Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Prague Castle - Independence Day Celebration

"[It is] a pleasure to stand in the window of a castle, and to see a battle and the adventures thereof below: but no pleasure is comparable to standing upon the vantage ground of truth.” Francis Bacon Sr.
Every October 28th, a few thousand of the Czech Republic's leading citizens are invited to the Independence Day ceremony at Prague Castle.

On that date in 1918, Czechoslovakia became a country, emerging from the shadows of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

After a televised speech by the country's president and the awarding of medals to Czechs who have done great deeds, the great halls of the castles are opened to the guests who partake in food, drink, and schmoozing.

And guests of the invited elite. Like me.

There was a certain magic to the evening. I've lived in Prague a long time, but I am always impressed as I approach Prague Castle, especially at night.As we walked through the courtyard, St. Vitus Cathedral glowed above.

The castle windows blazed with light and the well-dressed guests could be seen walking by or standing with a drink, engrossed in conversation.A red carpet covered the long, imposing staircase in the entrance hall. This part of the castle is not generally open to the public, so I'll take you along on a tour.At the top of the stairs, was another large hall, with a statue of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, Czechoslovakia's founder and first president.I arrived in time to hear an all-girl saxophone band serenade the former prime minister, Jiří Paroubek, with the tune, "Jesus Christ, Superstar."The same group appears in the same spot every year.

In the next hallway, there was a cake in the shape of the Czech Republic and other nationally themed desserts. This is a blog about food and drink, after all.Then, I entered one of the grandest rooms in the castle, the Spanish Hall.It was overflowing with VIPs -- government ministers, ambassadors, and leading business figures.The Spanish Hall is the room the parliament uses to select the president.

It was also famously given a modern lighting system by Vaclav Havel's friends, The Rolling Stones, in 1995.The tables were spread with platters of food, mostly Czech specialties.I was not familiar with some of the offerings, like nut-crusted, very dry meatballs on a spoon with mushrooms. There was a pastry cup filled with a pate I did not like. I had a salty mini-shrimp salad. The best thing I had was a tiny sandwich with prosciutto.There were also platters with mini-fruit cakes and mini-tiramisus, but I wasn't much in the mood for those.There were also more traditional Czech desserts, little cakes called koláčky.In another room, there were chefs serving hot dishes from heating trays.I tried the carved roast beef. It was OK, but fairly tough. Domestic beef, I'd say.There was a little stand serving ice cream.The beer for the event was Krušovice. I had a few of those.They were perfectly drawn from the taps.

There was also wine available. Moravian, of course.If you felt like something sparkling (and I did when I arrived), there was Bohemia Sekt.After getting a good picture of the food landscape, I wandered freely down the halls of the castle.There were many pieces of art glass created by Vaclav Havel's friend, Bořek Šípek.At the end of a long, modern design corridor, there was a beautiful golden-framed doorway.This was also part of the renovations carried out under Havel.

On the other side of the door is a small space where foreign dignitaries are sometimes greeted by the president. I didn't see the evening's host, President Vaclav Klaus. But I've run into him in past years.After this, I passed through of the most beautiful castle apartments.There were light refreshments available there, as well.They are beautifully restored. It felt like walking through the apartments of Versailles.One of the windows was open to let in fresh, cool air. There was a wonderful view of St. Nicholas Church and Malá Strana below.The rooms were sparsely furnished. The chairs, tapestries, clocks all appeared to have some history behind them.The floors had gorgeous wood inlay. There were golden-framed mirrors everywhere.

On the way out, I sampled a piece of the Czech Republic cake.It was Black Forest, one of my favorites.And a pretty good version.

The cherry on top of the evening was rubbing elbows with Vaclav Havel, who helped bring about another form of independence back to Czechoslovakia -- the end of Communist Party rule.After that, it was time to head off down the stairs and into the misty air of autumn.

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Molo 22

"The critical opinions of a writer should always be taken with a large grain of salt. For the most part, they are manifestations of his debate with himself as to what he should do next and what he should avoid.” W.H. Auden
Prague's Holešovice neighborhood is a dining desert. I know a few people who work in the area, and they are always bemoaning the dearth of good eating options.

