Sakon Nakhon restaurant.
(photo credit: PR)
Aficionados of Thai food don’t have all that many options in Israel, so I was delighted to hear from more than one friend whose opinions I value that there is a small, family-owned restaurant in Rishon Lezion that is the epitome of Thai cuisine. It was all the more intriguing because the restaurant’s name – that of a province in northeastern Thailand – hints at an additional exotic Laotian influence.
Owner Dan Shaked lived in Thailand for 12 years, returning to Israel with his wife, a native of Sakon Nakhon, and opening the restaurant in 2014. Rutharat Shaked, now answering to the name Ruti, creates the culinary masterpieces. The couple return to Thailand from time to time, bringing back the spices that keep the recipes authentic.
The extensive, detailed and bilingual menu offers Thai dishes suited to both conservative and adventuresome diners. There is even one Western dish, schnitzel and chips, ostensibly for children.
We started our meal with a typical Asian appetizer: spring rolls (NIS 26). The version here is vegetarian, filled with fresh bean sprouts. The two plump rolls were fried to golden perfection and served piping hot. We tried them with the soy sauce that is one of the quartet of condiments on every table (the other three are variants of fiery chili), as well as the amber plum sauce that is paired especially with these excellent examples of the genre.
Next came two appetizers that were prepared with the same secondary ingredients and seasonings yet managed to taste like completely different dishes.
Both the nam tok neua (NIS 55) and the lap kai (NIS 47) had shallots, coriander, mint, ground roasted rice, spring onion and dried chili flakes in common. The former, however, starred stir-fried beef strips that were melt-in-yourmouth tender, while the latter – also known as larb – featured minced chicken. Both dishes, characterized by a mild vinegary tang, were delicious.
No visit to a Thai restaurant is complete without tasting the tom yam soup. Described on the menu as “hot and sour coconut soup” (NIS 55/65), it is fair to say that the skill of the kitchen can be judged on the basis of its rendition of the country’s signature soup. Sakon Nakhon passed the test with flying colors. The balance between spicy and astringent was exquisite, and the broth rested on the tongue for a tantalizing moment before exploding into lingering flavor.
The prize for our hottest dish of the day went to the Panang curry (NIS 60) – a choice of chicken, beef or pork in a velvety yellow sauce that contained thick slices of red chili pepper. This complex curry imparted a gentle heat that built slowly in the mouth and left a pleasant sensation of warmth after every forkful.
A slightly milder, but no less flavorful, curry (listed as “spicy” on the menu) was the green pham nam prik pao, served in combination with chicken (NIS 63), beef (NIS 63), pork (NIS 63) or shrimp (NIS 65). A selection of shrimp here would be duly rewarded, as the jumbo prawns were juicy and succulent.
A specialty of Sakon Nakhon is the “three tastes” tilapia (NIS 90).
The entire fish was expertly fried and sectioned, rendering the exterior crisp, while boneless chunks of moist white flesh absorbed the intriguing flavor of the nectarous red sauce.
There are only three desserts (NIS 32) on the menu, and only two are available when mangoes are not in season. The tapioca dessert was sweet and refreshing, with chunks of seasonal fruit, beads of tapioca and pebbles of ice swimming in coconut milk.
The banana rotee was a very different dessert. The batter-fried banana, bathed decoratively in swirls of chocolate sauce and sweetened condensed milk and topped with chopped peanuts, was reminiscent of a hot fudge sundae, with the warm yellow fruit standing in for the scoop of ice cream.
The restaurant serves no alcohol, apart from beer. The leading Thai brands – Singha and Chang – are available in bottles (NIS 22).
Another recommended beverage option is the banana shake (NIS 23), which is actually an ice-cold smoothie.
Sakon Nakhon is open Monday to Friday from noon to 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. (the kitchen closes at 10:30 p.m.). Saturdays from noon to 5 p.m. It is closed on Sundays. Reservations are recommended and de rigueur on Saturdays, when the restaurant is invariably filled up.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
Sakon Nakhon Not kosher 119 Rothschild Street, Rishon Lezion Tel: (03) 649-9434