“44” Restaurant- Tel Aviv’s Best Kept Secret

by matkonation | 14.11.12

Mine and Deanna’s birthdays are two weeks apart, and each year to celebrate, instead of buying gifts for one another, we go out to a nice restaurant. Come mid-October, just before our birthdays, we try to carefully decide which restaurant we want to treat ourselves to. We usually try to go with something culinary adventurous, that we can’t go to with our husbands, who are both culinarily challenged. This year we couldn’t decide where to go, and we almost decided to postpone the celebration due to the lack of plan. On the night we had planned to go out, I was strolling down the trendy “Nachalat Benyamin” street, when I recalled that I had done a photo shoot at a cool new restaurant called 44. I called to make the reservation and the hostess explained that they were having a special evening that night-a Vietnamese grill night-on the outside patio of the restaurant. Total karma.

The night was amazing on all fronts. The food was divine, the music (live dj) was spot on and the overall vibe was something very different from the average Tel Aviv restaurant.

The chef and owner of the restaurant is what you call a real cook, and not your average restaurateur. She’s a women, first of all (you don’t see many female chefs here) and she opened up the restaurant completely by herself. She doesn’t like to define her cooking, but describes her style as “her interpretation of food she likes”. Deanna, and I’m sure a lot of other locals in-the-know, had never heard about the place. Osnat doesn’t work with any PR firm, like most of the restaurants in the city. It’s the kind of place that you hear about from word of mouth, and the loyal clientele are those who like to keep it that way.

Towards the end of our meal, when Osnat had just left the grill station, she came to have a chat with us, and we immediately offered her to collaborate with us. Within in a week we had already set up a date to shoot.

Osnat made three absolutely delicious dishes for the shoot. Both Deanna and I agreed that it was the tastiest shoot we had ever been on.

To get to better know the talented chef behind these fabulous dishes, we conducted a short interview with Osnat. Here’s what we found out:

Sour, Sweet, Spicy or Salty?

Osnat: All of the above. The Vietnamese and South Asian cooking usually always combine all four flavors in each dish. That cooking philosophy is rooted in the Buddhist belief of harmony. There is a Japanese proverb which states “each cook should demonstrate to his community all of the flavors combined together in order to serve their needs in the utmost fashion”.

Ingredient you can’t live without and ingredient you would never let enter your kitchen?

I can’t live without fish sauce. It’s not appreciated enough in the West, and it adds deep flavor to everything it’s used with.  I would never work with Foie-gras. It’s just too cruel and I personally am not a fan of its flavor and texture.

Your three favorite dishes at your restaurant “44”?

Pho-clear brother soup with beef and rice noodles. Its health and happiness in a bowl.

Bon Che- rice noodles and crispy vegetables in a spicy sauce, with sliced grilled pork belly and a crispy eggroll.

Bahn Mi- A slightly sweet baguette, pate seasoned with five spice, siracha aioli, Vietnamese pickled vegetables and caramelized pork belly. The national sandwich of Vietnam.

Why the name “44”?

Named after our house cocktail: vodka, 44 ice cubes, 44 coffee beans, orange, and left to marinate for 44 days.

Strangest thing you’ve eaten and where?

Tapioca soup with cubes of pork blood. It sounds just as awful as it tastes. In my defense, I didn’t know what I was eating at the time. It was in Vietnam, everyone around me spoke only Vietnamese, and I was the odd one of the bunch.

Favorite spot in Tel Aviv?

Margaret Tayar in Yaffo. Its real food.

Where will we find you in five years’ time?

I will have traveled the world a few more time. “44” will hopefully expand with a more equipped kitchen, but with the same crowd and the same passion.