Not long ago, Molo 22 opened up.

It certainly has the modern looks that match the direction this fast-changing section of the city is taking.

It's across the street from the popular dance club, Mecca.

The Molo 22 interior had an eclectic mix of hardwood floors, hardwood walls, electric green accents, aluminum duct work, rope-wrapped support columns, and some brick.The dark browns of the solid furniture and the greens of the plants fit in with the surroundings.My mobile phone camera doesn't give as much detail as my pocket Canon. But you get the picture.

I went with G-Man and a few of his colleagues who work nearby. The menu was all over the map -- Thai, Greek, Indian, Czech, American, Italian, Chinese, and Japanese.

One person tried the soup -- a spinach cream with smoked salmon (47 CZK).I didn't try it, but she said she was not impressed.

Another colleague had the Caesar salad with chicken nuggets (144 CZK). It was a sad looking thing, made with iceberg lettuce instead of Romaine.She said it was too salty and was disappointed at how little chicken there was.

I really have to wonder how someone could plate that and call it a Caesar salad. The price, considering the small size and low quality, was pretty outrageous.

I had "Hoi Sin" chicken (144 CZK) with jasmine rice (35 CZK). It came with lots of vegetables, including green onions, and red and green peppers. There were also a few peanuts.The dish was almost too salty to eat. Mixing in all the rice didn't help much.

The menu described the sauce as slightly sweet and Japanese. It was neither.

According to Wikipedia, hoisin is a Chinese condiment, and the word is a romanization of the Chinese word for seafood "海鮮" as pronounced in Cantonese. I poured the sweet sauce from someone else's dish on mine to make it more palatable.

G-Man had the Thai green curry chicken with chicken (171 CZK) and jasmine rice.It was super spicy. Once the fire died away, there was little left to talk about. The sauce was basically a salty coconut cream.

G-Man'ss boss had the Tandoori chicken satay with yogurt curry sauce (149 CZK).He said it was good.

Another colleague tried the hot chicken wings (154 CZK). The seven wings were not too spicy.She ate them all and I didn't hear any complaints.

Molo 22's beer offerings were my least favorite -- Staropramen and Stella Artois. I had a half-liter of Stella (44 CZK). Unfortunately, the carbonation was not at full strength, which made it fairly unpleasant.

After that, I switched to a .33 liter bottle of Pilsner Urquell (39 CZK). The restaurant had a bar that does a number of cocktails and where smoking was permitted.

Overall, there were a few things that were adequate, but some others that were just wastes of time and money.

Perhaps the chef never sampled properly prepared versions of these dishes. Or it is possible the kitchen was aiming more for the Czech palate than anything resembling authenticity.

Too bad.

For the sake of the neighborhood, I hope this restaurant realizes its ambitions were too high, its quality too low, and that they used too many grains of salt.

Until then, this writer will avoid eating there.

Molo 22
U Průhonu 22
Praha 7 - Holešovice
Tel . (+420) 220 563 348

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Passion Chocolat - Closed

Bad news.

Passion Chocolat, the high-end purveyor of creamy, sweet temptations, is closing its doors on Italská. After some initial confusion, two sources now tell me their last day will be Saturday, October 28th, 2008.

I've been a regular since it opened a little more than a year ago. I often stopped by on my way to work. It will be missed.

I did my best to support them, investing heavily in brownie cookies, Sacher-style cakes, and other eye-catching confections.

Unfortunately, their profits did not increase along with my waste line.

I heard the rent for their stylish space was just too much to bear. A source told me they are moving to Pasáž U Nováků, off Vodičkova near Wenceslas Square.

I hope they find success there. The proprietors, Nadine and Jean-François are even sweeter than their pastries.

I wish them luck.

