Saturday, February 28, 2009

Bukowski's Bar

"I don't like jail, they got the wrong kind of bars in there." Charles Bukowski
I was supposed to meet G-Man for a drink. He texted me that some of his Czech colleagues wanted to go out. And they wanted to hit their favorite cocktail bar.

So, we ended up at Bukowski's in Prague's Žižkov neighborhood.It was pretty empty at 8:00 pm on a Friday. We scored a table near the bar.It's a cozy drinking establishment with some interesting style points: fold-down chairs from a theater, a chandelier and other light fixtures made from bottles, and something a little unusual for a cocktail bar in this town -- carpeting.

There's a bigger main room in front and a small space in the back.That turned into a clubhouse for a couple of groups later in the evening.

For my first drink, I had my usual -- a gin gimlet. A pretty good version with a lime twist.G-Man's colleagues tried it and liked it enough that they were ordering them later in the evening.

Don't ask me what this drink or any other cost. Bukowski's has no website, the tab was written by hand at the end of the evening with drinks counted by hash marks, and I didn't look carefully at the menu. It's safe to assume the cocktails cost less than in the center.

I sampled G-Man's drink, something I'd never heard of before. It was a Jamaica Mule.It is made with rum, lime juice, ginger or ginger beer and sugar or syrup. He liked it. I thought it was tasty and interesting. I'd order it again.

Someone had a Cosmopolitan. A good version.The drink is still as popular as Sex and the City reruns on TV.

There was also some kind of chocolate-flavored martini on the table.I expected it to be completely horrible. That said, it wasn't that bad, perhaps benefiting from low expectations. There was just a very slight hint of chocolate to it. However, it is not something I'd ever order.

G-Man hadn't eaten, was really hungry and needed something to soak up the alcohol. However, Bukowski's has little food to speak of. Just some spicy nacho chips from a bag. We had three rounds of those.

By 9:30 pm, the place was really getting packed. I'd say it was mostly expats in the mid-20s to early 30s range.The cute waitresses still got to our table to take our orders. But the crush caused something of a meltdown behind the bar. Quality declined rapidly.

I ordered a mojito.It was the worst I've had in a long time. It had one positive aspect -- plenty of rum. Otherwise, it tasted like alcoholic ice water with a hint of lime. The sugar rested at the bottom, mostly unmixed.

Feeling tired, I ordered a Cuba Libre for a sugar and caffeine boost.Yes, it is a boring and simple drink. But I've enjoyed it more at places like Tretter's, where they juice it up with an extra infusion of lime. But Tretter's is often a crowded, yuppie meat-market, and I haven't been there for ages.

Bukowski's Cuba Libre had just a couple of squeezes of tiny lime slices and was little more than rum and slightly flat Coke.

G-Man ordered a Whisky Sour. I don't think I'd heard of anyone ordering this drink for 20 years. I don't know what a good one is supposed to taste like. If you like lots of whiskey and little sour, this is for you.

Someone ordered a Mai Tai.It was quite sweet. Sort of a Hawaiian Punch with rum.

Toward the end of the evening, we ordered a round of Gimlets for our table. We were sitting next to the bar, and the bartender asked me to pick them up, since the waitresses were so busy.

The drinks were in lowball glasses filled with ice cubes. I was confused.

"Are these Gimlets," I asked.

"We ran out of martini glasses so I had to put them in something else," he said.

"Why are they full of ice cubes?"

He just gave me a half-smile, a shrug, and turned to other pressing matters. At this point in the evening, the cocktail's finer points didn't seem all that important, anyway. Explaining the situation and relating the conversation did get a laugh back at the table.

Finally, even the waitresses started to snap under the strain. G-Man ordered a final Jamaica Mule and was very unhappy with it.

"This doesn't taste like a Jamaica Mule," he told the waitress.

"You ordered it!" she shouted above the din.

"Yeah, I know, I just wanted to be sure it was what I ordered."

She told him it was. He figured in the end that she was right, and that it was just poorly made.

Here's the thing about Bukowski's. It really did have a cool, lived-in neighborhood bar style. If you like hanging with expats with some Czechs mixed in, it could be a blast. There was a real house party atmosphere.

