"Judge not, that ye be not judged."
- Matthew 7:1, The Bible, King James Version
People often ask me, "What's your favorite restaurant." A tricky and sensitive question. The answer can generate some heat.
Because you are not just what you eat. You are also where you eat.
Such is the world we live in. We must make judgments, and we must also be judged. And so I'll say now to all of you that there is one restaurant that stands above the rest.
For me, at least.
It's a place I've gone to again and again for years, where I feel I get good value, good service, and where I get what I consider comfort food. Consistently.
Are the judges ready?
It's Kogo at Slovanský dům.
I'm far from the only one who really likes Kogo. Based on its size and the fact that it is almost always full, I'd say it is probably one of the most successful restaurants in the city.
You'll see families, large groups, business people, couples on dates, Hollywood stars (OK, I saw Liev Schreiber and Ed Burns), Czech President Vaclav Klaus, and many others who love to be seen in public.
Kogo is also one of Klaus's favorites. He had his 60th birthday party there, and I heard Kogo also catered his 65th birthday at Prague Castle.
The restaurant is considered a top spot for business lunches. It's known as "the fish bowl" because of its glass outer walls.
I know at least one critic who also calls Kogo a regular stop. Laura Baranik of Expats.cz prefers the Havelská location, but the menu and cooking are essentially the same. Both have convenient, central locations and are not too far from each other.
Kogo at Slovanský dům, along with the other Kogos, specializes in Italian and Mediterranean dishes. They do a wide variety of pizzas. They have fresh seafood and you can see it on display in a case at the front.
They do steaks. They have a similar display that holds massive pieces of beef, including T-bones. The fillets are usually a very thick cut.
I like the space at Slovanský dům the best. It is open, full of light during the day, those glass walls face a peaceful courtyard. At night, they usually don't make it too dark, and there's a nice energy in the room.
There is an outdoor area that holds many tables and is just terrific for lunch on a summer afternoon. There's also a wine bar next door that has the full restaurant menu available.
This Kogo has an open kitchen. No secrets here. As you pass by, you feel more energy and see a large, clean, and well-organized cooking area. You'll often see a wide variety of dishes that are ready to go, waiting for pick up at the counter. Not a bad place for a preview of what you might order.
The prices are higher than an average Prague restaurant, but still far from the sky-high prices at many top-end places, like Kampa Park. And, of course, I think the food is above average.
Above all, there is one dish at Kogo that I'm just in love with. It's unusual for me to keep ordering the same dish every time I go to a restaurant. Here, I look at the menu, try to consider other options, but almost always get the same thing: Risotto all pescatore, the seafood risotto.
You can check the price on the online menu. For some reason, it has stayed under 300 CZK for a long time.
As far as I am concerned, this is an absolute bargain. The risotto, which is mixed with tomatoes, garlic, and I think a touch of wine, is stocked with a catch of fresh calamari, mussels, clams, and small but flavorful shrimp.
It is always consistently great and perfectly seasoned. It comes with fresh parsley on top, which usually I don't like, but in this case, it gives it small bursts of verdant flavor. The portion size seems to vary from visit to visit, and it's been smaller the last couple of times. But this risotto is always quite filling, no matter what the portion.
V got the mussels in a garlic-tomato sauce (410 CZK). She said this: "The sauce was absolutely perfect." She told me to underline it, but I don't see that option on my toolbar.
I had one of the mussels, and it was fresh and meaty. It comes with simple white bread toast points. V later told me that a few of the mussels did not taste so fresh. Perhaps it's late in the season. Anyway, nobody's perfect. She's ordered it many times.
On a recent visit, I decided to be different and order the linguine with lobster, shrimp, and zucchini (linguine s humrem, krevetami a cuketou) for 420 CZK. The linguine comes with half a lobster. They used to serve it with the meat in the shell, but that was pretty messy and a lot of work. Now, they take it out, tail and claw, and mix it into the linguine.
To me, the lobster is not great -- some nights they overcook it. But V likes it very much and it's one of her regular dishes. Again, the shrimp are small, but full of flavor. There's some chilies mixed into the tomato sauce so it has a spicy kick, but the last time, it was milder than usual. The pasta does not hold its heat very well, so it can get cold before you finish if you don't eat quickly.
Another favorite of V's is the chef's octopus (chobotnice podle šéfkuchaře). She's had it a few times -- once it was served warm and another time not so warm. But it is fresh and has a great grilled flavor. It's a lot of octopus. V sometimes orders it as a main course.
I didn't want to bury the lead of my favorite main courses, so now I'll back up and look at the appetizers.
We recently got another favorite, the tuna carpaccio with capers and fresh oregano (carpaccio z tuňáka s kapary a čerstvým oreganem). It is 275 CZK, but I still think Kogo is quite generous with the tuna for that money. This is actually a picture of a half portion -- they'll gladly split it in two for you if you want to share it.
The tuna is fresh and excellent quality. It has a deep, ruby color, though the flash made it look more pink. The fish is sliced thin and rests atop a bed of lettuce and olive oil. Oregano and capers are sprinkled on top. On the side, there is a ruccola, halved cherry tomatoes, and half a lemon. The lemon, combined with the olive oil, makes a nice dressing for the lettuce bed and ruccola. There is also balsamic vinegar on the table.
For drinks, V had Prosecco, which is 45 CZK for a .1 liter glass, and a Chianti, which is 98 CZK for .15 liter glass. I usually get a glass of Budvar beer on tap. It's not cheap at 55 CZK for .33 liter, but it is always cold and refreshing. If I'm not drinking, a .33 liter bottle of Mattoni mineral water is 45 CZK.
They did charge 50 CZK for the bread, but they are fresh-baked ciabatta-style rolls made from pizza dough.
Kogo has a number of desserts, but I always get the same thing: A chocolate walnut cake. Very basic, very nutty, and very good. They also have desserts like strawberry cheesecake, tiramisu.
The service is usually very friendly and efficient. Many of them have worked in the restaurant for years and know their jobs well. It also helps that one of Kogo's owners spends most of his time in the restaurant.
In addition to the Slovanský dům and Havelská locations, there is another restaurant called L'Angolo by Kogo on Dlouhá, near Old Town Square. And there is a fourth location in Bratislava.
I'm not saying Kogo at Slovanský dům is the best restaurant in any particular category. It's just that when you combine all its qualities -- food, service, value, and atmosphere -- it's my favorite.
If you think I'm crazy or have a different favorite, feel free to say what's better for you.
But be prepared to be judged.
Na Příkopě 22
Tel. (+420) 221 451 259 or 221 451 260
Open every day from 11:00 - 23:00
*** Since this post was written, Kogo introduced a new menu, keeping some standard favorites, but also adding a fair number of new dishes. Along with the changes have come higher prices (September 2007)
You can read a brief update on Kogo here.