Vítám všechny čtenáře blogu Cuketka.cz
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I recently discovered Cuketka.cz, an extensive restaurant blog written in Czech. There are lots of great photos for the non-Czech speakers out there. Czech Please, as far as I know right now, is still the only English-language food and drink blog in Prague.
Pan Cuketka (cuketka means little zucchini) has been gracious enough to mention this space on his blog. Cuketka.cz gets thousands of hits per week, and the link caused a big jump in visitors today.
I usually get around 150 per day. Wednesday was a record-breaker at 217. Thursday, that record was more than doubled. There were 444 visitors.
Tak, děkuji Vám za všechno, pane Cuketko.
As we say in English, the more the merrier.
Friday, March 30, 2007
Vítám všechny čtenáře blogu Cuketka.cz
Not long ago, I told a very well traveled friend, Mr. C, that Pizza Grosso was my favorite pizza in Prague.
I was shocked, shocked to hear that he knew a better place for a fast slice. He said, no question, Pizza Roma, at the I.P. Pavlova tram stop is better.
I questioned this.
"I've had both. Pizza Roma is better," he said.
"So have I. You're just wrong."
You can imagine where it went from here. Talks broke down. Agreement could not be reached. A stalemate.
So much division and strife in the world. And now this. For my own peace of mind, I decided to go back and investigate.
Pizza Roma is not that big, and it is a bustling place. I.P. Pavlova is one of the busier public transportation hubs in the city, with Metro line C and a multitude of tram lines.
Pizza Roma pies are pre-cooked, sliced, and lined up at the counter under lights. They have a number of topping choices. They move out fast. The last two times I was there, they did not reheat the pizzas before serving.
The slices I got were warm, but not hot. Both times, they would have benefited greatly from extra heat. The cheese was rubbery. The crust was soft and thinner than Pizza Grosso's. No crunch. I must have crunch.
Then, there's the sauce. It was also on the thin side and really lacked for seasoning. The main flavor that stood out was saltiness.
The slice wasn't bad. It's still a better choice than the nearby McDonald's or KFC. The pizza is OK if you are in a hurry. Or hungry very late at night. Or drunk. This is the customer base for this pizza.
Sometimes, less is more. Sometimes, it's not. Especially if you're talking about less pizza for more money.
Pizza Roma charges 35 CZK for a pepperoni slice, which is 1/8 of a 45-centimeter pizza. Plain or mushroom is 30 CZK. Pizza Grosso charges 30 CZK for 1/4 of a 50-centimeter pizza. BIG difference.
Pizza Roma's slices do have more pepperoni slices on them. The dripping, red oil from them will also destroy your clothes -- watch out.
Another plus for Pizza Roma is that it is open until 4:00 am. Pizza Grosso is only open until 9:00 pm. Pizza Roma has a number of other things to eat, like gyros for 50 CZK. Pizza Grosso has a gyro place next to it.
Anyway, after one slice at Pizza Roma, I walked over to Pizza Grosso and had another pepperoni slice. It was nicely reheated. I took a bite.
Oh, the lightly crunchy crust. The kick of oregano. The size.
For me, the debate was settled. I'm still hoping I can reach consensus with my friend. But, there's no need for further talks.
I.P. Pavlova tram stop on Jugoslávská
Thursday, March 29, 2007
I've never fallen in love with a pizza in Prague.
There. I said it.
I've tried quite a few. I even enjoyed some of them. But there was no love.
As much as I've tried, I've come to accept that I can only well and truly love a New York-style pizza.
You never forget your first.
Of course, mere words can hardly express the magic for those who don't know. But to give some idea of what I'm talking about, you can read Wikipedia's description of New York-style pizza.
As for other pizzas, there's never one reason a relationship never formed. Usually, it's a combination of factors: The sauce is bland or there is not enough or it's ketchup. Or the crust is too thin or too soggy or burnt. Or the mozzarella is not good (or not mozzarella at all).