But if you go there on a packed out Friday night looking for precision mixologists who will consistently blend you the perfect cocktail, you're in the wrong kind of bar.

Bořivojova 86
Prague 3-Žižkov
Tel. (+420) 774 530 689

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Mirellie in Dejvice

"Originality is nothing but judicious imitation. The most original writers borrowed one from another." Voltaire
Kogo in Slovanský dům was once one of our favorite restaurants. Eight years ago, we were there just about every week.

We still like it once in a while, but these days, it's just too expensive to be a regular habit. Our current favorite is Osteria da Clara.

Last week, a colleague told me about a new Mediterranean place in Dejvice, called Mirellie.The guy lived in Italy for many years. Now, he lives across the street from the restaurant. He's happy with his new neighbor.

As if this information wasn't enough to entice me, he added that former Kogo people were working there. And it was not expensive. We invited a couple of friends to join us -- Jersey Girl and J.

Mirellie took over the space vacated by Monsoon, an Asian restaurant I always wanted to try but never did. To be honest, the high prices put me off.

The style of Mirellie's two dining areas reminded me a little of Kogo's café in Slovanský dům and their other restaurant, L'Angolo by Kogo.The rooms are filled with browns and beiges, familiar cylindrical lamp shades, and dark wood floors.Some of the furniture was held over from Monsoon -- but it was nice stuff. Very comfortable chairs.A former Kogo waiter knew us as regulars from back in the day. We got a big smile. Or maybe V did. She asked him if there was a connection between the restaurants, but he said no. They were on their own.

We started with a few of beers. They don't have the greatest options.

We had .3 liter glasses of Krušovice Mušketýr (30 CZK).

The stemmed, gold-rimmed glasses were classy, but like Kogo, they don't have larger ones.

The only other beers offered are Heineken (40 CZK) and Claustahler (45 CZK).

We got a basket of focaccia -- actually pizza bread with olive oil, salt, and herbs -- fresh from the oven.It was nice. If you want really heavenly, warm focaccia before a meal, try Osteria's.

For a starter, I had the chef's tuna tartare (165 CZK). For the money, there was a serious mound of fish.It was cut into small cubes, which sat on rucola leaves. The tuna was very nicely marinated in olive oil and lemon, with cracked pepper and capers. The cherry tomatoes were bursting with flavor. Excellent.

V ordered the octopus salad with parsley potatoes (155 CZK). The sliced-up suckers were cold and fresh.The potatoes, mixed with raw onion, rucola, and tomatoes, had a light soaking in vinegar for added flavor. V thought the potatoes could have been cooked a little more.

Jersey Girl went for the rucola and artichoke salad (130 CZK).Pretty basic. Great if you are into artichokes. Not a lot more I can say.

J got a bowl of the fish soup (90 CZK).He called it "hearty" and "well-stocked with fish." There were also a few mussels thrown in. He said he liked it, but thought it could use a little more pepper.

The other soups were only 50-60 CZK. D, an Internet foodie friend wrote me to say that he really liked the Minestrone. He added that he thought they should use a better bread for the bruschetta. But overall, he was pleased with the place.

We decided to share some red wine and ordered a bottle of 2005 Rinaldone dell'Osa, a Morellino de Scansano, which comes from southern Tuscany (460 CZK).

Yes, we had red with seafood.

It was a dry, crisp little wine. Nothing to write home about, but we all enjoyed it.

For a main course, V got her Kogo favorite -- linguine with half a lobster, shrimp, mussels and zucchini (245 CZK).She liked it just as much as the Kogo version. The biggest difference? Kogo's costs 490 CZK.

The linguine was quite flavorful. On the other hand, I had a bite of the lobster's claw and thought it was over-cooked -- a problem often found in Kogo's lobster. V assured me the tail, which she did not share, was much better.

I did something similar to V -- ordering my Kogo favorite -- risotto ai frutti di mare (185 CZK).It was a big, filling portion. It looked very similar to the one from across town. But I have to say Kogo's (295 CZK) is usually much better.

Mirellie's didn't have the right, chewy consistency of proper risotto. Unfortunately, the bands of calamari were too chewy, and the shrimp were on the tough side. Overcooked.

The mussel shells were a reasonable size, but the meat within was microscopic. I wished for more fresh parsely. In summary, I'll try something else next time.

