Take care of your gardenAs the weather turns warm, now is a good time to talk again about one of the more pleasant gardens for dining in Prague.
And keep out the weeds
Fill it with sunshine
Kind words and kind deeds
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
I'm talking about the one behind Giardino in Vinohrady.It can be a relaxing place to spend a sunny spring afternoon or a warm summer evening.Do not confuse it with Il Giardino at the Mövenpick Hotel, a place I have not visited.
In Giardino's garden, they have blankets in case the temperature drops.The garden is shaded by trees, so there is not a lot of direct sunlight during the day to warm things up.
The interior is nice enough, but I think we only ate inside once.In fact, this picture is from last year. It's not necessarily rational, but this restaurant is tightly associated in my mind with eating outside. We tend not to go in the winter.
On two different gorgeous spring days, we headed straight for the back.The waiter, another Kogo exile, remembered us. Like Mirellie, Giardino's menu is also quite similar to Kogo's. Both have staffs drawn mainly from the Balkans.
Their bread basked came. It was a small, sliced loaf. Good quality, it is usually served warm.The olive oil on the table was fairly bland, though.
For drinks, I had a .3 liter glass of Pilsner Urquell (45 CZK). V started of with a Cinzano martini (90 CZK) and then switched to wine.We had some pleasing starters.
Our favorite is the grilled octopus (150 CZK). Really well prepared. Crisp and crunchy on the outside, delicate and tender on the inside. Delicious.It came with silky, saucy white beans, a little rucola, and lemon on the side. The beans had a sour tang that hit my taste buds the right way. The whole dish was a bargain. V has ordered it on almost every visit. I'm crazy about it now, too.
I had the beef carpaccio (165 CZK). Let me tell you why I liked Giardino's version more than the usual iterations.It came with the standard olive oil, pepper, and lemon. But the raw beef filet was cut slightly thicker than standard. It felt more substantial. The meat also had a deep ruby color, rather than the bright scarlet you might see elsewhere.
In addition to the rucola on top, there was a generous portion of Parmesan shavings, rather than the finely grated stuff. It did need salt.
For a main course, I had the grilled calamari (240 CZK). The squid rested on a big pool of olive oil and came in a variety of sizes.I liked the small ones best. They were fresh and tender, with a hint of sweetness. The two larger ones weren't as enjoyable. They were much thicker, a little tough, and had a slightly bitter aftertaste.
I squeezed all the lemon on top, but overall, the flavor wasn't balanced enough for my taste. It also needed salt, which was not on the table.
V had the dorade, AKA sea bream, baked in salt (380 CZK). She absolutely loved it, saying it was the best fish she'd had "in a very, very long time."She told the waiter how fresh it tasted. He said it had just come in the day before, on Saturday.
V went on about how moist it was after cooking in the salt, as opposed to grilled ones she'd had recently. No joke, she discussed her deep feelings about this fish for days afterward.
For dessert, I had what they call "chocolate soufflé" with vanilla ice cream (95 CZK). It was not a soufflé. It was a fondant.I'm 98% sure it wasn't baked on the premises. It tasted remarkably like a "Melting Middle Chocolate Pudding" from Marks & Spencer.
Nothing for fondant fanatics to write home about. That said, I confess to liking this possibly packaged treat.
We were happy and satisfied after the first two visits this year. I hadn't planned on a third trip, but somewhat spontaneously, we ended up there one more time for a dinner with three friends.
SPOILER ALERT: The third meal had an unfortunate twist. I hate unhappy endings. If you feel the same, then read no further.
For the rest of you, I can report that things started relatively well. Everyone raved about the grilled octopus I recommended.
But I was annoyed by the pop music blaring from the flat-screen TV they have outside.
Jersey Girl had a radicchio salad (165 CZK).It had a large lump of mozzarella on top, which the waiter said was burrata. There were cherry tomatoes. Jersey Girl said the cheese was good, but the chopped radicchio was oversalted.
We had some lovely wine, a 2006 Vranac from Montenegro's Plantaže. Everyone commented on how much they enjoyed it.Very smooth, low in tanins, and an inviting perfume rising out of the glass. We ordered two bottles. Great for just 490 CZK each.
Now comes the disappointing part.
Lady J ordered the sea bass baked in salt (380 CZK). She said it tasted odd. She had a cold so her nose was stuffed and couldn't smell it. She had several more bites (which is why it is pretty torn up in the photo) commenting on the strangeness of the flavor.This is roughly the conversation that ensued.
"I think there's something wrong with my fish," she said. Her husband, who had ordered the exact same dish, took a forkful of hers.
"Oh no, that's really bad!" It was spoiled. V and Jersey Girl said they could smell the rotten odor from across the table. I could see the flesh was desiccated and falling apart. Her husband's looked fine and firm.
I cannot understand how such a bad fish got cooked, let alone served, without the staff noticing.
V summoned the waiter and gave him a stern summary of what had happened and how bad it was. He was very apologetic. He swiftly removed the offending plate and said that desserts and another bottle of wine would be on the house.
Lady J ordered a replacement dish of pappardelle with tuna (190 CZK), which they did charge her for.She said the pasta was underdone, perhaps because it was rushed out. But she said the tuna was overcooked.
For dessert, we just ordered two "chocolate soufflés" for the table. There was more proof that the kitchen was in a hurry and off their game. The fondants have always come out warm or hot. This time, they were cold. The chocolate in the middle was not melted.
When the waiter came out at the end to ask if everything was OK, V calmly but directly let him have it again about the dessert. He was a sorry, defeated man.
I had plenty of kind words for Giardino after the first two visits.
And despite the unpleasant experience, we may give it another chance on a summer evening. I sincerely hope their piscine problem was a one-time issue.
If they don't learn to weed out major mistakes like that, they'll have a nice garden with no customers to fill it up.
Giardino - enoteca con cucina
Prague 2 - Vinohrady
Tel. (+420) 222 513 427