Philadelphia celebrity chef and restaurateur Michael Solomonov is making a comeback in New York — and this time he’s embarking on a full-fledged restaurant. Solomonov is expanding his hit Laser Wolf, a fiery Israeli grill that has topped national lists of the best since opening in Philadelphia two years ago. The restaurant has been transplanted to the rooftop of the trendy Hoxton Hotel in Williamsburg, at 97 Wythe Avenue between North Ninth and 10th streets, and is set to open May 1.
Inspired by an Israeli shipudiya, or kebab shop, Laser Wolf is a more laid-back counterpart to Solomonov’s upscale Israeli spot, Zahav, the award-winning gem of his Philadelphia empire. Dining is designed to be frenetic and boisterous, revolving around the mangals, or charcoal grills, lined up behind the bar. Each meal begins with a dozen cups of seasonal salatim – salads, dips and spreads – and puffy pita breads. Next is the centerpiece: kebabs – including kebabs, made with ground beef and lamb, and shishlik, with larger cubes of chicken, mushrooms and sirloin – hang half an inch from the over flaming charcoals, seared and blistered in 600-800-degree heat, then tossed onto plates.
It’s the show that’s already on in Philadelphia, in an industrial store inside a converted warehouse near the trendy Fishtown neighborhood. In New York, Solomonov takes the experience to another cool place for kids: a rooftop hotel restaurant with waterfront views and a long tiled bar atop the Hoxton in Williamsburg. It’s helpful to open an outdoor restaurant amid the ongoing pandemic, but the rooftop setting was also adapted “in the spirit of being able to sweat and eat meat,” says Solomonov.
The approximately 100-seat space, which is covered by a roof, puts diners close enough to the kitchen where they can see and hear their meats and vegetables popping and sizzling on the grill. The space is equipped with tables printed with chess and backgammon – a very popular game in Israel – which are ready to play. Hardware for games isn’t distributed locally, but as Solomonov says, “It’s ‘BYOC: Bring Your Own Tokens.’
The grill, which is overseen by Laser Wolf executive chef Andrew Henshaw and run day-to-day in Brooklyn by executive chef Michael Mayo, is a stark departure from the last time Solomonov brought one of his Philadelphia favorites in New York. In 2016, the chef, along with his business partner Steve Cook, opened an outpost of the Dizengoff hummus shop in Chelsea Market, at the time a highly anticipated opening in the city. It held out for two years before closing in late August 2018. Rents were high — the cost of the stall “could have been more than Zahav’s,” Solomonov says with a laugh — and the store, which mainly sold only Humus. , has not been a hit with Chelsea Market’s tourist clientele, says Solomonov. Other expansions of Dizengoff and the Federal Donuts donut shop in Miami ran into construction delays and also failed to come to fruition.
Meanwhile, Solomonov and Cook continued to build their Philly empire, which now includes 19 restaurants across the city. The Hoxton deal is the first time Solomonov will come out of Philadelphia again since the deals with New York and Miami ended. It’s a different playing field though, he says. They’ve teamed up for the first time with one of Chicago’s top restaurant players, Boka Group – which runs several restaurants at Hoxton hotels in Chicago and, soon, Los Angeles – to help them launch Laser Wolf in Williamsburg. “It’s very difficult to take your product, your brand and your culture on the road,” says Solomonov. “In our experience, there are people who are very, very good at it. It’s nice to be able to work with people who do this job.
It also doesn’t hurt that Laser Wolf has already built up a huge fanbase that extends well outside of Philadelphia. Conde Nast Traveler crowned it one of the best new restaurants in the world last May, and the New York Times named it one of the 50 most exciting new restaurants in America at the end of 2021.
Still, Solomonov knows he is entering an increasingly crowded field in New York. Modern Israeli and Palestinian restaurants have been popping up at a steady pace, including Shukette, which also cooks skewers on charcoal grills behind a bar while preparing dips and fluffy toast; and Al Badawi, a sprawling Brooklyn Heights restaurant with smoked and grilled skewers and giant plates of mansaf. “Israeli and Palestinian restaurants [in New York] are doing really well,” Solomonov said. “We have our work cut out for us.”
Laser Wolf will be open Sunday through Wednesday, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., and Thursday through Saturday, 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Reservations are available here.