Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Yessi Café (Closed)

Look. I just want a place that I can rely on for a quality sandwich every day in the center of a booming capital city. Is that asking too much of a member of the European Union? Can we get a European Commission directive on this?

When I say "a quality sandwich," I don't mean one that was built on an assembly line next to the Skodas in Mlada Boleslav. I'm talking about a sandwich that is made on fresh-baked bread with a thoughtful, creative combination of quality ingredients and put together with, oh, just a little bit of love.

A ham slice on Styrofoam with albino lettuce and a butter chunk will not do.

There are a few sandwich possibilities. Half & Half was reviewed here recently, but it really didn't make the grade for quality. There is Bakeshop Praha, which I like, but the great bread for their sandwiches suffers badly in their display case. And for me, it is just too far away for lunch during work.

Now, there is another option: Yessi Café in the Stara Celnice shopping complex, just off Náměstí Republiky.
It has a nice interior that incorporates some of the interesting architecture of the old building. The furniture is comfortable, and I even think the electric green and aubergine color scheme works for the place.
The menu above the counter lists a variety of baguettes, baps (rolls), wraps, salads, and more than 10 kinds of tea. You order at the register. They do both take out (take away) and table service.

I started off ordering the Grilled Bread (opeceny chleb) with goat cheese, cranberry jam, and pine nuts (89 CZK). It came open-faced, which I wasn't expecting, but I was fine with that. It didn't have any pine nuts, but it did have basil pesto, topped by chunks of warm, melting chevre. I was fine with that, too. The cheese and pesto rested on two warm slices of what they call beer bread, which had a great, crunchy crust and a soft, warm middle that had soaked up the pesto. There was a bit of lettuce on the side. I pushed the goat cheese evenly across the bread, and then spread the cranberry jam across the top of that.

Oh, Mama! Pure comfort food. Next time, I will get two orders of this. Maybe three.

They also offer different versions. There is Grilled Bread with aubergine, tomato, mozzarella and basil pesto (79 CZK). Or there is a ham, cheese, tomatoes, and Dijon mustard (79 CZK). But one does not make a full meal.

After savoring my goat cheese, I decided I'd top off the tank with one of their baguettes. I got the chicken, sun-dried tomato, and basil pesto baguette (89 CZK).

It was OK, but not nearly as good as the first course. The baguette was fresh and crunchy. It came with three thick slices of chicken breast. The chicken was moist and fresh -- it did not seem to have been sitting around all day.

On the other hand, it was very bland. Salt would help. The baguette was carefully, but oddly constructed: a slice of chicken, then a whole sun-dried tomato alternating in a linear fashion down the baguette. So, you'd get a couple of bites of chicken, followed by a couple of bites of tomato. Repeat as necessary. The final oddity was that there was no pesto. I wasn't really fine with that. So, I asked at the counter.

"Um, excuse me. The menu says the chicken baguette comes with basil pesto."

"Oh, we made a few changes to the recipes since we put up the menu."

"Ah. OK. What is this other stuff?"

"Oh, that is a cheese spread."

Good to know. I don't think I'll get that again. But what is also good to know is that your sandwich can be built to order with a wide-variety of nice-looking ingredients at the counter. They have hummus, mushrooms, red beans, grilled aubergine (eggplant) or zucchini, and many others. I'd pursue this option the next time. Or I might try the Hummus Wrap with vegetables, sesame paste, and sesame oil (99 CZK).
On the other end of the front counter, they have some mighty fine looking deserts. As much as I wanted to try one, especially what looked to be Black Forrest cake, I had had enough for one lunch. But it is another reason to return. They also offer espressos, cappuccinos, and lattes.
Yessi Café has some high-class cousins. Their take away menu says it is part of the Pravda Group, which includes the restaurants Pravda, Barock, and Hot at the Hotel Jalta.

It is a still a bit too far from my work to go on a regular basis, but I'll definitely go if I have the time or I'm in the area.

I'm now a Yessi man. (Ba dum bum)

Yessi Café
V Celnici 4, Praha 1
Tel. 222 212 585


Anonymous said...

Why don't you simply prepare your sandwiches with whatever ingredients you like at home and bring them to your work every day? Most normal people do it like this.

Are you a millionaire or what to require some special treatment???? I know that for an American it may be a mission impossible to prepare a sandwich ON YOUR OWN (O dear...!!!).

But, following a usual US way, you can call it a "project" and perhaps start attending some "sandwich preparation courses"...

Brewsta said...

Too much coffee today?

Anonymous said...


You just don't seem to understand you are not in New York or London.

People here ("locals" as you call them) are generally not interested in buying ready-made sandwiches in town. If they want sandwiches, they prepare them at home on their own.

Most "locals" would consider it insane to spend money for a sandwich prepared by someone else. What's the purpose of it, anyway?

