A Tasting Menu to Savor

Nithan Thai’s Shahaf Shabtay presents his Chef to Table sharing menu for two.

Nithan Thai (photo credit: YONATAN BEN HAIM)
Nithan Thai
(photo credit: YONATAN BEN HAIM)
Like a growing number of Israel’s leading chefs, Shahaf Shabtay can more often be found in kitchens other than the one of his flagship restaurant – be it in Nithan Thai’s sister restaurant in Berlin, or at Soi, his fledgling casual dining Asian fusion eatery in Ramat Gan’s new Containers complex. (Not to mention exploring a possible venture in Shanghai, in addition to other irons in the fire closer to home.) Fortunately, in Tel Aviv, Shabtay can rely on the talented Eliran Gavriel to helm the Nithan Thai kitchen during his frequent absences. And recently, the globetrotting chef found the time to introduce a new concept for Gavriel to execute: the “Chef to Table” menu by Shahaf Shabtay, designed to reflect the diversity of the restaurant’s menu while bestowing good value.
Your personalized Chef to Table menu will be formulated in consultation with your knowledgeable waiter: you tell him (or her) what you eat – or don’t eat – and your table will be brought two appetizers, one intermediate dish, two main courses and one dessert. The price of this dinner is NIS 440 for two people (according to Nithan Thai, a NIS 600 value).
The meal includes two designated cocktails from the list of the restaurant’s eight specialty cocktails: the Nithan Daiquiri – rum, coconut, lychee and lime – and the Tab Tim Martini – spiced rum, lychee and pomegranate. Both drinks – served without ice, but in very cold copper martini goblets – are mildly sweet and refreshing. (There is the option of substituting a glass of Recanati Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon, or beer, for the cocktail.) After we told our waitress that we eat everything, she said she would bring us “the best dishes” from the menu and the evening’s specials. By the time we had finished our cocktails, our first course – consisting of two appetizers – was served.
The Thai Roll is the restaurant’s signature roll: fresh tuna and salmon, with a sliver of king forest mushroom between them, all wrapped in seaweed that was gently fried, tempura-style, and served atop a mellow sesame sauce with an underlying hint of wasabi.
Without rice, this may not be a typical sushi roll, but no Japanese restaurant would do it any better.
Our second starter was the papaya salad – a heaping mound of julienned green papaya with mint, cilantro and kaffir lime. Three things render this salad better than the staple, which is served in just about every Thai restaurant in town: the dressing is superb, a perfect balance of sweet and tangy; moreover, it is served on the side, so that you can choose exactly how much dressing to pour on your salad; and instead of pedestrian peanuts, the nuts scattered throughout are whole toasted cashews.
Our intermediate course was a special of the day: Chinese-style dim sum, elegantly presented on hot rocks arrayed in a bamboo steamer and served with a teriyaki-ginger dipping sauce. The shrimp inside the steamed dumplings is bathed in a sumptuous soup, so care should be taken not to lose a drop of it when biting into the doughy exterior. It is worth tasting one of them with the excellent dipping sauce, even though the luscious filling really needs no extra help.
Our main courses comprised both fish and meat. The Sea C Curry could well be the curry that changes any preconceived notions about curries: the complex coconut milk curry sauce is unbelievably mild, with just the faintest hint of heat – and the perfect foil for the flavorful steamed sea bass, which melts in the mouth.
Alongside the white fish in the soupy curry were rolls of shitaki mushroom wrapped in young coconut – delicious in and of themselves, they were also great for absorbing even more of the divine sauce.
The dish called Top Talle (presumably pronounced ta-leh, as in the Hebrew word for lamb), was a quartet of lamb chops, in a distinctively creamy hoisin sauce.
This unusually pale hoisin sauce was clearly adapted to suit lamb, which does not exist on menus in Southeast Asia.
Accompanying the succulent lamb chops were rolls of rice paper stuffed with rice and caramelized pear. Simply delectable.
Dessert is the one course on the Chef to Table menu that diners choose from a list of six dishes.
Created by Ofer Bar Natan, the dedicated pastry chef of Nithan Thai and the adjacent Back Door, rated one of Tel Aviv’s best patisseries by Time Out Magazine, each dessert is more tempting than the next.
We particularly enjoyed our black sesame crême brulée, with cocoa tuile and caramelized pear. The light pudding practically evaporated on the tongue, leaving behind a pleasant sensation of mellow sweetness.
Another good choice is the exotic, almost decadent, Shantaram – a large scoop of coconut cream mousse studded with coconut chips, drenched in a syrupy masala chai sauce and surrounded by caramelized nuts and hibiscus roses.
As a memento of your Chef to Table experience, diners receive a summary of their customized menu, itemizing the dishes they just ate.
There is a line at the bottom for the chef’s signature, and who knows? Maybe you will be luckier than I, and the elusive Shahaf Shabtay will autograph it himself.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
Nithan Thai Not kosher Ha’arba’a St. 21, Tel Aviv Tel. (03) 560-0555