Sometimes, there's just no chemistry. Italian or European-style pizzas aren't my thing. I can't fight it.
There is one pizza in Prague that warms my heart. This is the one pizza I go back to again and again. It's not love, but it's close. Sometimes in life, you have to settle for less than the dream.
In my head, I hear Lyle Lovett singing, "I Married Her Just Because She Looks Like You."
The pizza I'm talking about does not have a fancy address. It actually comes from a hole in a wall in a hole in the ground. In other words, the "food court" in the tunnel under Legerova, behind the National Museum, at the top of Wenceslas Square.
The name of the place is Pizza Grosso. Just like in many New York pizzerias and a few in Prague, they pre-cook the pies and line them up, ready for reheating. I actually love eating pizza this way. This is almost always how I eat pizza in New York. They often have Margherita, pepperoni (more like sliced salami), Hawaiian, mushroom, spinach, olive, and even a corn pizza. Is that called an Iowan?
Reheating the slices gives them a beautifully crispy, crunchy crust. You just have to make sure they make it hot enough -- sometimes they rush the slice in and out of the oven to move people along.
Say "Ohřát prosím" when you order (the best I can do phonetically for visitors is OH-zhat PRO-seem). They'll heat it up anyway, if it is not fresh from the oven. But it encourages them to heat it a little more.
They get a lot of things right with this slice. First, it is big -- a quarter of a 50 centimeter pizza for 30 CZK. Wikipedia says a New York-style pizza has a thin crust, but it is usually a little thicker than most of the pizzas you'll find in Prague.
It stands up very well to folding and holding as you walk. Just be careful with the pepperoni version -- it'll drip red oil down your arm.
Then there's the sauce. There was quite a lot on my last slice -- it depends who's making it that day -- but it's good, so I didn't mind. It is nicely salty and spicy with a great kick of garlic and oregano.
If you really need a place to sit, there are some benches and ledges nearby, but my advice is to keep moving. This is not usually a gathering place for Prague's cleaner or better dressed citizens.
I told the people behind the glass at Pizza Grosso that their pizza was my favorite in Prague. They informed me that they have another location, right under the Kotva department store near Náměstí Republiky.
I was going to compare this pizza to a slice from a similar operation that a friend claims is the best in town. But this post is getting long, so I'll leave it for another day.
People have made various recommendations like Pizzeria Rugantino in Old Town or Pizzeria Grosseto, near Náměstí Míru. Grosseto recently won the contest for the best pizza in Prague, as judged by the Prague Post's restaurant critic, Davie Faries. It's been years since I've tried these places, but they just didn't do it for me.
Pizza Grosso does something for me.
You can tell me about your love, but don't think it will make me jealous. If you've been to Chicago, Naples, or Yerevan and want to tell me the pizza there is better than a New York pizza. I have one word for you:
The Tunnel Behind the National Museum
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
This space got a mention on Gridskipper, Gawker Media's urban travel blog. The editor picked up the post on Olympia Delikatesy a Vína. He particularly liked the octopus photo.
And, yes, the Czech spelling error on that post was corrected, thanks to the eagle eyes of my troll.
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Prague is not exactly culinary crossroads for international food shops and delis. If you are looking around for foreign foods to take away, quality choices are few and far between.
Sure, there are a few small Italian and Asian shops around, but if you want something a little more exotic, the options are practically nonexistent.
Take Greek food, for example. There is only one really good Greek shop that I know of in Prague: Olympia Delikatesy a Vína.* It is a small store, just off Vinohradská, not far from Flora Mall.
I'll tell you right now what brought me to this place and keeps me coming back again and again: Real Greek yogurt.
First, it tastes great -- very clean and light, with a slightly sour tang. No strong aftertaste. The Olympia deli usually has a big bowl of it behind the counter. It scoops out like ice cream and is so thick, it holds its shape. It is takes me straight back to the simple Greek breakfasts of vacations past. I pour a generous amount of honey over the top. It's breakfast. Or dessert. Or a late night snack.
