In recent years finding good and even varied vegetarian dishes in Tel Aviv is no longer the arduous search it once was. The problem starts when you want go to a restaurant where the target clientele isn’t necessarily vegetarian but rather a place that appeals to everyone. Therefore we had a challenge facing us this week: not to choose either salad or a pasta but rather second courses and main dishes that pay due respect to the vegetarian crowd. We are pleased to inform readers that we encountered dishes that omnivores will be glad to eat.
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Eggplant gaeng kiew wan – a dish with coconut milk at Thai House
Thai House has been one of the restaurants friendliest to vegetarians ever since it first opened, even before their vegetarian menu was officially launched. This isn’t difficult for a cuisine that uses a lot of coconut milk, steamed vegetables, bean and rice noodles and replaces fish and oyster sauces with mushroom sauces that do exactly the same work. Simple and excellent.
The winning dish: eggplant gaeng kiew wan. It is nearly impossible to choose just one dish from such an impressive vegetarian menu but this dish stands out – a dish of coconut milk in green curry with tofu and Thai eggplant. They prepare the coconut milk in the restaurant’s kitchen by squeezing coconut shavings and it is richer and more refreshing than commercial coconut milk. Add to this a thick, creamy curry and you get a serious and non-obsequious dish with an impressive display of flavors that range from spicy hot to sweet and salty, and nevertheless are marvelously balanced.
Price: NIS 72
Something else for vegetarians: One of the surprising first courses here is called the Pasa – a leaf of Thai lettuce containing somen noodles, tofu and herbs (cilantro, mint and dill), with shiitake mushrooms replacing oyster sauce.
Thai House – 8 Bograshov Street, Tel Aviv
Porcini mushroom brulee at Kitchen Market
Chef Yossi Shitrit’s entry into the Kitchen Market kitchen has bumped it up into the top league of restaurants in Israel. Though it is located above the Port Market and makes use of its products, it is far from being a market restaurant. Perhaps it would be most accurate to call it a chef’s restaurant in a market that serves meticulous, creative and very accessible food – also to vegetarians.
The winning dish: brulee of porcini mushrooms. Kitchen Market’s dish of porcini mushroom brulee is worthy of an entry on the list of the best dishes in Tel Aviv. It's a cream of porcini mushrooms full of aroma and flavor, a crust of burnt brown sugar, seared mushrooms, chestnuts and Parmesan on top to complete the experience. The result: The cream attacks the palate with deep and exciting flavors of mushrooms and Parmesan cheese that come together into the fifth flavor – umami. A dish that will elicit from you yelps of amazement.
Price: NIS 52.
Something else for vegetarians: soft polenta with king of the forest mushrooms and a selection of vegetables – the delicate and quiet dish that constitutes a total contrast to the porcini brulee.
Kitchen Market – Port Market, Tel Aviv
Freekeh risotto with 'sausage' at Ouzeria
The good news is that the Levinsky Market is experiencing a revival. Otherwise there wouldn’t be places there like Ouzeria – a modern hamara (or in other words a Mediterranean food bar), where Chef Avivit Priel Avichai is in charge. At Ouzeria they prove that food is a delight with ouzo and arak, a fine Mediterranean soundtrack and quite a number of vegetarian (and vegan) dishes.
The winning dish: freekeh risotto with a mushroom “sausage.”
Forget everything you knew about risotto and sausages and taste this wonderful thing. Priel Avichai has taken a blanched leek, emptied it out and stuffed with a mixture of mushrooms (champignon and Portobello), oniona and pine nuts that creates a meaty, surprising and pleasurable taste. She has placed these “sausages” on a bed she has prepared like a traditional risotto, with freekeh – cracked and roasted green wheat – in the role of the rice and tahina starring in the role of the butter, so that vegans too can feast on this light dish. The final result: a dizzying delight that pushes the boundaries of flavor anew.
Price: NIS 42
Something else for vegetarians: beet ravioli – thin slices of ravioli filled with cheese. Creative, original and really good.
Ouzeria – 44 Matalon Street, Tel Aviv
Polenta pancakes with corn at Yochanan
Yochanan is exactly what Tel Aviv needs: a food shop with meticulous chef’s dishes you can take home, order for delivery or eat on the spot and at prices that suit these days of economic decrees.
The winning dish: polenta pancakes with corn, yogurt and chives. Anyone who is fed up with lentil patties and is ready for an enjoyable adventure – this is the dish for you. Two large polenta pancakes whose job it is to link together all the ingredients, which include zucchini, carrots and green and aromatic herbs, with even a touch of curry. These come together in a pancake that is a rich and varied in texture so that every bite contains a new flavor. As the two side dishes that come with the order, we chose a salad of beets, wheat and blue cheese, and a salad of edamame, asparagus and green peas, which were excellent and nearly stole the show.
Price: NIS 49 with two sides or NIS 44 on the business lunch.
Something else for vegetarians: You must try the lasagna that makes an excellent claim for the crown of best the vegetarian lasagna in town and the pepper stuffed with rice and lentils in tomato sauce. A difficult choice.
Yochanan – 86 HaHashmonaim Street, Tel Aviv
Porcini risotto with a poached egg and cashew foam at Pronto
The Pronto restaurant has wisely refreshed its veteran menu this past year and has opened a window in it for vegetarians and vegans. This is thanks to chef David Frankel, who has transformed Pronto from a veteran Italian restaurant into one of the outstanding chef’s restaurants in the city, with a vegetarian-friendly agenda.
The winning dish: porcini risotto, poached egg and cashew foam – a dish that bears Frankel’s clear fingerprint, from the precision of each ingredient to the molecular touches and the extraordinary presentation. This is a kind of rich, long-cooked pottage with a lot of butter, Parmesan, cream and mushroom flavors but the crowning glory is a poached egg cooked at a temperature of 63 degrees Celsius so that the white and the yolk are of the same consistency. The diner has to break it up into the risotto in order to moderate the buttery taste, and with the cashew foam another layer of flavor is obtained. Bottom line: a sophisticated risotto, stunning in its beauty and the abundance of its flavors.
Price: NIS 89
Something else for vegetarians: buffalo mozzarella gnocchi with browned butter, herbs and pistachios. An up-to-date and original interpretation of gnocchi.
Pronto – 4 Herzl Street, Tel Aviv