Friday, January 4, 2008

Valleta (Closed)

*News update: Valleta has closed. The space has been taken over by an Italian restaurant, Osteria da Clara. You can read about my visit here.

"Sometimes I'm so sweet, even I can't stand it."
-Julie Andrews

Valleta is a sweet little spot in Vršovice, tucked into a side street on the Vinohrady border.

A sweet, gray-haired Czech man waits on the tables.

The prices are pretty sweet.

The restaurant serves cuisine that is international, adventurous, original, and, yes, on the sweet side.

The dishes from the old menu there used to be even sweeter, which was why we weren't regulars. We live close by. But from the beginning, Valleta had its fans.

The Prague Post's old restaurant critic gave Valleta a very good review a few years back. He even recommended in a later, cleverly titled CNN.com travel article.

The restaurant has a new menu these days, and while there were still some cloying aspects, there was also more balance. Not everything worked with every dish, but almost all had something good about them.

The chef is Filip Blažek, who learned his advanced skills while working in Barcelona. My understanding is that his dad is the waiter and front-of-house man.

The dining room changed since our last visit, with more stylish touches added to the single-room dining area. It is not a big place, with just a few tables.

I started with the marinated lamb kebab skewer with goat cheese timbal and pistachios (95 CZK). The lamb meat was ground up, mixed with spices, and cooked on wooden sticks.The lamb was quite flavorful. It was well-salted, not sweet. The fried onions were the sweet part, along with a piece of fresh pineapple and a slice of pear were on the side.

The goat cheese tasted similar to feta -- which can be made with goat's mile, but was not very goat-like. And it was very salty. The cheese was served between slices of eggplant. I didn't really see or taste the pistachios.

V had the "Oriental Bangkok" prawns with mango-sesame salad and an oriental mustard sauce (115 CZK). There were three decent-sized prawns, which seemed a fair for the price. They were well-prepared and had good flavor.The dish came with a mound of thinly sliced sweet/sour mango in the center, topped by rucola. Very nice.

I think I had the winner of the main courses: Grilled veal slices with sun-dried tomato, melted mozzarella, and avocado tempura in an orange-basil sauce (200 CZK).The veal was very fresh and very tender. It was well-seasoned. Sun-dried tomatoes aren't the most gourmet cooking ingredient, but I really like the sour bursts of flavor they bring.

The avocado tempura was something I hadn't seen before. It wasn't a classic tempura batter and they were a little greasy, but I liked it nonetheless.

Side orders are extra. I had the grilled triangle of crepes and mushrooms with fresh sage (45 CZK). They were OK, but really more like spongy cake slices than crepes.

I love fresh sage, and it went very well with the veal. The basil in the veal's sauce stayed in the background.

V ordered a special: A Moroccan tagine of Nile perch in a sesame-olive sauce with grilled fennel and lemon zest (190 CZK). She got the recommended side of cous cous with vegetables and spices (35 CZK).She said it was pretty good, but didn't love it. The sweet water perch was a little too fishy tasting for me.

There were some fried greens on top, but she couldn't figure out exactly what they were. We both thought the cous cous was good.

No menu is available on the Internet so I'll tell you a few other offerings. There is a wine-braised lamb shank (225 CZK), duck leg tagine with grilled pear and orange zest (180 CZK), duck breast with apple-fig chutney (230 CZK), and rabbit in a mustard sauce (220 CZK).

On the sea-side of the menu, there is butterfish in a seaweed sour cream sauce (220 CZK), honey-cumin glazed salmon (190 CZK), sea bass fillet over fennel puree and orange sauce (215 CZK), and a catfish cake with crab meat spring roll (180 CZK).

Other side dishes include risotto with caramelized ginger (45 CZK), grilled polenta with fresh basil (45 CZK), and roasted potatoes with garlic and cherry tomatoes (35 CZK).

With both decided to have dessert, which is unusual. Usually, we just share one. I had the chocolate brownie with ginger and banana in a spicy, white-chocolate soup, served with strawberry ice cream (90 CZK).It was interesting. There was just a little spice that built into a pleasant heat. But the flavor of chocolate was not strong enough for my taste. The ice cream was nothing special and the color was a little too neon.

V got the frozen parfait of poppy seeds with sour cherries (85 CZK). This is not something I'd order. But V loved it. She said it reminded her of a dessert from her youth.There were no cherries so there was an unannounced substitute of what I believe were marinated apricots on the side (I didn't taste them).

At the end of the meal, we decided that we liked the current menu enough to come back and try more of it. But take that with a grain of salt.

The location, a short walk from home, certainly is a big positive factor for us. The cuisine is creative, but its sugary sides might not appeal to everyone.

But if you love la dolce vita and want try a different take on haute cuisine, the bill at Valleta won't leave a sour taste in your mouth.

Valleta
Mexická 7
Prague 10–Vršovice
Tel. (+420) 271 726 548

4 comments:

skip said...

This is really sweet tip :) I am from Vrsovice too. Problem of this part of the city is, that there is plenty of restaurants, but all of them I can call "Czech standard". Good for a glass of beer and "something" with fries. Or in the best case, really good original Czech kitchen, like they have at "U Pstrosa". Only two exceptions I found is "Atelier" and "Ego". This look like a third one, so thanks for the review, I will try.

Brewsta said...

I'd also recommend Neklid Restaurant, a couple of blocks away on Ruska. Some Czech interpretations on international cuisine, but the guy there knows how to cook. I tried Ego recently. Need to try more, but think Neklid is probably better.

pivobud said...

Better Late Than Never, but Alas...

As of this evening Valetta is closing it's doors and will reopen under new ownership probably Feb 1st.

Went up tonight to get my usual take out and heard the news from Filip's father and wished them well.

Filip will probably travel outside the country so Prague will lose an excellent cook and the new ownership I'm told is some 'Anglican', but also heard from my neighbor that it could be some 'Sved'.

Time will tell, but I will miss the food that was always well prepared, presented and great value for money.

Here's hoping the new place is just as good although will hard to be better.

Pivo

Brewsta said...

Noooooooo!!!!

They told us last year business was OK because they had a good lunch crowd.

That's too bad.