh need their sleep.

K’FAR


3 bells

Excellent


110 S. 19th St., 267-800-7200; kfarcafe.com; on Instagram @kfar_cafe


After closing Dizengoff and Federal Donuts offshoots in Miami and New York, Steve Cook and Mike Solomonov have recommitted to Philly with three new concepts coming by early 2020. K’Far is the first, a pink-and-peach jewel box with teal tile and rose-gold hardware just off Rittenhouse Square. They’ve brought celebrated Zahav pastry chef Camille Cogswell in as a partner for this bakery/restaurant inspired by Israel’s all-day café culture, and she’s proving equally adept at savory cooking. Toasts on Yemeni kubaneh bread, Jerusalem bagel sandwiches, pastries, and salads anchor the daytime menus, while dinner plates are more complex (freekeh-and-maitake “risotto,” dry-aged steak with green tahina and muhammara) and perform best when the spicing is confident. Desserts are less intricate than what Cogswell serves at Zahav, but no less delicious.


MENU HIGHLIGHTS Feta and cheese-and-jam borekas; chocolate rugelach and babka; tahina chocolate-chip cookies; ricotta, tahina-and-date molasses, avocado, and foie gras toasts; Jerusalem bagel grilled cheese; Jerusalem bagel egg-and-cheese; basturma and melon; Arabic salad; freekeh risotto; labneh-and-caviar dip; strip steak; cod; babka and almond cake with ice creams; malabi custard; konafi.


DRINKS The drinks selection matches K’Far’s petite footprint. There’s a menu of European and American vermouths and aromatized wines priced a la carte ($8-$12) for serving neat or as a spritz; add $1 for an Americano, or $2 for a Manhattan or negroni. These bottles inform the low-proof cocktail list, while teetotalers will find two spirit-free options. The beers (and one cider) are mostly local, while wines by the bottle and glass favor old-world producers, with token selections from Lebanon, Turkey, and Israel.


WEEKEND NOISE Nonstop crowds keep things noisy during the day. At dinner, reservations control the volume.


IF YOU GO Breakfast daily 8 a.m.-2 p.m., with lunch beginning at 11 a.m.; dinner Sunday through Thursday 5-10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 5-11 p.m.


Dinner entrees, $12-$28. (Specials can be higher.)

All major credit cards are accepted.

Reservations are strongly recommended for dinner, with walk-ins accommodated at the bar. No reservations for breakfast and lunch.

Wheelchair-accessible.

Street parking.