I went into the newest David Fhima restaurant, Zahtar by Fhima, in the Grand Hotel in downtown Minneapolis, trying to tamp down my skepticism. I had never encountered a David Fhima restaurant with good food. Not the happily long-gone Mpls. Café, not the Fhima in downtown St. Paul, not Louis XIII in Southdale—not one of them. They all served food that was sloppy, imprecise, and lazy. So, being in such a frame of mind, I decided to just cut out the preliminaries and make my first order a killer blow: I’d get the bouillabaisse. In all my years of restaurant reviewing in the Twin Cities, I’ve only had one bouillabaisse that wasn’t foul and rubbery. While I waited, I evaluated the restaurant’s makeover; gone were the tacky, ebony-nightclub elements of Martini Blu. With its new accents of beige mosaic and simple gauzy curtains, the space looked nice. Very nice, even. I’d give it that much.
Then the bouillabaisse appeared, and my skepticism lifted. The fish was tender, the broth was flavorful, the shrimp were springy and fresh. The crowning crouton wasn’t traditional—topped as it was with a thin layer of potatoes and cheese—but it was harmonious, appropriate, and tasty!
Most everything else I tried at Zahtar was also very good. The Kobe burger on a homemade challah bun was sweet, moist, tender, and resonantly beefy. The rosemary aioli, which comes with it, was a great condiment, zesty but not overpowering. (I don’t know if the Zahtar burger belongs on my life-list of Minnesota burgers, but it just might, which is the highest praise I can give.) And the salmon with capers served over basmati rice was precisely cooked, nicely seared, and offered an appealing crisp, rich and salty counterbalance.
Zahtar may not be the best restaurant in the Twin Cities, but it’s solid and good, easily ranking beside the Atlas Grill as one of the best business lunches on the south side of downtown—even if you’re dining with bone-deep skeptics.