For two decades, Thai House has been one of Israel's best Asian restaurants.
By BUZZY GORDON
It is hard to remember a year in recent history when Thai House was not at (or near) the top of Israelis’ choice for best Thai restaurant in Tel Aviv, according to polls in the Hebrew media. In fact, it is often one of the few Asian restaurants to be included among the best restaurants in the city in all categories.Chef Yariv Malili is an undisputed pioneer of Thai cuisine in Israel, having opened Thai House (Bayit Thailandi) in 1996, long before Asian cuisine was as familiar here as it is today. He learned his craft living in Isaan, the eastern province of Thailand known for its unique cuisine, and from his Thai wife, Lek. Now, the energetic Malili presides over two acclaimed restaurants: the original Thai House, and the trendy tapas bar Kab Kem, serving “drinks and Thai bites.”The decor of the restaurant, which comprises two separate rooms, reflects Asian motifs along with handsome light and two-tone wood furnishings. There is also a wrap-around (on both sides of the corner of Bograshov and Ben Yehuda Streets) sidewalk al fresco area that has recently been enclosed for the winter.There are seven specialty cocktails (NIS 48-58), several of which have Asian overtones. The cocktails share pride of place on the alcohol menu with an adequate selection of sake, as well as both Asian and Western beers – including the famous Thai beer Singha, notably available here on tap. There is also a considerable wine list for an Asian restaurant, with a reasonable number available by the glass.The bilingual food menu is quite extensive, featuring more than 70 dishes described in five long pages in each language. As if this were not enough, there is a separate vegetarian/vegan menu spanning two pages each in Hebrew and English.The standard evening menu consists of no fewer than 10 sections: Greens (NIS 48-64), From the Sea (NIS 44-138), Meat & Poultry (NIS 58-82), Deep-fried (NIS 42-46), Special & Different Style Dishes (NIS 78-138), Coconut Milk Delicacies (NIS 82-122), Soups for sharing (NIS 78-118), Stir-fried with jasmine rice (NIS 80-92), Stir-fried Noodles (NIS 74-92), Soups with noodles (NIS 78-82), and Desserts (NIS 14-32). In addition, there is a separate card of Mediterranean Sea Specials (NIS 62-180) – Thai dishes featuring fish and seafood from our own Mediterranean Sea.We had made our minds up from the outset that we wanted to try one curry and one noodle dish, but this still left a mind-boggling array of first courses to choose from. We were guided somewhat by the menu’s helpful symbols indicating the level of spicy heat: dishes are ranked from 0-5 red chili peppers. The highest levels seemed incredibly daunting to us, but we decided we could brave up to three peppers.Advertisement Since my companion does not eat meat, that winnowed the possibilities down even more. Both pork and seafood are on the menu, and those who eschew those categories will also have less menu shock to deal with. Our friendly waitress was also happy to help with her recommendations.Her first was the Pesa – lettuce cups filled with Khanom thin noodles, mint, coriander, dill, lemon zest, crushed peanuts, and your choice of tofu or fried sea bass. We ordered one of each, and were rewarded for listening to her advice: the mixture was drenched in an outstanding sweet and spicy tamarind sauce.Next was the Yam Pla Fu – green mango salad with purple onion, hot chili, peanuts and celery on a crisp, airy bed of finely chopped and fried sea bass. This is a mango version of the classic Thai green papaya salad, and it was a refreshing change. Together with what can best be described as a fish fritter, it was an exotic combination.Our choice from the Greens section was the Pahd Pahk Kiyaho – stir-fried asparagus, broccoli, Chinese broccoli and bok choy with crushed garlic and shiitake sauce. This was a deliciously garlicky way to get our healthy green vegetables. Our noodle selection was the Pahd Sen Lian – egg noodles, three types of mushrooms, Chinese broccoli, spring onions basil and basil leaves, plus a choice of tofu or animal protein. We opted for the goose, something we had never had before in an Asian noodle dish, and enjoyed a rich, hearty treat.That led us to our second main course, the Gaeng Kiao Waan – a green coconut milk curry with Thai eggplants, kaffir lime and basil leaves, plus a choice of tofu or animal protein. The fish option on the Mediterranean menu was white grouper, a meaty and flavorful fish that went well with the plump tiny Thai eggplants in a curry sauce that – despite its three-pepper warning – had just the right amount of heat.There is a separate dessert menu, even though there are only four – two hot and two cold. The homemade coconut milk popsicles are a house specialty, and the popular green tea flavor was pleasantly cold, light and sweet. Finally, we could not resist the traditional Thai dessert of sticky rice with fresh mango. Now that this tropical fruit is in season, the duo was impossible to stop eating, even though we were already quite full.Thai HouseNot kosherBen Yehuda St. 39, Tel Aviv. Tel. 03-517-8568Sunday-Saturday 12:00 p.m.-5:00 p.m.; 6:00 p.m.-11:00 p.m.The writer was a guest of the restaurant.