Japan comes to Tel Aviv

Tatami, the name the owners chose for this restaurant, is actually a traditional Japanese mat. But it also evokes in Hebrew “taim,” tasty.

Tatami (photo credit: DAN PERETZ)
(photo credit: DAN PERETZ)
What is it with Israelis and sushi? Clearly there is some weird affinity between us and Japan’s national food; sushi places seem to spring up everywhere, like mushrooms after rain.
One of the latest is Tatami, a pleasant, intimate restaurant situated in an open shopping precinct in Ramat Aviv. Parking is plentiful in the area just outside Tel Aviv, and the soft lighting and comfortable banquettes make for a warm welcome.
As we sat down, dishes of homemade teriyaki sauce and spicy mayonnaise appeared, as well as a bottle of ice-cold Acqua Panna Italian bottled water (NIS 29).
Behind the bar two oriental gentlemen, possibly ex-construction workers from Thailand, were expertly rolling and filling a tray of sushi for us. But so we would have something to eat in the meantime, a plate of salmon tartare was set before us. This consisted of very fresh raw salmon, cubed and flavored with lemon, set on a bed of chopped avocado. We opened our set of chopsticks and ate with relish, both agreeing that this was a perfect starter (NIS 62).
To accompany the salmon, the manager, Eran, who was very helpful and solicitous throughout the evening, brought a Sokobotzo Nagy salad – a large bowl of julienned carrots, kohlrabi, raw beets and red onion, topped with mint leaves and chopped peanuts (NIS 62). It was crunchy, slightly sweet and lemony. Another pre-sushi starter was a dish of fish carpaccio, wafer-thin slices of raw gilt-head bream (denise), perfect for dipping in the sauces.
The tray of sushi which next appeared was so beautiful it seemed a pity to eat it. A well-constructed sushi roll is truly a work of art, and these were outstanding. Some were tinted a pretty pink color derived from beets, and the fillings were all different – some with raw salmon, some with diced egg, some vegan. Prices vary, depending on amounts, but are in the NIS 50 range for a satisfying helping.
As we had still not tasted the main course, Eran insisted we try the red-hot chili curry (NIS 69) and asked what degree of spiciness we wanted. The hotter the better was the answer. The dish consisted of basmati rice with a lidded pan of the meat sauce ensuring it stayed hot.
The slivers of soft beef came in a creamy red sauce with vegetables, including crunchy green beans, cherry tomatoes and aubergines. I could only taste it, having exceeded my capacity for food intake, but my companion polished off the lot.
Taking a break before the desserts, I ventured downstairs to the toilets. The unisex conveniences are decorated with black and white tiles depicting a Madame Butterfly look-alike, cherry blossom and other Japanese motifs. Definitely worth a visit.
Our waitress, Noam, suggested crème brûlée and, always curious to see how something so intrinsically dairy can be parve, I chose that, while my companion, a chocolate freak, went for the chocolate cake.
The brûlée did a passable imitation, thin layers of custard on wafers, topped with a faint burnt sugar topping. The other dessert consisted of a slice of very rich dark chocolate cream/mousse, topped with ganache and with a crunchy chocolaty base. Both provided a sweet ending to an excellent meal.
Tatami, the name the owners chose for this restaurant, is actually a traditional Japanese mat. But it also evokes in Hebrew “taim,” tasty – and it certainly lives up to that promise.
7 Einstein Street, Tel Aviv
Tel. (03) 500-7040
Open Sunday-Thursday, noon to midnight
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.