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Ya Pan
Buzzy Gordon
One chef, three restaurants, hundreds of fans
Review: Chef-restaurateur Yuval Ben Neriah hits the trifecta with his third popular eatery, Ya Pan Bistro.

Acclaimed Israeli chef Yuval Ben Neriah has garnered a lot of success specializing in Asian cuisine. His flagship restaurant, Taizu, serving Southeast Asian and Indian cuisine, is consistently rated among the top fine dining establishments in Tel Aviv. Last year, he opened Miazaki, serving Japanese street food, in Ramat Hahayal’s Shuk Tzafon. And this year, he opened Ya Pan, a Japanese bistro, in the heart of Tel Aviv’s downtown.

 

 

At first glance, the menu at Ya Pan does not look extensive; but it consists of no fewer than eight categories, comprising an impressive variety of offerings, including dishes that are being introduced locally for the first time.

 

 

Perusing the menu is best done while sipping one of the bistro’s specialty cocktails, or the apéritif/digestif umeshu—fortified plum wine that brings to mind a Japanese version of cream sherry.

 

Among the Appetizers, our knowledgeable waiter recommended the fish tartare—poori stuffed with raw fish moistened with ponzu sauce and egg yolk, and sprinkled with chives. The crispy, open-topped shells filled with sweetened fish mixture represented a terrific interplay of flavors, amid the contrast of textures. Sadly, it lasts for only two bites, and disappears all too quickly.

 

 

From the Sushi and Sashimi section, we were served a platter of sliced raw salmon and wild sea bass stunningly presented on a gleaming bed of crushed ice. The two kinds of fish were accompanied by a distinctive sauce of soy cream and sake butter that enhanced the exceedingly fresh fish without overwhelming it, while another extraordinary condiment was the homemade pickled ginger, in the shapes of carrot sticks and cucumber slices.

 

 

Our next category was Sando—finger sandwiches made with soft white bread—one of the innovations introduced into the local Japanese food scene by Ya Pan. Of the three choices, we elected the shrimp katsu with cheddar cheese and coleslaw—which was recommended by the Hebrew website Mako as one of 30 must-try dishes in Israel.

 

While it did not quite live up to that billing, the combination of a breaded and fried shrimp patty with mellow cheese and zesty coleslaw was certainly worth tasting.

 

 

The Robatayaki category at Ya Pan recreates the centerpiece of Miazaki, and the expertise garnered at the sister restaurant is evident. Our bamboo skewers of veal sweetbreads and calamari—marinated in the house teriyaki glaze, and cooked to smoky perfection on the double-decker grill fired with Japanese oak charcoal—were tender and delicious. The accompanying kimchi—pickled green onion and cucumber—was an excellent counterpoint to the flavorful morsels of meat and seafood.

 

 

The tempura at Ya Pan was unlike any I have experienced in Israel. For one, we had the option of calf's brain, a delicacy that—surprisingly—was

even cheaper than the vegetables. Secondly, the tempura batter was laid on thick and fried to a golden brown, as opposed to the thin, pale coating that is prevalent elsewhere. While I prefer the traditional approach, fortunately this version—even complemented with the savory dipping sauce of ponzu with daikon—did not overwhelm the delicate white organ meat flecked with flakes of green nuri (seaweed).

 

 

While curries in Israel are most often associated with Indian and Thai cuisine, a whole section of the Ya Pan menu is dedicated to “72 hours curry.” Our choice here was the Gyu—rump steak, which came as chunks on a skewer rather than the thin strips the menu describes. The potent sauce is the star of this dish; it is advisable to mix it thoroughly into the white rice, give it a few minutes to be absorbed, and take judicious forkfuls, so its pungency does not overpower the succulent beef. Each mouthful will leave a pleasant tingle of heat that amplifies the experience.

 

 

 

Unlike the case of the second specialty at Miazaki, there are only two noodle dishes on Ya Pan’s menu. Since the quality of its noodle dishes is often a good indication of the caliber of a Japanese restaurant, we ordered the mazemen—ramen noodles with smoked butter, onsen egg, salmon roe and bone marrow (a vegan variation is also available). This is one of the most complex noodle dishes I can recall tasting, characterized by layers of flavor.

 

 

Finally, while Japanese restaurants are not known for elaborate desserts, with the pastry chef from Taizu pressed into double duty here, it is worth saving room for a sweet finale. And indeed, the crême brulée—made with white chocolate and miso—did not disappoint: the decadently rich confection—topped with granola, studded with toasted whole hazelnuts, and surrounded by stewed peaches—virtually explodes with unforgettable flavor.


 

Ya Pan

Not kosher

Nahmani St. 26, Tel Aviv

Tel. (03) 648-7796

 

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