In conclusion, sandwich shops here serve predominantly Anglo-Saxon expat community which may demand such kind of service (unlike the "locals") and tourists. And the number of Americans residing here is obviously still too small to be able to inspire some booming sandwich industry.

Brewsta said...

I acually find this last comment a constructive and interesting perspective.

However, you are misquoting me and misunderstanding something. Never once have I referred to anyone as "locals."

I only referred to a restaurant as a "local," meaning a favored place close to where I, an expat, live. I've heard the term used in Britain to refer to a favorite local pub.

Anonymous said...

Thats funny. All the czechs in my company get ready made baguettes.
Not one single one of them brings in their own food.

In fact i am the only person who brings anything in from home....

Anonymous said...

Well, yes - if they are the Crocodille baguettes for CZK 30, then why not.

Anonymous said...

Um, let's chew on that one for a minute.
Why not?

1. Crocodile uses sub-standard ingredients.

2. Crocodile sandwich makers seem to have great difficulty in putting a proper amount of meat and cheese on their product.

3. The mayonnaise used by Crocodile has been rancid for years and caused many locals and expats to lose their lunch.

4. The average price for a Crocodile baguette is now 44kc, NOT 30kc as you implied.

5. Many of us prefer real, fresh food to pre-packed and cello wrapped shite. Crazy, I know.

Anonymous said...

Correct, but the point is the Crocodille baguettes cost CZK 40 and, therefore, your Czech colleagues buy them. If they wanted something of a higher quality, they would prepare it at home and bring it to work, but most of they would not buy a ready-made sandwich for CZK 100.

My point was that no sane "local" would buy such a pricey piece of rohlik stuffed with whatever as offered by this sleazy venue. If the "locals" want ready-made baguettes, they buy cheap Crocodilles or a hotdog for CZK 15. If they wanted something better, most of them would prepare it at home.

But most people do not analyse their daily bread so meticulously as you do, of course...

Brewsta said...

It's just a blog about food. Relax.

Anonymous said...

The previous poster is spot on - Czechs are concerned about QUANTITY rather than quality, and would never dream of spending more than 2 Kc on a roll or more than 60-70 Kc for a meal at lunchtime. Rohliks? Sub-standard rolls with no nutritional value whatsoever.

It's not surprising a lot of decent sandwich bars and restaurants go out of business here as quality is only appreciated by the few.

Anonymous said...

Anon: You must work in some really poor office environments. Czechs in my office would love a proper sandwich shop in our neighbourhood... fresh, tasty and healthy food. Stovku na obed je normalni... vole.

Brewsta said...

Someone recommended Bio Cafes, but I haven't been able to try one yet.

Menu looks pretty basic.

Anonymous said...

Bio Cafes have got to be one of the worst places in Prague.

Went to the new one in Andel a few weeks ago, ordered the continental breakfast and the ham & cheese breakfast.

They were out of croissants, and the waitress offered no alternative. The ham was clearly out of date and inedible. The orange juice was supposed to be freshly squeezed but was out of a carton. The coffee was undrinkable.

Oh, and the service was also terrible.

Sorry to be so negative, but stick to places like Yessi and you'll be fine.

Brewsta said...

No, I really appreciate your take. Based on the menu and pix on the website, it didn't look very tempting. But, based on what you're saying, I won't make a special trip. If I'm walking by, I'll give it a look.

Anonymous said...

Of course CZK 100 for a lunch is acceptable but only if paid for some proper food (goulash, roasted pork, schnitzel, etc.) and not for sanwiches or salads you can prepare for at home for CZK 20.

Anonymous said...

Brewster, you should also understand that in a big part of continental Europe (including Bohemia and Moravia), lunch is the main meal of the day. That's why most Czechs expect some proper food for lunch and not just some stupid salads or sandwiches.

Brewsta said...

I would point out that this particular venture is not being run by some stupid Americans pushing their stupid salads and sandwiches.

Yessi Cafe is owned by one of Prague's most successful restaurant groups.

Maybe you know more than they do about what people want. Maybe it's not aimed at Czechs. Maybe they think only expats like me will eat there.

And who do you think reads this?

Anonymous said...

Of course it's aimed at American expats, who are used to eating sandwiches for lunch (unlike the Czechs). It's also clear from the fact that its very name as well as various signs inside are apparently all in English as far as I can judge from your pictures. And this was exactly my original point: Such venues are meant for Americans living here and, therefore, there are fewer sandwich shops in Prague then in, say, Boston. Because there are not so many Yanks living in Prague. Simple!

Anonymous said...

Stick a fork in it already.

Anonymous said...

Just my $.02. If you are going to buy goat cheese, pesto, maybe some coriander, sliced onion or tomoatoes, etc, plus excellent quality bread, you aren't going to be spending 20 kc making it at home. Furthermore, truly fresh sandwiches can offer many things that a 3-4 hour old sandwich can not. Lastly, while there are not as many sandwich shops in Prague as in most American cities, there really are quite a few. 2 Subways now, or more? Express has a few outlets I believe as well. Its not like they they dont exist. - g

Brewsta said...