Petty limitations like the time of day or night cannot be imposed on such a yogurt.
I don't even like yogurt. This, I love.
They also sell a different, pre-packaged Greek yogurt in container. It's not the same. I'd avoid this. They once sold this thinner stuff when they ran out of the real yogurt, and I was very disappointed.
I'm not sure if they use the same yogurt or not for their tzatziki, but it is excellent. A little on the salty side, with plenty of cucumber and garlic. It's great to eat it with a piece of good, crusty bread. There is sometimes freshly baked bread on sale, but not always.
V has a thing for marinated octopus. It is only lightly sour, with very little oil, and usually pretty fresh. She loves Olympia's version.
There are plenty of other things to choose from in the refrigerated deli case: Hummus, tamarasalata, stuffed peppers, dolmades (vine leaves in oil and lemon juice, stuffed with rice), grilled vegetables, a variety of cheeses, olives and much more.
I love dolmades and often get some when I'm there. I saw that the dolmades in the refrigerated case come from a very large can, so as far as I know, they are not made on premises. I don't have the prices in front of me, but I recall it is more economical to buy the dolmades in the small glass jars they have in the back. There are also a number of other Greek specialties in similar jars, like a lentil salad.
They often have a variety of Greek honey and phyllo desserts like baklava.
I didn't get a picture of everything, but it's a pretty small space and didn't feel like explaining myself.
However, I was just searching for Olympia deli's website (which I couldn't find), and I stumbled upon this great food blog, Cuketka.cz, written in Czech. Pan Cuketka is a very good food photographer and has many pictures from the shop, including a great picture of the case and a much better picture of the yogurt. The site looks pretty slick and has a lot of links to Tyden.cz reviews, but I'm not sure who's behind it.
And as far as can tell, there was no Greek god of yogurt. But if you worship the stuff like I do, Olympia is still the place to go.
Olympia Delikatesy a Vína
Prague 2 Vinohrady
Tel. (+420) 224 910 341
*Despite the name, this deli is not connected to the Olympia restaurant in Malá Strana. And it should not be confused with Taverna Olympos, a good Greek restaurant in Žižkov.
Monday, March 26, 2007
Yeah, I love Thai food.
Even so, I fully intended to take a break from posting about Thai restaurants for a while. Last week, I wrote about Tiger Tiger. Not long before that, I wrote about Modrý zub Noodle Bar.
Time for some variety.
Then, G said he was coming back to Prague for the weekend and invited the gang out for dinner. I was enthusiastic at the prospect of a good post with pictures of many different dishes. Oh yeah, and seeing my friends.
On Friday afternoon, I sent G an SMS text message.
“Where and when?”
"Orange Moon. 7,” he replied.
Requesting a change of venue based on my need for new material would not fly very far. Besides, these posts more or less follow my life, and not the other way around.
So, here we are again.
Orange Moon has a great, central location on Rámová, off Dlouhá, near Old Town Square. It doesn’t just do Thai cuisine. There are also Burmese, Indian, and Indonesian dishes on the menu. The internet version of the menu is only in Czech, but they do have an English language version at the restaurant.
The place pulls in a ton of expats and tourists. Two of the three tables next to ours in the upstairs dining room were occupied by groups of young American women. The central location in the tourist zone is one factor. Another is that the restaurant is around the corner from a big youth hostel.
There is also a dining room downstairs. Both get pretty full on a Friday night. I'd say I like it upstairs a bit better because of the brighter lighting. Downstairs is better for dates.
We ordered a round of starters. I got vegetable samosas (80 CZK). They were OK, nothing too special. There are two to an order. The outer shells were crispy. Inside, it was mostly potato and a little bit bland. They would have benefited from some yoghurt or mango chutney.
