The way I see it, there are two kinds of restaurants – those we frequent to fill our basic need for food and those that serve as a cultural center. Similar to a movie theater or a museum, the latter restaurants are where we go in hopes of finding an authentic experience.
While sitting at the bar of the fashionable Thai restaurant Tiger Lilly in Tel Aviv waiting for our food, I closed my eyes, and almost instantly the Hebrew around me faded, and I found myself standing on a busy Bangkok street. The pungent aromas from food carts filled my nostrils, and around me stood a frenetic gathering of hungry lunchtime customers. A unique aroma caught my attention, so I opened my eyes and saw the bartender passing me a bowl of white calamari swimming in a brown sauce, and I knew then that Tiger Lily was not just a place that serves food.
After indulging in the sharp and rich calamari dish, we were treated to an intriguing array of starters, such as som tam, a fresh, tangy green papaya salad made to order (NIS 32) and nam tuk (waterfall), a spicy lemony salad with seared sirloin, onions, lemongrass and herbs sprinkled with roasted rice; a dish so fresh and hot, it will definitely open up your airways (NIS 43).
While diving into the great dishes, Tiger Lilly’s chef Yanir Green came out to greet us. As we conversed, I noticed a special spark in his eyes when he spoke about Thailand. According to Green, the Israeli and Thai palates are quite similar, and most of the “exotic” dishes that Thai cuisine has to offer contain ingredients we all know and love. He talked about his desire to bring Bangkok to Tel Aviv via Tiger Lilly and said that he travels to Thailand every six months to keep updated on the latest culinary innovations.
Before returning to the kitchen, he said he was surprised that I had been sitting in a Thai restaurant for an hour and hadn’t asked about the classic tom yam soup (NIS 59). An accurate way to measure the quality of a Thai restaurant is by its tom yam soup, and Tiger Lilly’s is excellent! The soup came in a traditional Thai dish that contained a bold seafood broth, combined with tomatoes, coconut cream, kaffir lime and a variety of seafood and mushrooms.
After the soup, I was able take my eyes away from the food in front of me and glanced at the kitchen. In a small corner in the back, a row of cooks moved gracefully and in perfect sync next to the wok burners. Green stood with his back to the kitchen facing the diners while sorting the orders and, every now and then, gave a quiet comment to one of his team members. The dishes flowed rapidly from the kitchen and its well-trained staff.
Next up was a heavy pot containing gang massaman neua (NIS 64), a rich, velvety curry coconut stew with beef cheeks, potatoes and cashews served with a side of white rice. The dish was so good that even though I was completely full, my mouth yearned for another taste, and the fork obviously played along.
Tiger Lilly’s dessert menu answers the call for something sweet but lacks the adventurous vibe I had expected. I settled for the most classic dessert on the list: banana loti (NIS 35), a ripe banana tucked in thin dough, slightly deep fried and dressed in a concentrated milk and roasted coconut sauce, served with coconut ice cream. Along with a cup of mint and lemongrass tea, it was the perfect finish to a perfect meal.
Tiger Lilly is an authentic Thai restaurant that serves as a vivid window to the streets of Bangkok at a reasonable price and uncompromising quality. It also offers a business lunch menu and a fixed price for large groups.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
Not kosher 32 Habarzel St., Tel Aviv
Sunday – Saturday, noon to midnight