I agree with almost all you said. But Subway and Express Sandwich and Salad just don't do it for me. Too generic, even built to order.

Brewsta said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Maybe you ought to consider renaming the blog to: Czech, please!

Brewsta said...

Well, of course, you're right. It is not grammatically correct as it is. One issue is that it has to be all caps -- there is no option in the blog software for upper and lower case. As for the comma and exclamation point -- I don't know, it just looks funny/awkward to me with those in there as a title/headline.

Richard Phillips said...

I for one am glad this place opened - it's right by my office. Of course it's aimed primarily at expats, but from what I've seen over the last couple of years sandwich shops have gained acceptance by more and more Czechs, and in line with that the quality and quantity of sandwiches over here have increased. And even if most Czechs still prefer a big cooked lunch, enough of my Czech colleagues will join me for a sandwich without any fuss.

As for making sandwiches myself - I agree with the anon poster at 3:07. With the time, effort, costs and purchasing habits involved, when making my own I invariably end up with peanut butter. I don't think the inside of my fridge has ever seen a sun-dried tomato. So shoot me. I don't mind paying someone else to go to the trouble.

Oh, and the Crocodille sandwiches bought anywhere but the Boulevards, where the make them fresh, do suck. Big time.

Anonymous said...

I’m amazed at how eager people still seem to be to get in some anti-American diatribe anywhere possible. Come on, anonymous, this is a food blog. You could at least have gotten in a McDonalds joke!

My guess is that the anonymous commenter is British or American him/herself, just trying to keep up with that fashionable Prague expat animosity. And besides, even if the author did use the word “local” (which he didn’t), you’ve got to be pretty desperate to take offense at that.

Not that it matters, but my experience is also in opposition to our cranky commenter. Most of the swanky lunch-serving places in the center are much too expensive for me to visit more than once a month or so. But whenever I do, the clientele is predominantly Czech.

“Locals,” as nobody here is calling them, are not all confined to a panelak, humbly nibbling away on a rohlik. Your cliché-based defense of “locals” is more offensive than sympathetic. Czechs are not too practical (or poor) to buy lunch. So spare us your stereotypes. The bitter, pedantic expat pariahs can stay in Prague if they like, but they are going to have to abandon this Czech caricature as vantage point from which to complain about all things “Anglo-Saxon.”

Anonymous said...

Rohlik is fine. What´s wrong with rohlik? Certainly better than the white, sweet, plastic thing marketed in the UK as "bread".

Anonymous said...

What's so interesting about the fact that Prague restaurants serving lunch are predominantly visited by Czechs? There's about 1 million Czechs living in this city, after all...

And it only confirms my point that Czechs are used to eating some proper, cooked meal for lunch, not just some overpriced sandwiches as it is common in US+UK.

Anonymous said...

This thread was crazy. I am just reading it now! I tried Yessi for the first time today and I was really impressed. I had the hummus wrap with vegetables and thought that the hummus was better than at Bakeshop (which always seems a little dry or lacking in some dimension to me). The hummus wrap came topped with smoked eggplant, which struck me as unusual, but actually not bad. I also tried the tuna wrap, which came stuffed with hard-boiled egg, tomato and mayonnaise. It was great. The tortilla was a little hard, but all in all two fine sandwiches! I too liked the interior -- the contrasting colors (I would say more lilac than aubergine, but hey I don't work at Benjamin Moore either!) work well and lend a feeling of energy. I'm sold ....

Brewsta said...

Yeah, funny how obsessed people can be with people who are obsessed with finding a good sandwich.

I really want to try the hummus wrap, but I don't get down there too often.

I could have said the walls were "purple" but I chose aubergine. Another reviewer used the same word after me. I think lilac is quite a bit lighter.

Anonymous said...

I made a follow-up visit to Yessi today, which is entering my dining lexicon as one of the few places that I'll actually plan a trip to or go out of my way for. It has several things going for it -- the main thing I think is that it is "no hassle." If you're on your own and planning a meal out, the last thing you want is to get stuck in dark place waiting an eternity to get your food and then practically having to drag down the waiter to get the bill. At Yessi the interior is bright, clean, and comfortable; you get your food yourself; and you pay upfront. Perfect. And the food is high quality -- even better. They could still work on a few things, though. For one, the ordering process can be kind of anarchic. It's not immediately clear where the line starts and how the process for ordering and paying works. What you're confronted with are a bunch of eager-faced servers asking what you want the moment you step up to the counter -- and then only realizing a moment too late that you mistakenly cut in front of someone in line ... Oops .. Another thing would be the wraps -- not enough chicken in the spicy chicken one, and too much eggplant (yes, eggplant??!!) in the hummus wrap. Otherwise it's a great place.