G and H got chicken sate with peanut sauce (145 CZK). The chicken was nicely marinated, But, it was then so overcooked, probably due to reheating, that it was getting close to chicken jerky. It wasn’t too bad, though, especially with the good, nutty dipping sauce.
M and L split the meat-filled spring rolls with Thai chili sauce (Pow Pyet Sot) for 140 CZK. I didn’t try them, but they do look a little greasy in the picture. I didn’t ask how they were, but all disappeared.
Most of us drank the cold Pilsner Urquell they have on tap. A half liter is 45 CZK. A .2 liter glass of Muller Thurgau is 40 CZK. They have nonalcoholic Radegast for 35 CZK. Just so you know, they also have a 10 CZK cover charge per person.
For a main course, I got the Thai Beef Salad (Yam Nuea) for 190 CZK. The waitress asked if I wanted rice with it when I ordered. I said no. It would have been a bit strange to have this cold salad on top of hot rice.
Anyway, I quite liked it. The dominant flavor was fish sauce, but it also had mint, cilantro, onion, tomato, cucumber, and red chili pepper. It was pretty spicy. The only real problem was the quality of the beef. Or the lack thereof. It was very tough.
G ordered the Beef Vindaloo for 195 CZK. Jasmine rice is an extra 30 CZK. The menu said it was spicy and put three flames next to it. I tried a bite, and waited for the fire to erupt. Didn’t happen. G said it was spicy, but it was more of a cumulative effect. He liked it. As for me, I’m not a vindaloo fan.
H tried the fried Singapore noodles with pork and vegetables for 160 CZK. She couldn’t finish it and a few of us passed the plate around. We all thought it was excellent. The meat had a wonderful, smoky, charred flavor that comes from cooking over flame. I’m not exactly sure how they do it, though.
L got the Green Curry Chicken (Kaeng Khiao Whan Kai) for 185 CZK with jasmine rice (30 CZK). I had just a small taste. It was a decent version. It comes with basil, bamboo shoots, eggplant (aubergine), green peas, and coconut milk.
M had the beef with Thai basil and chili pepper (Phad Khi Mao) for 195 CZK. I tried some. It had a lot of basil flavor. I only had a little, but it wasn’t so spicy. Again, the beef was tough and chewy. Like shoe leather. They get a lot of the flavors right, but they need better beef.
The final bill for seven of us, which included four starters, 14 beers, and three glasses of wine, was 2825 CZK, not including tip. Not too bad.
Now, I fully intend for this to be my last Thai restaurant post for a while. Then again, the road to Prague’s Thai restaurants is paved with such intentions.
Tel. (+420) 222 325 119
Saturday, March 24, 2007
The Travel section of Sunday's edition of The New York Times has an article, "36 Hours in Prague" by Evan Rail. The piece is already available online, and it is already a top 10 most e-mailed story.
The article gives readers an off the beaten track itinerary, something of an insider's guide to Prague. It's a good list of things to do for someone who is making a return visit to the city or wants a little more local flavor. My only quibble is the line about the "supermodel-prone locals."
Mr. Rail has written a number of freelance articles about this country. He did another one for The New York Times, "The Ultimate Beer Run in the Czech Republic" back in August 2006. It was on the "Most Popular" list for many days.
In this most recent piece, he highlights somewhat lesser known food and drink places like Tynska literarni kavarna, Vino di Vino, Grand Cafe Orient, Pivovarsky klub, Perpetuum, Blind Eye, Palac Akropolis, and Hapu.
Maybe Café Savoy is the exception -- it is well known as one of the city's best cafes.
Café Savoy is already getting so popular, it is hard to show up spontaneously for a table any more. I went to Hapu recently in the middle of the week, and the small, neighborhood cocktail bar was packed. It was difficult to get a drink and nearly impossible to find a place to sit.
I've had people say they won't tell me their favorite place for fear of bringing in crowds. And this blog is hardly The New York Times in terms of readership.
