Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Noi - The Art of Taste (Thai Restaurant)

"Change we can believe in." Barack Obama
The world has changed.

After a long and lamentable period of stasis and status quo, there was a paradigm shift last week.

This is news you can use. Yes, you can.

And the change is that I have a new favorite Thai restaurant in Prague.

It's called Noi - The Art of Taste. Our first meal there was so enjoyable, it is in strong consideration for Regular Rotation status.

I stumbled on this just-opened place by accident. I love these kinds of surprises.I was walking down Újezd in Malá Strana, and I noticed the changed signage and new window decorations.

I was on my way to Luka Lu to meet V for Balkan food that night, but I made a mental note and we returned a few days later.

We happily discovered that the food at Noi was almost exactly how we like it, and the dining room was a stylish place to be.What more do you need? How about decent prices? Yes, they have those, too. This amazed me, given the location and atmosphere. It certainly increased my enjoyment level.

The lights were low, the walls were beige, and the furniture was chosen for its Zen-like qualities (I kid you not-check the website).

There were cool candle holders on the tables, and some big, comfortable leather chairs with low tables for lounging.It all appeared to come from the Le Patio Lifestyle shop next door, so you can get a funky lamp to go with a take-out order, if you want.

Not everything was perfect in the dining room. Some tables looked a little too close together for my comfort level.We felt lucky the restaurant hadn't been discovered yet. It was not full on a Friday night, and we didn't have to sit next to anyone else.

If you really want peace and quiet, there's a lovely outdoor seating area in a courtyard out back, well-isolated from the nearby tram lines.For our dinner, we sat right near the window for the open kitchen. There is an orange film over the window, which makes it seem otherworldly, and keeps the harsh white kitchen lighting out of the dimly lighted dining room.I started with a bowl of Tom Kah Kai soup (70 CZK). I loved it for two reason.

First, it was made with coconut cream, rather than coconut milk. It reminding me of a very creamy Tom Kah Kai I once loved long ago. Second, it was pleasantly sweet.This may come down to personal taste, but this was exactly how I like it.

It was not a very complex iteration of the soup, but it hit enough of the right notes with properly cooked, tender chicken, sliced mushrooms, galangal, cilantro, and fish sauce.

All too often, I've run into more savory, less creamy versions of this soup and been disappointed. Now, I know where to go for my fix.

The bowl was on the small side, but I did not mind this at all. I don't need big portions for a big price with a soup course.

V ordered the Tod Mun Koong, better known as shrimp cakes (80 CZK). They were fried to golden perfection.

The cakes were crispy, with very little grease. And they were very shrimpy in texture and taste. We like shrimp. We like fried things. But I'm almost always disappointed when I order shrimp or fish cakes at an Asian restaurant. They are usually grease sponges with too much bread or batter filler. Not so here.

You could deduct a point for the bottled sweet chili sauce on the side. But I really don't mind the stuff, and the quality of the featured player on the dish overshadowed that issue in my mind.

For a main course, I got the Phad Thai Koong or Thai noodles with shrimp. For me, it is a key dish for judging a Thai restaurant.

The one was one of the best versions I've ever had. Seriously. It had a terrific balance of flavor. It had a touch of sweetness, countered by sourness from lemon juice.There was a perfect mix of chopped peanut, shredded carrots, green onion, sprouts, fried tofu, a bit of fried egg, and even chopped lime leaf. I love lime leaf.

There were also plenty of fresh, medium-sized shrimp with the tails removed. I was surprised they only charged 160 CZK for it and that they charged the same for the version with chicken. I even asked the waitress if the menu was correct.

But I just looked at the menu on the Internet, and the prices there are different. The Phad Thai with chicken is listed at 180 CZK, and the Phad Thai with shrimp is 220 CZK. So, I got an introductory price.

I went back the next week and the regular menu pirces were in effect. I had the Phai Thai with chicken, and it was also excellent. Such consistency is a good sign. The chicken was cooked perfectly. I often have problems with overcooked, tough chicken at other places.

For perspective on the prices, I used to get Pad Thai Koong at Tiger Tiger (RIP) and it cost 260 CZK. At Modry Zub, it costs 205 CZK.