Top 5 Asian cookbooks:

1. Into the Vietnamese Kitchen by Andrea Nguyen

2. Thai cooking by David Thompson- aka, my bible

3. Asian Dumplings, also by Andrea Nguyen

4. The Chinese Kitchen by Eileen Yin-Fei Lo

5. Momofuku by David Chang

 Top 3 Asian cooking blogs:

  1.      http://www.vietworldkitchen.com/
  2.     http://eatingasia.typepad.com/
  3. http://thai-food-blog.com (in Hebrew) 

Indonesian Peanut Soup

Ingredients:

2 cups carrots, peeled and thinly grated

5 tablespoons shallots, finely chopped

5 tablespoons fresh ginger, finely minced

2 tablespoons garlic, finely minced

1 small red chili, seeds removed and finely chopped

1 cup smooth peanut butter

1 teaspoon soy sauce

5 cups vegetable stock

1 handful Kaffir lime leaves

3 stalks lemongrass, bruised

1 bunch cilantro, chopped

Fish sauce, according to taste

Preparation:

  1. In a heavy bottom pan, sauté the carrots in vegetable oil on low heat, until the oil is orange and the carrots are softened, about 3 minutes. Add the shallots, ginger, garlic and chili and continue cooking until the mixture is fragrant.
  2. Add the peanut butter and soy sauce and then gradually add the vegetable stock. Using a whisk, mix until smooth. Add the Kaffir lime and lemongrass and cook on low heat, uncovered for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Add fish sauce according to taste, garnish with cilantro and serve hot.

 

Crunchy Rice Salad

Ingredients:

1 cup jasmine rice

Oil for deep frying

3 tablespoons toasted peanuts, chopped

1 small red chili, seeds removed and finely chopped

1 lime, thinly sliced, preferably with peel (can be a bit bitter)

1 bunch cilantro, chopped

3 tablespoons fresh ginger, finely minced

½ cup grated toasted coconut

Preparation:

  1. Cook the rice in 2 cups of boiling water for 15 minutes. It should be a bit overcooked. Remove rice from pan and allow to cool by spreading the rice out on a tray.
  2. Heat oil in a large pan. Using your hands, make small balls out of the rice and carefully fry the balls until golden. Remove using a slotted spoon and place on a plate lined with paper towels until cooled.
  3. In a large bowl, mix all remaining ingredients and then add the rice. Allow the rice to soak up the sauce before serving. You can add a bit of soy sauce and/or lemon juice for more flavor.
  4. Serve at room temperature with lettuce cups.

Nam Tok

Ingredients:

For the salad:

¼ cabbage, thick core removed and then finely sliced

1 red onion, finely sliced

1 handful bean sprouts

1 bunch fresh mint leaves

10½ oz./300 grams seared sirloin (medium rare), chilled and thinly sliced

4 tablespoons roasted peanuts, chopped

For the sauce:

1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced

1 bunch fresh cilantro

2 shallots, sliced

2 stalks lemongrass, sliced

4 tablespoons fish sauce

4 tablespoons fresh lime juice

4 tablespoons powdered sugar

For garnish:

6 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced

5 tablespoons crunchy rice (see recipe above), ground with a mortar and pestle

½ teaspoon chili flakes

Preparation:

  1. In a large bowl mix together all of the salad ingredients.
  2. Make the sauce: place the ginger, cilantro, shallots and lemongrass in a mortar and pestle and pound until the mixture is paste-like. In a bowl mix the paste with the remaining sauce ingredients. Pour the sauce over the salad mix. Allow flavors to combine.
  3. Place the garlic cloves in a bowl of milk, strain and then deep fry them until golden. Allow to cool on a plate lined with paper towels.
  4. Top salad with fried garlic and crunchy rice and serve.

 

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2 Responses

  1. 01 greg

    44 is by far the best restaurant in Tel Aviv. Osnat has “it”. I was lucky enough to grow up in New York, and I have eaten throughout the world…. 44 is the most interesting, freshest, coolest food spot in the country. The menu and cooking would thrive anywhere, not just “good for Israel”— great for ANYWHERE! Nuff respect.

    Reply
  2. 02 Rahel

    Great- It will be on my list for the next time I will be in Tel Aviv!

    Reply

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