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Monday, October 13, 2008


"I always thought of photography as a naughty thing to do. That was one of my favorite things about it. And when I first did it, I felt very perverse." Diane Arbus
Mozaika has long been one of our favorite restaurants.It's not perfect, but what is? It is certainly good enough for a spot in the regular rotation.

We went recently, but I'm also including some dishes from a visit many months ago.

The dining area is one long room below street level.Lighting is usually relatively low, and the sense of intimacy is enhanced by the deep red-colored walls.On our last visit, the chef started us out with an amuse bouche. It was a panko-crusted piece of fried chicken on a stick.A lollipop, if you will. Nice.

I started with a long-time favorite, what they call "tuna au roastbeef." (196 CZK). I've always thought the name was a bit silly -- it's actually seared tuna. But that doesn't take away from the taste.It was prepared perfectly, with a deep red center.

It came with a slightly sweet soy sauce on the side. It also came with maki rolls filled veggies. The rice in the rolls was delightfully creamy. Love it.

I must apologize about the bad lighting that perverted the quality of some of the photographs. Unfortunately, the LED flash on my mobile phone's camera died (a sentence I never imagined I'd write 10 years ago).

V ordered the soup from the pumpkin-themed specials menu for 59 CZK (they often do themed specials). It was thick and you could actually taste the pumpkin (unlike some other "pumpkin" dishes I've had in Prague restaurants).It was on the salty side, which V liked. I wished for a hint of sweetness, but that's just my personal taste.

During our long ago visit, I tried the Caesar salad (155 CZK).I didn't like it so much. It had spinach leaves in it, which didn't work on a number of levels. First, I wished it was just had Romaine lettuce in the classic style. Second, the spinach was past its prime and had lost all its crunch and become a bit rubbery. Third, there was too much dressing.

The boiled eggs were done perfectly, but they were also not what I'd expect on a Caesar. It's not that I'm against variation. I just didn't particularly like this version.

For a main course, V had wok stir fry with shrimp for 289 CZK (a particularly perverted photo).There were lots of veggies, lots of shrimp, and rice on the side. V liked it. I thought it was a bit too sweet, and I generally enjoy sweet dishes.

I got the lemon sole from the specials menu (318 CZK).The light, buttery fish was cooked in a lot of butter, and if you don't mind calories with your fish (and I don't), it was terrific. It came with some big pumpkin ravioli on the side. I wished for more.

There were also pickled beets on the plate. I didn't like these so much. They had a very earthy flavor that didn't please me.

Overall, a big thumbs up for this special. I've seen sole on other restaurant menus before, but rarely ordered it because the prices were so high. Mozaika's was a great deal.

On earlier visits, I've tried the restaurant's Angus beef burger (199 CZK). Some people rave about it.The hamburger was a hefty meal, even with the side salad instead of fries, but it's not among my favorites. The meat was very peppery, a little too much for me. It was served on a large spinach bread bun, which was OK.

I ordered it once with both bacon and cheese. When combined with the grilled onion, lettuce, and tomato, it turned into a gloppy mess and hit my stomach like a rock. Just too heavy for me.

In the past, I had a special dessert of a chocolate chili cake (99 CZK). It was a dense, death-by-chocolate style slice, accompanied by fresh orange wedges with all the skin removed.The chilies didn't assert themselves at first. The heat built up slowly. By the time I finished, there was considerable burn. I liked it.

The most recent dessert I tried was the chocolate souffle (109 CZK). It could have been great, but suffered from weak execution.First, there was way too much powdered sugar on top. Second, the center was mostly still liquid and only the outer edges had set. I understand some might like it this way, but to me, it was more like a fondant than a souffle. An unfinished work of art.

So, these dinners were a mixed bag -- some good, some not so good. Why, then, is Mozaika a favorite restaurant of ours?

The service is generally quite good and friendly, it is a nice looking place near our flat, and dishes like the sole and seared tuna and a few others put such big smiles on our faces for reasonable prices.

There are enough good deeds that a few naughty sins are overlooked or quickly forgotten.

Nitranská 13
Prague 3- Vinohrady
Tel. (+420) 224 253 011

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