Jersey Girl had a Margherita pizza (99 CZK).She liked it, but said a recent trip to Naples lowered her opinion of every other pizza on the planet. She was dreaming of the thinner, crispier, more ethereal crusts.

I had a slice toward the end of the meal. For me, sauce is a key factor in pizza appreciation, and this one was good. And there was lots of it. Well-seasoned, if a bit salty.

Unfortunately, after sitting a while on the table, the slice had lost all crispness. JG assured me it was much better right after it arrived fresh from the oven.

J ordered the tagliatelle alla matriciana (145 CZK). He enjoyed it but was surprised by its spicy kick.The menu does say it has chili peppers. According to my research, black or chili pepper is not part of the classic recipe, but can be added according to personal taste.

We were all too full for dessert. The meal ended coffee and then complimentary glasses of limoncello came to our table.

A sweet enough finish.

Service was impeccable throughout. Very friendly. Very efficient.

It may well have been because the waiter knew us. It did feel like seeing an old friend. So, I can't say if others will have the same experience, service-wise.

The meal wasn't perfect, but on the value for money side, it's hard to beat.

J even said he's going to replace Aromi with Mirellie as his favorite Italian dining spot.

That's quite an endorsement, considering he lives walking distance to Aromi.

We'll be back, as well. V is in Prague 6 quite often, and it would be a great place to stop for lunch.

Yes, Mirellie appears to judiciously borrow quite a lot from Kogo in terms of modern style, and Mediterranean cooking. But Mirellie's prices are more like Kogo's circa 2001.

Imitating all that in 2009 makes this restaurant something of an original.

Mirellie Mediterranean Restaurant
V.P. Čkalova 14
Prague 6 - Dejvice
Tel. +420 222 959 999

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Friday, February 20, 2009


Me, I'm just another face at Zanzibar
But the waitress always serves a secret smile
Billy Joel
We were wandering around Mala Strana, and V decided to reveal another one of her secret watering holes.

By secret, I mean I didn't know about this particular cocktail bar or that she'd been there many times.

Maybe it sounds strange, but I'd never heard of ZanziBar.I say strange because it has been around a long time, and it's an area I've walked through hundreds of times, near the Charles Bridge.

To be fair, it is tucked in an alley called Saská, and it is hard to see the sign, so it is easy to miss.

I'd think it could get very touristy because of the location. But on this weekend evening at 8:00 pm, it was almost empty.The few taken tables in the back were filled with Czechs.

I did see an unmanned DJ station, so I could imagine it could get a bit more lively later in the evening.

After a few minutes, a waitress came over and took our drink orders. I requested a Gimlet (130 CZK). I forgot to specify that I wanted the classic version with gin.

This one was vodka. It was very good, so I didn't bother to return it. At Buddha-Bar, when I ordered a Gimlet, the waiter immediately asked me, "Vodka or gin?"

A martini glass without a stem was placed in a little bowl full of crushed ice.On the one hand, sipping from this glass felt kind of ridiculous. On the other hand, it did keep the cocktail nicely cold.

Frou-frou but functional.

V got a Kir Imperial -- Creme de Framboise and champagne (120 CZK). It was not very good -- fairly flat and not cold enough.After we finished our first round, we sat waiting a long time for service. There were two waitresses sucking the straws on their own cocktails behind the bar.One was sharing the story of her recent engagement. Riveting stuff.

We were the only ones in this room, sitting in clear view of the bar. It was one of those mystical, mystifying Harry Potter-like moments.

We could see and hear them, but they couldn't see us.

V, the poor lamb, was overcome by thirst and began waving her arms back and forth over her head -- the internationally recognized distress signal.

Just then, the barman walked back into the room and alerted the waitresses. One came over. She looked unhappy that our cloak of invisibility had been lifted in the middle of her story.

She took our order with a sour look on her face. V explained politely that we had been waiting quite a while to order something else. This just seemed to annoy her.

While we were waiting for our order to be filled, two shots arrived at our table.

It was a gift from the bartender, who had saved us from our alcoholic exile and sought to make amends.

It was an unusual but tasty potion -- vodka, almond liqueur, and lime cordial, I believe. I liked it, but I do have quite a sweet tooth. I drank my shot and my spirit was filled with the warmth of forgiveness.

