Oban Koban restaurant.
(photo credit: PR)
There is probably no entity in Israel that understands – and delivers – Japanese cuisine better than the Onami Group, which owns and operates three ethnic restaurants on Ha’arba’a Street in Tel Aviv. Recently, one of the three, Oban Koban, cloned itself and opened a branch in Ramat Hahayal, which has become home to quite a few noteworthy restaurants.
The decor of the new compact Oban Koban is unmistakably modern Japanese, complete with decorative lanterns. The interior is dominated by a central bar, surrounded by tables; there are also a few tables outside. The restaurant opened for lunch several months ago but is now open for dinner as well.
Two noteworthy characteristics set Oban Koban apart: It is a Japanese restaurant that does not revolve around sushi; and there are two separate healthful menus – one vegan and one gluten-free. While the regular menu is in Hebrew and English, the vegan and gluten-free menus are only in Hebrew. Fortunately, there is a knowledgeable English-speaking wait staff that can help out.
There are some interesting cocktails made with Japanese spirits that make for pleasant sipping while perusing the menus. We particularly enjoyed the house sake, served warm from a dainty ceramic carafe (NIS 28).
At the same time, there is also an appetizer designed to perk up taste buds and stimulate appetites: a unique assortment of hamutzim (pickled vegetables) (NIS 12): kimchee (marinated cabbage), takuan (pickled daikon radish) and an Asian version of cole slaw (shredded cabbage, cucumbers and carrots garnished with black sesame seeds). As a good natural source of acidophilus, kimchee also aids digestion.
Other appetizers, inherently healthful by nature, are also built around Japanese staples. Among them are a seaweed salad (NIS 32) with two types of seaweed, mushroom, kale, scallions, sprouts and cucumber in a rather bland sesame vinaigrette; and a bit zippier glass noodle salad (NIS 36) — bean noodles, chopped chicken, green papaya, red cabbage and cashew nuts in a pleasantly tangy Kapabashi sauce. Some of these salads may be ordered in half portions, allowing for a greater variety of sampling.
One warm appetizer is Agedashi doufu (NIS 38) – fried cubes of tofu in Tentsuyu sauce. It takes some time for the chewy cubes with their slightly crisp exterior to absorb the bold sauce made from soy and sake shiitake, but it is worth the wait, although the sauce will invariably cool.
There are also daily specials. One might be takoyaki — seasoned pancakes stuffed with octopus, served with a spicy mayonnaise, as well as a brown sauce. It is one of those rare dishes that come with a visual special effect: strips of dried bonito on top of the pancake balls that actually move, animated by the heat of the food below.
There is a whole section of ramen dishes (NIS 52-66): huge bowls of noodle soups with either seafood, pork or chicken, that are meals in themselves. Most contain miso, which tends be the dominating flavor in this restaurant’s ramen.
While Oban Koban is authentically Japanese, it also offers fusion innovations, encompassing Chinese and Thai cuisines. For example, there is Japad Thai (NIS 46), in which pickled ginger and wakame seaweed replace the customary ground peanuts and cilantro. Fans of either cuisine will probably enjoy this dish, and vegans can opt for the version with tofu rather than chicken.
As filling as the tempting rice and noodle dishes are, this is one place where it is worth saving room for the most surprising items on the menu – the desserts, which are at the level of a patisserie. They alone are worth the trip to Oban Koban, starting with the exotic tiktak (NIS 38) – wafers covered with green tea and white chocolate frosting and filled with cherry cream.
These may be the most unusual looking candy bars you can imagine, and the interplay of flavors likely equally unforgettable.
A more conventional choice would be the yuzu cheesecake (NIS 32); but as the name suggests, even this is far from ordinary. Yuzu is an East Asian citrus fruit and the basis of a ribbon of chiffon adorning the lightest of cheese confections, in turn sitting on a layer of lemon confit atop a thin, delicate crust. All in all, a symphony of richness.
The vegan dessert option is nothing short of outstanding: three Shokodango chocolate candies, each very different. One has nougat and ground hazelnut that goes off like popping candy in the mouth; another is made pistachio dough, marzipan and cherry amarena – a masterpiece with an explosion of cherry in the center; and the third is a truffle filled with coconut cream.
Finally, a dessert called “crack pie” hardly sounds Japanese, but its provenance is actually from the Momofoku Restaurant of New York. Accordingly, it tastes like a quintessential American classic: pecan pie filling (without the pecans).The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
4 Habarzel Street, Tel Aviv