Israel’s newest celebrity chefs are not those who are the judges in the cooking competition shows but, rather, the winning contestants. And they do not even have to be the ones who finish in first place, if they are finalists whose personalities and food have captured the audiences’ imaginations.
We have already reviewed several restaurants opened by chefs who managed to maximize their televised success, and now it is the turn of a couple who have invented a new model of entry into the culinary scene.
Nadav and Daniel are a charming young married couple who parlayed their talent, their passion for Thai food and their performance on the television show MKR into a partnership of sorts with prominent restaurateur Yuval Ben Neriah, whose upscale Asian restaurant, Taizu, is sponsoring a delivery operation for as long as the virus is disrupting normal life.
The pop-up is called Nadav veDaniel: Thai Love Story, and its menu is available exclusively online, through Wolt, a ubiquitous phenomenon throughout this pandemic. While the food is prepared in Taizu’s kitchens, the pop-up restaurant is entirely virtual, with no physical address or telephone.
The food menu comprises seven sections: Starters (NIS 42-64), Intermediate Dishes (NIS 48-64), Mains (NIS 62-78), Desserts (NIS 42), Sides [rice] (NIS 10), [one] Kids’ Meal (NIS 38) and Combinations (NIS 114-133). There are vegan and gluten-free options in every category. (Note: Combinations pair a main course with a starter, although not necessarily at a discounted price; Combinations is actually the category listed first among the menu sections.)
We chose as our starter the intriguingly named Gai Love, a cold salad of chopped pullet, fried pullet nuggets, lemon grass, mint, cilantro, [very few] pomegranate seeds, purple onion and red chili, accompanied by chunks of cucumber and a serving of sticky rice.
After the first bite, we realized that this is actually the classic Thai dish larb, which is alternatively made with chopped chicken, beef or pork. This version is especially hot – even after picking out the easily identifiable fiery red bits of chili pepper – but fans of spicy food will find it addictive.
Next was Nam Tok, an intermediate dish with many of the same ingredients as the larb, although the chief protein here is thin yet succulent slices of flank steak, grilled medium and served cold. After adding the small container of dressing – fish sauce with soy – the result is a delicious salad with significantly less heat than the Gai Love.
Our main dish was Red Chili Curry, which the menu indicates is “popular.” This is a soupy stew of a choice of fried fish, tofu or shrimp in sauce of coconut milk, red Thai chili, peas, Thai basil leaves, green beans, seared cherry tomatoes, lemon grass and cilantro.
The level of heat – somewhere between the Gai Love and the Nom Tak – was just right, while the shrimp were the plumpest and most flavorful I have had in recent memory. (Tip: Those who like a bit of crunch may add the ground peanuts that accompany the curry.)
Of the two desserts, called here Pootzy Mootzy Sweets, we chose the Banana Lotti Cannoli, tubes of crunchy pastry filled with a banana and white chocolate pudding and topped with shards of fresh coconut.
I found this version superior to many of the caramelized banana desserts found commonly in local Thai restaurants, thanks in no small part to the excellence of cannoli pastry, which is as authentically Italian as the rest of the Nadav veDaniel menu is unabashedly Thai.
Nadav veDaniel. Not kosher. Online menu (Hebrew only, although illuminatingly illustrated): https://wolt.com/en/isr/tel-aviv/restaurant/nadav-ve-daniel
Home Thai cooking
Thai Chu is yet another virtual Israeli restaurant, created not in spite of the pandemic but in direct response to its negative economic repercussions.
And like Nadav veDaniel, it is the brainchild of a married couple. The difference is that in the case of Thai Chu, it is only one spouse who is in the kitchen: Dror Dudkevitz handles the business end, logistics and deliveries, while his Thai wife turns out a full menu from their Petah Tikva home (soon to be transformed into a commercial kitchen).
The online menu – which is surprisingly extensive – consists of five sections: Starters [including Salads] (NIS 10-39), Main Dishes (NIS 34-98), Curries and Soups (NIS 77-86), Kids’ Meal (NIS 15-62) and Desserts (NIS 39-75/115).
There are vegan and gluten-free options in every category. Along with the symbols identifying these options, there are icons for particularly spicy dishes.
Orders are taken over the phone, and should be submitted the day before delivery. There is a minimum order of NIS 99, with a very reasonable delivery fee of NIS 15 to much of suburban Tel Aviv.
We were able to sample one dish from each category, starting with the Dim Sum, a quartet of tiny steamed dumplings stuffed with chicken or beef. While the chicken filling was unremarkable, the delicate dumpling was perked up nicely by the accompanying dipping sauces – soy and the familiar Thai sweet chili. (Tip: If you have any sriracha at home, that also does a nice job.)
Our salad selection was the Stir-fried Cabbage in garlic and fish sauce, a dish I had yet to encounter locally. While the beautiful photo and description promised both white and purple cabbage, as well as strips of carrot, what arrived was all white cabbage, which when stir-fried apparently turns the consistency of steamed. Nevertheless, the result was quite tasty, given the abundance of savory sauce; all in all, an enjoyable way to eat your healthy cruciferous vegetable. (Tip: While the recommendation is to eat it hot, I found it acceptable either warm or cold.)
Choosing a main course from the plethora of tempting dishes is especially difficult here. Our host Dror strongly recommended the Yellow Curry (one of several curries not listed in the Curries and Soups sections): generous strips of tender chicken breast, capsicum, celery, onion, shallot and garlic were cooked in a yellow curry sauce made with milk and egg, and served with steamed rice.
This curry sauce – just enough to coat everything minimally – was extremely mild, without sacrificing flavor. For those who have been afraid to try Thai curries because of the level of spiciness, this would be a good beginner’s introduction. (Note: Calamari may be substituted for the chicken.)
The sleeper dish of the evening was the Tom Kha Gai, one of three soups, most of which come in portions for two people (and some with levels of spiciness that are adjustable). The description insists that this dish is “amazing” – and I must say that I agree. This coconut milk soup with chunks of white meat chicken, meaty mushrooms and Thai herbs and spices was the most velvety Thai soup I have ever experienced, with subtle flavor that lingers.
The final course as well unveiled an eye-opening dessert: Matcha Crepe Cake, multiple layers of feathery crepes highlighted by a distinctive white icing flavored with green tea. A sweet delight, and yet another unique dish from a heretofore unknown source.
Thai Chu. Not kosher.
Online menu (Hebrew only, although illuminatingly illustrated, and with many English names): https://www.thai-chu.com/menus
The writer was a guest of the restaurants.