Some six months ago, Chef Roy Soffer, formerly of the late, lamented restaurant Bindella, joined the bandwagon spearheaded by other top-flight Israeli chefs (see the May 9 review on these pages of Kukuriku and Barvazi) and opened his own informal eatery specializing in fast, affordable, tasty food.
The niche chosen by Soffer was the Asian bun sandwich – a dish popularized locally in recent years by The Bun, on the fringes of the Carmel Market in Tel Aviv. Just days ago, the owners of The Bun stunned their many fans by announcing they were closing down at the end of June.
Fortunately for Tel Aviv foodies – and now, as it turns out, for Soffer – there is a another place in town serving excellent sandwiches made with the spongy, white Oriental bread.
Soffer’s sandwich joint, Bunz Asian Kitchen, on the corner of Herzl and Yehudah Halevy streets, is literally street food: there are a few indoor seats along with the food preparation counter, but most seating is at outdoor picnic tables, on a platform on the sidewalk. The dishes are single-use, but recyclable, earning the restaurant “green” certification – although the cutlery is plastic, and disposable.
The centerpiece of Bunz is, naturally, bun sandwiches: the bilingual menu lists no fewer than eight of them, ranging in price from NIS 25-29. They are also available as part of meal deals (NIS 45-49), or a discounted business lunch, which is available until 6 p.m.
We tasted three of the buns: the Chicken bun, the Sea bun; and the Green bun. All of them feature, along with the main (usually protein) ingredient, leafy greens and the restaurant’s special sauce – a red condiment that is more zesty than spicy.
The Chicken bun contained generous morsels of white meat chicken, breaded and fried; it was easy to see why, according to the manager, it is the most popular item on the menu. Yet the fried fish in the Sea bun was also moist and flavorful, while the Green bun – a vegan option – was actually a meaty portobello mushroom, coated with panko, that was crunchy and succulent.
There are two more categories on the food menu: Salads (NIS 34-39) and Rice Bowls (NIS 39-47). We sampled two of the three salads: a classic Thai green papaya salad, with cherry tomatoes, lime, and fish sauce, which was as good as you’d find in a Thai restaurant; plus the refreshing and filling glass noodles salad with tofu (or chicken), herbs, pickled chili, sprouts and peanuts, perked up by a tangy citrus dressing.
Of the three rice bowls, we tasted the Pad Kapao beef, which was spicy (even though it lacks the corresponding symbol on the menu) and delicious. It was washed down nicely by a cold beer imported from China; beer (draft and bottled) is the only alcohol sold here.
There are only two desserts (NIS 16, 26) at Bunz – but both are worth saving room for.
The crispy bun is a vanilla-flavored whipped cream sandwich studded with caramel thins and drizzled with amarena cherry syrup – all dusted with powdered sugar. The Nepalese-Thai ice cream with coconut flakes and candied ginger is a soft-serve delight that conjures up tastes of masala chai.
Plans call for Bunz to expand to a chain, which is good news for fans of inexpensive, quality, wholesome, fast food.Noodles and More
Just a few blocks away from Bunz is Men Tenten, a small ramen bar that is the sole survivor of the Rothschild-Allenby food court. Tucked away on a small side street at what was once the rear entrance of the now defunct food market is the tiny eatery’s seating area: a cluster of tables on the sidewalk, with backless stools or benches.
The alcohol available here is primarily sake, although there is cold Kirin beer on tap. Rather incongruously, the soundtrack is loud American jazz; another anomaly was discovering a Japanese restaurant that has no green tea.
The one-page menu comprises just three food categories: Ramen (NIS 52), Gyoza (NIS 32) and Iyazaki (Japanese Kitchen) (NIS 24-38). A number of the restaurant’s specialty dishes are highlighted separately on individually laminated cards.
As we were perusing the descriptions of the five warm and two cold ramen entrees, the manager brought us two dishes to nibble from. One was Edamame sticks (NIS 24) – reminiscent of Moroccan cigars, but filled with the green soy beans likes peas in a pod. Fried to an appetizing golden brown, these veggie sticks, served with a creamy wasabi mayo sauce, were practically addictive. Even a carnivore could not ask for better bar food.
The second house specialty appetizer was Panko aga avocado (NIS 22) – balls of mashed avocado battered in panko and deep-fried. We could find no fault with the preparation, but found that warm avocado requires some getting used to.
We finally settled on the Tan Tan ramen, a Men Tenten special you will find nowhere else, as the noodles, vegetables, egg and mixture of ground meats was swimming in a broth enriched with tehina. The touch of the Japanese chef was evident in the al dente ramen, but this dish is not recommended for purists: you have to be particularly adventuresome to try this Middle Eastern varation on a Japanese classic.
The gyoza come with a choice of three fillings; and although there are five dumplings in an order, you cannot mix and match. Once again, the presentation of our vegan gyoza was impressive; it is possible that the mixture of vegetables, tofu and mushrooms renders the dumplings soggier than they look.
The English menu falls short – literally – when it comes to some important items: the dish called Karahage, for example, was translated simply as fried chicken, while the Hebrew explains that it had previously been marinated in ginger, garlic and sake.
This necessary detail was all the inducement we needed, and we throughly enjoyed the distinctive flavoring of the poultry.
The are only two desserts (NIS18/22): sweet gyoza, and a frozen shot glass of matcha ice cream. The latter was unremarkable, but the former – boasting an apple-cinnamon filling – was a fine sweet finale.
Bunz Asian Kitchen
17 Herzl St., Tel Aviv
Tel. (03) 929-7075
Men Tenten Ramen Bar
38 Yavne St.,Tel Aviv
Tel. (03) 672-5318 The writer was a guest of the restaurants.