Ayal and Shei Kitches opened The Bun in late 2011 with the hopes of bringing Pan Asian inspired fare to Tel Aviv. Ultimately, what they achieved was far greater than their humble intentions. The restaurant’s dynamic begins, at the core, with Ayal and Shei: brothers, business partners, and a culinary duet.The Kitches Brothers bring gourmet street food to Tel Aviv and show that it is possible to combine high-quality food, classic French technique, and simple presentation,all with a moderate price tag.
Originally it was the large image of a bunny rabbit with the words “The Bun” conspicuously written between its two front teeth that pulled me into the front doors, but it was the awe inspiring food that made me a Bun addict. The menu includes culinary classics such as ramen noodles and udon soup, which are both precise to Japanese standard. Many other dishes on the menu provide a fusion of flavors from various parts of the globe. While the base of each dishe remains Asian- Moroccan, Mediterranean, Indian, and South American flavors symbiotically blend.
Steamed buns, the staple on the menu and the restaurant’s namesake, are reminiscent of steamed dumplings found in the great dim sum restaurants across the world.The soft, pillowly buns can be filled with your choice of brisket, hamburger or tofu. The beef brisket bun is filled with succulent, slow cooked brisket, topped with a tangy miso BBQ sauce and stuffed with tart, homemade pickles and fresh lettuce. This beautiful sandwich brings back memories of classic American BBQ with soft miso undertones.The Tofu bun with grilled and seasoned pieces of tofu, zesty cilantro aioli, and homemade pickled vegetables is a throwback to classic Indian flavors with a prominent Mediterranean influence. The crispy chicken, one of the best dishes on the menu, features a perfectly seasoned and sauteed chicken leg and thigh, sauteed to create an optimal crisp and finds itself served atop basil infused potato puree and homemade chili sauce.
Marcel Boulestin once said, “Cookery is not chemistry. It is an art. It requires instinct and taste rather than exact measurements.” While a good chef can create delicious food, an outstanding chef has a deep intuitive understanding of seasoning, creativity and timing. What separates Shei and Ayal Kitches from other chefs, is their apprehension for flavor profiles and mature restraint. The green papaya is one of many dishes that exemplifies defined flavor, balance and texture. Vermicelli noodles are mixed with fresh tomatoes, strands of green papaya, green long beans, and crunchy peanuts- topped with a fresh plum som tam sauce. The slippery noodles are in perfect balance with the soft, acidic tomatoes and oily, crunchy peanuts. The flavor balance of acid, hints of cilantro and soft sweet plum make this dish delicoiusly well rounded.
Both Shei and Ayal began their restaurant careers with simple jobs in kitchens around Israel. Once Shei realized this was something he had a natural knack for, he began to take a more serious path. In 2002 Shei decided to move to New York to attend the Culinary Institute of America. Shortly after his culinary school completion, he began working for Alain Ducasse, then for Daniel Boulud and finally for Jean George. Ayal also pursued a serious career in New York working for, Daniel Boulud, Alain Ducasse,Jean George as line cook. It was at three of the five 3 Michelin starred restaurants in New York where Shei and Ayal were whipped into shape to rise to the top of their game. Shei’s career in New York ended with an offer by Jean George to become executive chef at one of his restaurants, a coveted level in the industry that few will ever reach. It was at this moment in his career that Shei humbly turned down the offer. Both Shei and Ayal returned home to Israel in 2003 to be closer to family and in 2011 decided to join forces to open The Bun.
It’s at the Bun that the two brothers combine their unique culinary and business skills to create a venue fitting of their personalities: simple, rugged, tough, and inviting. As Ayal states, “Shei is the nice one and I’m the tough one,” Essentially, The Bun is a masculine den, with minimalist, linear edges, a big wooden bar, simple stools, and exposed Edison light bulbs. The bar seating gives a direct view to the kitchen and guests dine while they watch Ayal and Shei whip up each dish in perfect synergy. Watching these skilled chefs meticulously handle food is like watching an artist paint his masterpiece. After all, both these young men are accustomed to working in fast paced kitchens, therefore handling a packed house, creating each dish to order from scratch, is a task that they make look easy. They perform so effortlessly that it’s truly graceful, easily hypnotizing each guest with their smooth and melodious rhythm - a divine culinary experience.
When I asked Shei why he created a casual restaurant instead of a high end one, in which he could easily sell the same food for double the price, he bluntly answered, “because I want to feed everyone.” Many of us can be good, less of us can be great, but few can be outstanding. It takes an outstanding attitude to bring forth something truly divine and instead of wrapping it up in a fancy package, presenting it plainly and with true modesty. Shei and Ayal have no reservations about what they create and where they come from, they just want to give each guest an unforgettable meal, and that’s what a true artist does, gives an opportunity for everyone to experience beauty.
*Written by Judith Goldstein