For my next drink, I decided to keep with the lime theme and tried the mojito (130 CZK).Very good. The price was fair, too. At La Bodeguita del Medio, they cost 169 CZK.

A problem with many mojitos in Prague (the town's most popular drink), including La Bodeguita's, is that they aren't mixed well. You get a big pile of brown sugar at the bottom of the glass, and the limes aren't well-squeezed. ZanziBar's was well-mixed.

V decided to have a glass of Czech white wine (45 CZK).Nothing special, but also a decent price, especially for a cocktail bar.

The bill for our four drinks came to 425 CZK. I liked my cocktails, and I liked the prices.

I'd like to go back some time at a later hour to see what the atmosphere is like and what kind of people this place pulls in.

I just won't expect a smile from the waitress -- secret or otherwise.

Lázeňská 6
Prague 1 - Mala Strana
Tel. (+420) 257 530 762

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Jet Set City Center

"Global capital markets pose the same kinds of problems that jet planes do. They are faster, more comfortable, and they get you where you are going better. But the crashes are much more spectacular." Larry Summers
These days, being a member of the so-called "jet set" is nothing to brag about.

If you are on a plane too often, I feel sorry for you. And traveling on your own Gulfstream V is very uncool right now. If the bank hasn't taken it back already.

It's true, you might find me once in a while sitting along side a jet setter at fashionable spot like Buddha-Bar. But usually, I just want some basic comfort food like a burger.

Which is why a friend told me to try the restaurant, Jet Set.She said they had a good hamburger and, despite the name, is not too expensive. Since I have a hamburger obsession, I felt compelled to make the short-haul trip over from Vršovice.

There are actually two Jet Sets. There is one in Prague's Anděl neighborhood. We were at the location near Wenceslas Square.

When we came into the bar area, there was no one there, and the place felt deserted.The interior was modern and sparse. It felt cold and empty. There was amateur art on the walls.In the back, there was a club-like space with high ceilings and seating that you could stretch out on like a bed.The waitress brought us some slices of French bread. On the side, there was a good olive oil, chopped green and black olive, and salt.It was different from the usual bread basket, at least.

I ordered the bacon cheeseburger with fries (180 CZK). At first glance, it looked pretty good.Then, I opened the lid and checked out the works. Not so good. The bacon was, let's say, unamerican -- very ham-like.The bun, lettuce, tomato, and red onion were fine.

But when I took a bite, I was not happy. I wasn't asked how I wanted it cooked, but it was well done, to the point of being dry. The patty was dense and rubbery, and I actually got tired chewing. I lost the will to finish it.

V got the honey marinated chicken wings with "American potato skins" (170 CZK). The wings were pretty good.However, we really missed having some kind of barbecue or wing sauce to go with them. The marinade didn't really stand out too strongly, and they were fairly boring on their own.

The potatoes weren't really American-style skins, but new potatoes with the skins on. They were fine.

To drink, I had a half-liter of Stella Artois (50 CZK). V had a bottle of sparkling Bonaqua water (45 CZK).This water really annoys me. It's bad enough that it is expensive, filtered tap water. But on top of that, it is served in a miniscule .25 liter bottle.

It really bugs me when restaurants serve this stuff instead of .33 liter bottles of Mattoni.

I urge others to make this demand in restaurants that have only Bonaqua: Czech water, please!

I returned for another visit by myself. I tried their Jet Set Club Sandwich with fries (120 CZK).The price was OK, and it was a reasonable amount of food. But again, I was unsatisfied.

My big disappointment? They used ham instead of bacon. All the ingredients were freshly prepared. The center bread slice was dark bread. It just didn't have the classic flavor I was looking for.

I was in a chocolate mood so I ordered a hot chocolate (55 CZK).It was pretty standard stuff -- not strong enough chocolate flavor for me, though. The whipped cream and some chocolate chips that melted helped make it better.

But everything at Jet Set would need to be better before I'd want to go back. Dare I say that the food on this American-style menu should taste more American?

Our meals weren't fast, comfortable, or spectacular in any way.

In short, a crashing bore.

Jet Set City Center
V jámě 6
Prague 1
Tel. (+420) 224 631 100

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