So, telling a broad, international audience about local and expat favorites in Prague brings up an interesting point.
Is this a good thing? The easy answer for many of those who live in this city is "no." They get very protective about these places.
As for me, I'm not so sure. But you have to consider the source.
I always think sharing is good.
Thursday, March 22, 2007
**This restaurant has closed down**
At Lemon Leaf, I like the "sweet beef red curry with peanuts and lime garnish" over sticky rice.
At Orange Moon, the Phad Thai is pretty good -- they also do Indian and Indonesian dishes. It also has a good, central location not far from Old Town Square.
At Modry Zub, I go for the Lab Mu (ground pork salad). The red curry there can be on the watery side.
I went to Siam Orchid more than a year ago. It was OK, but I didn't love the Phad Thai. I often judge a place by its Phad Thai. I know some people love the place, so I'll get killed for saying that.
Many years ago, I went to Siam-i-San at Arzenal. I remember they had some good food, but it is the most expensive Thai place in town and it is odd to eat at the back of an art glass shop. The place was conceived by architect and artist Borek Sípek. His friend Vaclav Havel had a birthday dinner there once - his picture was on the wall.
I still haven't tried The Noodle Bar or the newly opened Monsoon. Let me know if I'm leaving out some place good.
Then, there's Tiger Tiger, just off Vinohradská.
I used to go there for the Phad Thai Kung. It's a little expensive at 260 CZK, but it always came with six fresh, plump shrimp with the tails thoughtfully removed.
The restaurant has a small dining area at the front, below street level. It has another room in the back.
Recently, I discovered another dish there, and now I get it all the time. The other day, I picked up a take out order of the red curry chicken (Pad Ped Gai) for lunch recently for 210 CZK. I threw in an order of sticky rice (50 CZK), which bumps up the price a bit. They also charge for a takeaway box (20 CZK). Total: 280 CZK.
First, I'll say that this is a lot of food. As a lunch, it can easily be divided in two and eaten over two days, which makes it seem more economical.
The dish (that's actually my large, chipped bowl) has sliced red peppers, Thai basil, and a green bean mixed in a nice, thick coconut cream with red Thai curry. The cream is infused with plenty of lime leaves. Just know that I am crazy about anything with lime leaves. The red curry does separate out a little from the coconut cream, but it is easy enough to stir it back together.
Tiger Tiger offers much cheaper lunch specials that start at 100 CZK from a limited menu, and they have Wi-Fi. They also deliver. They've got Gambrinus on tap.
If you think there is a Thai restaurant in Prague that beats all the rest, feel free to let us know. Just be prepared to defend yourself.
Anny Letenske 5
Tel. (+420) 222 512 084
Posted by Brewsta at 4:01 PM
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard
And they're like, It's better than yours
Damn right, it's better than yours
I can teach you, but I have to charge
I'll tell you where to get a better milkshake.
I had a thirst for a chocolate one the other day. I think the best shakes in town are at TGI Friday's, but I hate going there. Everything is overpriced, and they don't make drinks to go. McDonald's "better shakes through chemistry" don't do it for me.
Then, I had an idea. I mentioned a few times I don't like the sandwiches at Half & Half.
But the better half of Half & Half is the right half of the store that sells ice cream and cakes.
The ice cream, or gelato as it were, looks pretty good. Their serving cups say "Cream & Dream," which many people say makes the best stuff in Prague.
I asked the woman behind the counter if the gelato was really from Cream & Dream.
"Yes," she grunted, without turning to face me.
I ordered a milkshake with the rich, dark chocolate gelato.
The shake braves a dark and stormy night on Wenceslas Square
A chocolate milkshake is not cheap, but it's cheaper than TGI Friday's. They charge 65 CZK for a .4 liter shake. For some perspective, they charge 45 CZK for a single serving cone of gelato, but you get less gelato than in the milkshake. I think they have a .3 liter shake for 55 CZK.
