Thursday, July 24, 2008

Villa Richter Restaurants

"Like tourists huffing and puffing to reach the peak, we forget the view on the way up." Friedrich Nietzsche
We huffed and puffed up the hill to Prague Castle.

Our final destination: Villa Richter.

The recently restored house and grounds fell into disrepair after it was taken over by the Czech Communist government in the 1950s.

Now, it is home to three different restaurants.

We passed through the newly reopened gates, but we did not forget the view on the way.In one direction, you can see Malá Strana and the St. Nicholas Church.One new addition is the replanted St. Wenceslas Vineyard on the hillside. A Czech Radio piece has some of the history. Charles IV, the Bohemian king and Holy Roman Emperor, planted the first grape vines there in 1375.

In another other direction, this choice piece of real estate overlooks Malá Strana, the Charles Bridge, and Old Town.We walked a little further and we came upon the first restaurant, Panorama Pergola. It was actually more of an outdoor cafe.The Pergola menu looked fairly limited, with a couple of sandwiches, a couple of salads, three pasta dishes, and grilled beef, chicken, or pork.From there, we walked down the paved path above the vines and saw the cushy-looking, couch-laden patio in front of the fanciest of the restaurants, Piano Nobile.Why they used Italian names for the different levels, evoking the palazzos of Venice, I'm not quite sure.

I looked at the Piano Nobile menu. The prices were as high as the hills we were on. There was a six-course tasting menu for 2100 CZK. A vegetable salad starter was 290 CZK. A duck confit and foie gras starter was 420 CZK.

For main course, the salmon and chicken dishes were 590 CZK. A filet of Argentinian sirloin with truffle juice was 710 CZK. Šumava lamb chops were 690 CZK.

Too rich for my blood. The dining room did look pretty cool, though.We headed down the hill to Piano Terra.

It also had a big patio, with a relatively cheaper, but far from inexpensive menu.There weren't too many others sitting out there for a weekend lunch.

It also had the sweeping view of the Czech capital. It could be quite a romantic spot with the right person.There was a dining room inside the villa, which was fairly austere and overwhelmingly white, with light green and white, Baroque-style chairs and tables.On the more appealing terrace, we looked over the menu, which had offerings like Wienerschnitzel (390 CZK), chicken breast (310 CZK), and a salmon filet (340 CZK).

For a starter, we decided to split a Caesar salad. It came with strips of freshly-cooked bacon on top of the torn Romaine, along with pieces of chicken breast.The chicken was OK, but slightly overcooked and dry.

The dressing was traditional, but on the bland side. We found one tiny piece of anchovy in it, but didn't taste it much. Grated Parmesan livened up the dressing when mixed in. The croutons were stale and chewy.

It was 190 CZK on the bill, but the Internet menu said it was 240 CZK. There may be a different price at lunch.

To drink, I ordered housemade iced tea (59 CZK). I love the real stuff, and it is not so usual in Prague. It came lightly pre-sweetened, with a little lemon.

Ironically, the iced tea came with very little ice. I had to ask for extra.

The waitress almost brought me a Nestea bottle by mistake. I figured out she was confused when she asked if I wanted lemon or peach flavor. Crisis averted.

V had řezané pivo, a mix of light and dark beers. They were 59 CZK each for a 0.3 liter glass. I believe it was Pilsner Urquell mixed with Kozel dark. I'm sure there are better combinations. You can learn more about "cut" beer and the proper way to serve it on the Beer Philosopher's blog.

For the main course, we decided to go with special menu offerings. They had a gas barbecue grill outside and a chalkboard advertised grilled chicken (250 CZK), pork (300 CZK), or beef (350 CZK).

V ordered the chicken. It came with a horseradish cream sauce, cornichons, and heavily vinegared cabbage, shredded carrots, and onions. There was a small mound of rucola.The breast gained very little flavor from the grill and not much from its marination. There was a light taste of salt on the outside, and little flavor inside. Bland.

The side items are traditional Czech, but brought too much sourness to the table for me. The cream sauce was fine, but not much more exciting or different from something you'd find in a jar.

I had one of my Czech favorites, beef tenderloin in cream sauce, otherwise known as svíčková na smetaně (170 CZK).The veggie-based cream sauce was very good. The Karlovarský dumplings were fine.

The meat itself? Well, it wasn't real tenderloin. Svíčková is usually a relatively inexpensive dish, and it is common that a cheaper beef cut, known as falešný or fake, is substituted. The meat was thin and tough.

Let's just say that, overall, the cooking was not as inspiring as the view.

The final bill was 787 CZK. If you took the scenery out of the equation, it wouldn't be worth it. The food was average, at best, overpriced, at worst. But the value of having Prague at your feet on a beautiful afternoon or summer evening is hard to measure.

What price beauty?

After the meal, we huffed and puffed down the hill. But our journey was not over. There was more beauty to behold.

V said she'd never been on the path behind the castle known as the Deer Moat (Jelení příkop). It was off-limits during Communism, but was opened to the public and restored in more recent times.After walking just a minute or two away from a busy road with a tram line, there was an idyllic peacefulness. It was hard to believe we were in the center of Prague. Not so many tourists make it down here.

We passed under the bridge to Prague Castle, through a tunnel built in 2002.On the other side, we got a wonderful perspective of the castle and St. Vitus Cathedral from below.We've lived in Prague a long time, but it was a view we won't soon forget.Villa Richter Restaurants
Staré zámecké schody 6/251
Prague 1
Tel. (+420) 257 219 079

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