V ordered Ped Phad Kra-Prao, which is duck with Thai basil. We paid 180 CZK, but the Internet menu says it is 190 CZK. Rice was extra (40 CZK).

The meat was quite finely chopped and mixed with the basil, white and green onions, and very spicy red chilies.We thought it was on the salty side. The basil is meant to help with that, but it was a little overwhelmed.

I'd never had this dish before. It had potential to be great. But I'll probably try something different next time.

We had a variety of drinks. They only had Stella Artois and I believe Staropramen on tap.

Not my favorites (and I am aware these are disliked by many people I know). I really wanted beer so I had two Stellas (50 CZK each).

V had two glasses of Leon Cavallo Chardonnay (60 CZK each).

She said it was "OK and didn't offend." Especially for the price.

V also had a bottle of Bonaqua sparkling water (40 CZK).

And then she decided she wanted a Mojito (130 CZK). On the plus side, it tasted very good, with plenty of squeezed lime wedges in the glass.

On the downside, it was not a very big glass, and it was filled to the brim with crushed ice. So, a few sucks on the straw and that sucker was gone.

I had had enough and was ready to ask for the bill. But V felt that we really had to do a thorough job and see what the desserts were like.

They had a nice display case full of options. After much debate, we chose a chocolate cake. We both thought it was dee-lish.It was made with vertical layers of yellow sponge cake, with a light mousse-like cream and a dark chocolate icing.

What made it extra special was that there were little pieces of apricot mixed in. And unlike the cakes in many cafes, it was very fresh.

The place just opened, so I make some allowances, but service could have been better.

A beer order was forgotten, and I sat with an empty glass for a while. It took a bit of arm-waving to stir the waiter's memory, and it came soon after.

One other aspect of the service is worth mentioning, and I only realize this as I look over the receipt. They forgot to charge us for the dessert. If I had noticed it that night, I would have pointed it out and paid for it.

The total tab for this meal came to 920 CZK.

Consider that we had two courses each, two glasses of wine, two beers, a cocktail, and water (dessert no charge), and it looks like a bargain. Granted, it appears the regular prices will be a bit higher, based on what the Internet menu says.

Still, you could eat and drink more conservatively and have a meal for two in the 500 CZK range.

Noi - The Art of Taste took over the space that was occupied by Downtown Cafe -- a place that never pulled me in for some reason. And it seemed it didn't grab a lot of others, either.

Now, I'm planning a return visit. And I'm pretty sure there will be more people in the dining room the next time. The days of walking in without a reservation on a Friday night will come to an end.

That's change you can believe in.

Noi - The Art of Taste
Újezd 19
Prague 1 - Malá Strana
Tel. (+420) 257 311 411


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17 comments:

Pivní Filosof said...

Great review. It all looked as a place I would love to visit some day until the beer part.
Call me a beer snob, whatever you want, but I've decided to boicot all places that stock Stella Artois. I hate just looking at the logo. The fact that InBev is selling that rubbish eurolager as a premium beer is insulting.
Until Noi starts stocking some real Czech beer, I'll take my business elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

I learned recently Down Town Café had been closed and when I started reading your last installement and saw the first photo, I thought "Ah-Ha!". Many times I have stayed at this area of Mala Strana and have been to Down Town Café, twice I think. It was a fine place but I like it changed into Thai restaurant better. It sounds like a good place, quality/price wise. I will be in Prague again at least in November and will be staying in the area again, actually one minute's walk, at Hotel Roma so another thing to look forward to. Timely news. Thanks. The name is easy to remember for me as some people call me Nori. Kat1

Jerry said...

I agree partially with Pivni Filosof about Stella Artois. It is a pretentious wimpy beer that has no place in good Czech society. I will also not patronize any restaurant that offers only this excuse for a beer. However, did I hear that Noi also serves Staropramen? That would be OK (Krusovice would be best but only if stored and poured properly).

Brewsta said...

There were other beers. They had Staropramen, but I have friends who refuse to drink this as well. There's always wine.

If the food pulls in the people, and I think it will, they might not have incentive to change. Though, if they get enough complaints like this, they still might consider it.

wissy said...