Half & Half sells the Armenian honey cake called "Marlenka," which comes in cocoa and honey style (which tastes more like caramel). They don't have the original king of honey cakes, "Medovnik." I think they are all pretty delicious. They've got a few other cakes and tarts and Greek-style pastries.
The shake was good. Very chocolaty. TGI Friday's shake is better only because they use more ice cream. Half & Half's uses more milk. It probably has to be that way, though, because the gelato is more intense than regular chocolate ice cream.
I expect this summer will be a warm one. Will I be back for more shakes?
As Kelis would say:
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
** Note: This restaurant closed and La Republica has opened in its place with a Czech-Austrian-German style menu. I haven't been, but I must not that, in my opinion, they desecrated one of the most beautiful Art Deco dining rooms in the city.
"If music be the food of love, play on." - Duke Orsino, Twelfth Night, 1601I love music. I love food. And like Orsino, I needed a distraction. So, the other night, I went to Dinitz Café. It's a good place for all of that stuff.
This is a very cool spot on Na Poříčí, not far from Náměstí Republiky. It has a very interesting Art Deco interior. I'd like to know more about the history behind it. I googled around a bit but couldn't find much.
Dinitz Café regularly has live music. Just about every Friday, they have Cuban band called Son Caliente, which has something of a rotating line-up. But this is no cheap imitation. These are real Cuban expats. They sound great. Prague needs more of this kind of style.
As the night moves along and drinks start going down, a few people pop up from their chairs and dance in the little space that's available.
The singer will move out onto the floor. With your girlfriend. You don't dance. He does. He's good. The trumpet player will wander around and play on among the tables. It's relaxed and it's fun.
Dinitz Café has two levels, with a bar and tables on each.
The top level overlooks the lower level. It is smaller up there, with fewer tables. If you are interested in conversation, it is better to be upstairs when the band is playing.
They do a wide range of cocktails. A friend had a Long Island Ice Tea for 180 CZK. They list the ingredients as "tequila, vodka, rum, gin, triple sec, lemon juice, fresh orange, coke."
I didn't like it. I've heard of the drink being made with lemon juice or sour mix, but never orange juice. And it had too much of the stuff. It made it too sweet and the drink didn't seem strong enough, considering all the alcohol involved. I make a better one.
I was drinking Jack Daniels with ice. You all know what that looks like.
Given my earlier raves about the steak sandwich at Rocky O'Reilly's, a reader of this blog recommended the one at Dinitz Café. It is called the "Mongolian Steak Sandwich" (Mongolský sendvič) with "grilled slices of beef entrecote, green aioli, grilled tomatoes, arugula and fried onions, served on ciabatta bread." It comes with fries and goes for 250 CZK.
I liked it. Almost great, but not quite. Every ingredient, from the steak to the bread was fresh and good quality. Nicely grilled tomatoes and onions.
When you open this beautiful sandwich, you see that the quality ingredients are just swimming in mayonnaise. They called it "green aioli" but it looked pretty white and Hellmanns-like to me. It is hard to see in the picture, but the mayo is what keeps the grilled tomatoes glued to the top of the bread.
It's a shame, really, because the mayo overwhelms the other stuff. They include plenty of extra mayo on the side. It would have been more than fine to let me put it on myself. Or not. I actually love mayonnaise, but this was too much for even me.
Dinitz Café has their full food menu available online. There is also a cocktail menu and a schedule for live performances.
While the Dinitz Café steak sandwich has potential for greatness, I think Rocky's still has the edge for the best.
But what do I know? Shakespeare knew a lot about music, food, and love, and he certainly didn't seem to have a lot of respect for steak sandwich lovers.
"Methinks sometimes I have no more wit than a Christian or an ordinary man has; but I am a great eater of beef, and I believe that does harm to my wit."
-- Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Twelfth Night, 1601Dinitz Café
Na poříčí 12
Tel. (+420) 222 314 071
email : firstname.lastname@example.org