Famed Philadelphia chef and restaurateur Michael Solomonov is mounting a comeback in New York City — and this time, he’s going all in on a full-blown restaurant. Solomonov is expanding his breakout hit Laser Wolf, a fiery Israeli grill house that has been topping national best-of lists since it first opened in Philly two years ago. The restaurant has been transplanted to the rooftop of the hip Hoxton hotel in Williamsburg, at 97 Wythe Avenue, between North Ninth and 10th streets, and is set to open on May 1.
Modeled after a shipudiya, or Israeli skewer shop, Laser Wolf is a more casual counterpart to Solomonov’s upscale Israeli spot Zahav, the award-winning crown jewel of his Philly empire. Dinner is designed to be frenzied and loud, revolving around the mangals, or steel charcoal grills, lined up behind the bar. Each meal starts with a dozen or so cups of seasonal salatim — salads, dips, and spreads — and puffy rounds of pita. Then comes the centerpiece: Skewers — including kebabs, made with ground beef and lamb, and shishlik, with larger cubes of chicken, mushrooms, and sirloin — are dangled a half inch above blazing charcoal coals, seared and blistered in 600- to 800- degree heat, and then tossed onto platters.
This is the show that is already in motion in Philadelphia, at an industrial shop inside a converted warehouse near the trendy neighborhood of Fishtown. In New York, Solomonov is transplanting the experience to another cool-kid venue: a rooftop hotel restaurant with waterfront views and a long, tiled bar at the top of the Hoxton in Williamsburg. It helps to be opening an open-air restaurant amid the ongoing pandemic, but the rooftop setting was also a fit “in the spirit of being able to sweat and eat meat,” Solomonov says.
The roughly 100-seat space, which is covered by a roof, pits diners close enough to the kitchen where they will be able to see and hear their meats and vegetables popping and sizzling on the grill. The space is outfitted with tables imprinted with chess and backgammon boards — a wildly popular game in Israel — that are ready for play. Hardware for the games aren’t distributed on site but as Solomonov puts it: “It’s ‘BYOC: Bring your own chips.”
The grill house, which is overseen by Laser Wolf’s executive chef Andrew Henshaw and led day-by-day in Brooklyn by chef de cuisine Michael Mayo, is a stark departure from the last time Solomonov brought one of his Philadelphia favorites to NYC. In 2016, the chef, along with business partner Steve Cook, opened an outpost of hummus shop Dizengoff in Chelsea Market, at the time a highly anticipated opening in the city. It held on for two years before shutting down at the end of August 2018. Rent payments were steep — the cost of the stall “might have been more than Zahav,” Solomonov says with a laugh — and the shop, which mainly only sold hummus, wasn’t a hit with Chelsea Market’s touristy customer base, Solomonov says. Other expansions of Dizengoff and doughnut shop Federal Doughnuts to Miami ran up against construction delays and didn’t pan out, either.
In the meantime, Solomonov and Cook have kept building their Philly empire, which now includes 19 restaurants across the city. The Hoxton deal is the first time that Solomonov will be stepping outside of Philly again since the NYC and Miami deals ended. It’s a different playing field though, he says. They’ve partnered with one of Chicago’s top restaurant players Boka Group — which runs multiple restaurants inside Hoxton hotels in Chicago and, soon, Los Angeles — for the first time, to help them launch Laser Wolf in Williamsburg. “It’s very difficult, taking your product and your brand and your culture on the road,” Solomonov says. “In our experience, there are people that are very, very good at it. It’s nice to be able to work with people that do that job.”
It doesn’t hurt, either, that Laser Wolf has already built up a massive fanbase that extends far outside of Philadelphia. Condé 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’s entering an increasingly crowded field in New York. Modern Israeli and Palestinian restaurants have been popping up at a steady clip, including Shukette, which also cooks skewers over charcoal grills behind a bar while slinging out dips and fluffy, grilled breads; and Al Badawi, a sprawling Brooklyn Heights restaurant with smoky, grilled kebabs and giant plates of mansaf. “Israeli and Palestinian restaurants [in New York] are really doing well,” Solomonov says. “We have our work cut out for us.”
Laser Wolf will be open from Sunday through Wednesday, 5 to 11 p.m., and Thursday through Saturday, 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Reservations are available here.