Great review as always. Great photos also - shame the guy in the baseball cap didn't have the manners to take it off whilst dining, or am i just being old fashioned?

Brewsta said...

Thanks. I wouldn't have gotten away with a hat at the table, but I didn't notice it til you mentioned it.

I should also mention that I updated my post a day after I wrote it to reflect that fact that the lower prices on some items didn't match with their just-posted menu on the internet. Prices may have been lower just for the first days after opening.

Pivní Filosof said...

"...Though, if they get enough complaints like this, they still might consider it."
Then we might as well start complaining. I don't hold it against the restaurant. Problem is that many owners know as much about beer as I know about sake, and they are simply unaware that there are other, and better brands out there that would even cost them less than Stella.

skip said...

Interesting.. regarding previous discussion, I don't understand the aversion of some people to Staropramen. Standard desítka is nothing special, agree, but Ležák (lager) is not bad at all and Granát is pretty good as well. Far more the worst czech beers are in my personal opinion standard desítka from Krušovice and Gambrinus. Stella - ok, I don't see any reason to sell this beer here, in CZ, but it's still far more better than other belgian beers like Maes or Jupiler. In fact I like Stella most of all belgian pils beers (not talking about white beers and specials).

Anonymous said...

Nice call. Checked it out. Agree with you on all counts.

Brewsta said...

I've been told Noi is owned by the same people that run Modry Zub and Ultramarin. I didn't enjoy the Phad Thai at Modry Zub, so I hope they send those cooks over to Noi for lessons. I'm looking forward to trying other dishes, but I'm a bit of a Phad Thai addict.

As for beer, InBev is taking over the world. Can even U.S. Budweiser resist? How can the Czech Republic stand up to the onslaught? I don't love Stella, but obviously, since I drank it, it does not provoke the feelings of revulsion that others have.

Speaking of strong feelings about beer -- I have heard Czech friends, acquaintances, and expats that Czech Budweiser 10 degree causes more headaches than other beers.

I have not had this problem, but the opinion seems to be widely held and unshakeable.

joanh said...

I would have never expected good Thai food in Prague.. I wonder if I can convince my fellow visitors to eat there with me!

Maybe they gave you a special price because they noticed you were taking pics and were hoping for a good review? haha.. I sometimes wonder about that.

Pivní Filosof said...

It's all a matter of tastes. I hate Stella and I don't like Staropramen. I tasted the once fine Granát recently and I couldn't finish the bottle. It was awful.
The problem I have, more than with the beers, is with the company. Since 2004, when InBev took over, the quality of Staropramen has taken a dive. Many if the beer community believe that it was done so it would be easier to forcefeed Stella.
In fact, as long as I can choose, I don't usually drink beers from the big three. They are all pretty much the same.

Thai Restaurants said...

I would love to visit some day.

Thai Restaurants data

Valentina Gasi said...

I absolutely agree!!! IWe have been dining in in Noi already 4 times and it is always a real culinary pleasure! The service is so friendly and the whole place is designed to make you feel very relaxed.
Finally I have a place where I can take all my friends and pleased them with some delicious NOI food. And...not to forget,,,the prices are very reasonable for the quality they offer. Thank you for the good tip!

Anonymous said...

Brewsta,

Hana and I were there, finally, in the middle of last week. Word is out, tables were scarce. I had my favorite soup, tom yum, and was underwhelmed. Just ok. Then I tried their version of my favorite dish, which is beef with chilis and thai basil. Here it's a noodle dish, which is fine, like at MZ. But I couldn't tell if it was thai basil or normal sweet basil, and that's not good. Otherwise, we had a good time and Hana's green curry was quite good. I drink anything, so crappy stella was no obstacle...

Dan

Anonymous said...

i tried noi after having read your review. i found the food every bit as delicious as you said. i have eaten here a lot after that first visit and the food and the service have been consistently excellent thank you for your recommendation!

jared

Tom said...

Great cuisine and impeccable mix of flavours, but, and it's a big BUT, could the service be even slower and the waiters look more bored and ratty? That's the only downside of Noi. To be honest, we go there quite often with our colleagues on the way back from the hotel just around the corner and this happens almost every time.
P.S. one thing you need to have there is the Noi cocktail with lychee in every glass.