I have no way to factually back up the claim I’m about to make – aside from a strong feeling that derives from a close acquaintance with this city’s food scene – but I would say that Asian food is a favorite of Tel Avivians, second only to hamburgers. Nonetheless, rather surprisingly, it’s not so easy to find it “on the street.” There are a good number of Asian restaurants (a very general and imprecise category that lumps together some vastly disparate cuisines), but not enough Asian food stalls or fast-food joints. Quantitatively or qualitatively. The few really good ones have been cited here in the past – be it the Israeli adaptation of flavors at Wok Republic, the sheer fun of Fifi’s or the authenticity of Hong Kong Dim Sum and the makeshift food stalls by the old bus station.
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Recently, another interesting option has been added to the list. As part of the takeaway window trend that’s been gaining popularity around town, such an option has just opened near the entrance to Florentin House. Here you can get takeout food in disposable containers to bring home or eat right there in the street, on the nice wide bench set up outside. Choose from Asian salads, steamed or fried dumplings with different fillings, stir-fried vegetables and seafood, and more. These are some of the same dishes that are served inside, but the takeaway versions are priced 10-15 percent lower. Logical, but not something to be taken for granted.
We tried to sample things from all over the limited menu: a salad of mung noodles and fried pork (with soy, leek, garlic and peanuts; 36 shekels); shrimp dumplings (with ginger, green chili, Shaosing and white soybeans; 34 shekels); pullet gyoza, seared broccoli and a fried egg; 34 shekels; and beef bao (with Thai spinach, red onion and fresh chili; 39 shekels).
In case it needs spelling out: the portions served at the window are not main courses – in price or in size. Take this into account as you struggle with that eternal calculation – What can fill you up the best while emptying your wallet the least? And one more piece of advice: This is the kind of place where it’s best to share the eating experience with at least one other person. Two items might not satisfy a single person, but four could satisfy two people. Paradoxical, I know, but trust me, I tested it myself, scientifically.
The noodle salad was relatively large, and completely filled its container, decorated with a drawing of a smiling pig. It had wide bean noodles, sprouts, garlic and fresh crisp leek, and a mildly spicy sauce. What didn’t we find in the salad? The pork. Or the peanuts promised by the menu, but compared to the oddity of the main thing that was missing, that seemed less important. We kept looking through the salad (which was quite tasty anyway, thanks to the sauce and the garlic) – maybe something was hiding there amid the cilantro leaves? But no luck. Maybe the “pork” referred only to the illustration on the box? What illustration would there have been if we’d ordered the tofu version of this salad? Unfortunately, by then we were too far from the restaurant and couldn’t inquire.
The pullet gyoza were four small stuffed rolls that had been steamed and then lightly fried. It looked kind of like mini-eggrolls, but the rice paper used as a wrapping was thinner and more delicate than the usual dough for that. It was nicely executed, and combined the softness of the steaming with the crispness of the frying. Soy sauce and mirin and a hot pepper dip gave another little shot of flavor. We also enjoyed the four shrimp dumplings. Seafood dim sum is often of dubious quality – at most you taste just a distant echo of the seafood that’s far overshadowed by the vegetables in the dumpling. Here this wasn’t the case – You could really taste the shrimp, with the green chili and not overpowering onion lending good support.
The beef bao buns, which came with a whole assembly kit – cilantro, large Thai spinach leaves, fresh slices of green and red chili – were a tad under-steamed, which made them a bit dry. Inside was soft, crumbly beef, which was juicy but a little bit sweet, and didn’t go so well with the herbs and peppers, or with the fish sauce that came with it either.
As I’ve noted in other reviews of takeaway options, even if it’s the same food, the expectations from the takeaway window are different from that of a full meal in the restaurant. From this standpoint, the takeaway window at Florentin House is a pretty good option for a light meal comprised of a number of dishes. It’s definitely above average in terms of the city’s street food, in terms of both ingredients and presentation. On the other hand, it doesn’t have that same totally casual feel that you find with “real” fast food. So you might well end up asking yourself – If we’ve already come here, maybe we ought to just sit and eat in the restaurant?
Florentin House, 6 Florentin Street, Tel Aviv; (03) 616-4449. Open daily 6:00 P.M.- midnight; Saturday from 12:30 - 4:30 P.M.