Not long ago, I had the honor of serving as a judge for a cooking competition sponsored by the embassy of Thailand in Israel. The three young Israeli chefs who were the finalists stunned the panel with dishes that would not be out of place on the menu of a fine dining restaurant in Bangkok. It was truly amazing to discover such talent still waiting to make their mark.
Among the patrons of the competition were two local restaurants known for serving authentic Thai food: Tiger Lilly and Thai on Har Sinai.
Thai on Har Sinai derives its name from the L-shaped alley on which it is located, tucked behind Tel Aviv’s Great Synagogue. A number of popular restaurants line the alleyway, with the signless HaThailandi occupying the far corner in the deepest recess of the courtyard.
Clearly, the draw here is the food and not the decor, since it is hard to imagine more bare bones furnishings than are to be found here. Seating is about evenly divided between indoors and al fresco.
Thai on Har Sinai offers seven specialty cocktails (NIS 40-48), including the intriguing Last Summer, which contains a “secret ingredient” that I could not persuade them to reveal.
The refreshing Red Dragon, meanwhile, with a hint of chili, represented a nice balance of sweet and spicy.
The dinner menu comprises four sections: Salads (NIS 29-44), Soup/ Curry (NIS 69-89), Grill (NIS 39-97), and Wok, which includes noodles (NIS 39-64). Dishes are labeled as to level of spiciness, but the restaurant is very accommodating about adjusting the heat. There are also vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options.
The manager was happy to share his suggestions from each category, starting with the day’s specials. More often than not, the unwritten specials will include raw fish choices, drawing from the fresh catch of the day.
We could not decide between the amberjack sashimi and the amberjack ceviche, so we ended up with both. The former was beautifully presented and certainly flavorful, but it was the zesty Thai version of classic ceviche that was lip-smacking good.
As a matter of policy, pork will never appear on the written menu here. But since it is such a staple of Thai cuisine, it will frequently be available as one of the specials. The manager warmly recommended the marinated, slow-cooked See Kong Moo spare rib, which was indeed juicy and succulent.
Many traditionalists would say that no Thai meal is complete without Som Tam – green papaya salad – and we elected to try the version attributed to Isaan, Thailand’s northeastern province. The crunchy salad of julienned papaya, cherry tomatoes and peanuts was accompanied by skewers of grilled chicken. The juxtaposition of the cool vegetables and warm seasoned chicken was delicious.
The Panaeng red curry comes in two versions, beef or seafood. Once again, the bounty of the sea was extremely fresh, enhanced nicely by a sauce that contained just the right amount of heat.
The spicy curry went well with a cold glass of draft Singha beer (NIS 29/35), a Thai brew not always available on tap in Israeli restaurants.
Eager to try a vegetarian dish, we enjoyed the Phad Pak Boong (NIS 39) – al dente Thai green beans in a mellow and slightly garlicky oyster sauce.
There are only a few desserts, which the wait staff explain verbally. The chocolate mousse was rich and not overly sweet, while the panna cotta with dabs of mango coulis had a distinctly Asian flair. The creamy custard topped with shards of toasted coconut made for an ideal finish to a satisfying meal.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
Thai on Har Sinai Not kosher Har Sinai Alley, Tel Aviv Tel: 054-201-7132