Thai times two

Kab Kem and Eisan serve authentic – and delicious – Thai cuisine

EISAN (photo credit: ASAK KARELA)
(photo credit: ASAK KARELA)
Thai cuisine – like two of its sister Asian cuisines, Japanese and Indian – has reached the point in Israel where there is a restaurant for every occasion, from fancy to informal. Now we can add two more niches to the mix: tapas and regional specialties.
Kab Kem actually opened well over a year ago, under the slogan “Drinks and Thai Bites.” Its parent is the venerable Thai House (Bayit Thailandi), widely acknowledged as one of Tel Aviv’s top Thai restaurants. It also shares the same head chef, the talented Yariv Malil, who recruited a team of top chefs from Bangkok to staff the bar’s kitchen.  
The décor is decidedly upscale: a handsome, dark interior, dominated by a long, fully stocked bar. There is also a semi-enclosed al fresco seating area on the sidewalk, surrounded by greenery and cooled by spraying mist. 
There are six specialty cocktails (NIS 50-62), and after each one listed on the alcohol menu there is a brief description, which happens to be spot-on. For example, the Sabai Sabai – two kinds of rum, with pineapple juice, lime and a homemade syrup of cloves cardamom and chili – is labeled “tropical and spicy,” while the Ban Thai – gin Campari green chartreuse guava juice and lime – is “lightly bitter and fruity.”
The bilingual food menu is made up largely of dishes designed to go with alcohol – laden with protein and vegetables, and light on carbs. Still, it manages to comprise no fewer than six sections: Small bites (NIS 28-44), Mid-course (intermediate sized dishes, NIS 48-82), Som Tom (papaya salad variations, NIS 46-82), Main courses (NIS 74-138), Tom Yum (soups, NIS 52), Noodles (NIS 84-108), and Vegan/Vegetarian (NIS 28-72). There are chili pepper symbols ranging from 0-4 that indicate levels of heat. 
We started with the Goong Che Nahm Pla – raw crystal shrimp with mint, chili, garlic, bitter melon and nahm pla sauce. Despite the multitude of ingredients, these morsels were quite tiny – yet they yielded surprising explosions of flavor. 
Next came tender slices of flavorful beef heart, which practically melted in the mouth. Like many of the dishes at Kab Kem, it comes with a dipping sauce that is intricate, complex, and invariably slightly spicy.
Lettuce cups are a particular specialty here: their miang pla sea-bass version was one of the highlights of the recent Gault & Millau culinary tour (see the JPost review of May 2), and there is a great vegan option as well: Malako toht, with breaded and fried papaya, cherry tomatoes, long yard beans and peanuts. The fried papaya was a novelty to us, and a very pleasant surprise.
Thai noodle dishes are very popular in Israel, but the Bami heng at Kab Kem is different from anything else you would find locally. The noodles are dry and thin, with sauce at the very bottom; in the Bami tale, a generous portion of tasty seafood – crystal shrimp, sea scallops and lukshin pla – takes center stage.
The restaurant’s four desserts are explained by the waiter. We enjoyed both the rich chocolate truffles topped with thin, zesty ginger strips, and Kab Kem’s signature dessert: crème brûlée made with coconut milk cream and studded with juicy chunks of fresh pineapple. Simply outstanding.
There are no hot drinks on the menu, but they were happy to make hot water with ginger, mint and lemongrass for us. 
Kab Kem has recently introduced an intriguing new weekend afternoon menu, featuring even more tantalizing Thai tapas.
Kab Kem. Not kosher. Lincoln St. 11, Tel Aviv. Ph: 03-688-9960
EISAN: A welcome new addition to Carmel Market

Aficionados of Thai food know that some of the country’s best food comes from its large northeastern province, Isaan. Israel can now boast its own eatery specializing in food from that region, along with familiar classics from the capital as well.
Eisan, just six months old, was opened by two enterprising Thai women who have been living in Israel for more than a decade. They carved out a cute little enclave in an alley off the main drag of Shuk HaCarmel, with an air-conditioned interior and tables outside as well.   
There are no specialty cocktails, but Eisan serves three different brands of beer imported from Thailand, ideal for washing down the highly seasoned food. There is a bilingual menu with helpful symbols – red chili peppers (0-2) signifying the heat index, and a green leaf that indicates the existence of vegan options – as well as a colorful pictorial menu (with Hebrew captions only).   
The small restaurant has a large menu, comprising six sections: Salads/Starters (NIS 22-59), Soups and Curry (NIS 52-75), Deep-fried (NIS 22-37), Grill (NIS 26-45), Wok (noodle and rice dishes, NIS 56-75), and Dessert (NIS 19-22). One side dish is also listed, as its own category: a choice of rice or sticky rice.  
Our enthusiastic hostess, Praia, brought out a selection of salads almost like they were mezze – except they were eminently full-sized. Most notable were the Som Tam, the traditional and ubiquitous zesty green papaya salad, in which julienned kohlrabi served as a very suitable substitute for the out-of-season papaya, and the Laab (a.k.a. larb), the ground beef staple of Thai cuisine that was awarded two chili peppers on the Eisan menu. The version here was particularly fiery, yet we could not stop eating it. Unless you have a proven tolerance for spicy, ask if they can make you a slightly milder version. 
Next came a representative of the Grill section, Luk Shi – small meatballs on two short bamboo skewers. The succulent beef in slightly sweet sauce, complete with fresh cucumber slices on the side, transported me to a street food stall in a Bangkok alley. 
A handwritten entry in the Wok section reads Pak Bung, a dark green vegetable reminiscent of mangold in Israel. The deep green leaves and stalks in brown sauce had a robust flavor that gave us the virtuous feeling of eating something healthy.
Our choice of curry was the Massaman, known to be one of the mellower Thai curries. The chicken and vegetables in a rich coconut milk soup redolent of peanut flavor did not disappoint.
By all means, save room for dessert. The tapioca with tropical fruit was light and sweet, ideal in the Israeli summer, while the banana crêpe was perfect: golden brown and crispy on the outside, with a soft interior that was like candy. 
It is worth taking some food home as well, if only for the beautiful, fabric-like shopping bag in which it will be packed.
Eisan. Not kosher. Rabbi Akiva St. 22, Tel Aviv. Ph: 03-948-3772
The writer was a guest of the restaurants.