Saturday, March 13, 2010

Pepe Nero Ristorante & Pizzeria

"Pizza is a lot like sex. When it's good, it's really good. When it's bad, it's still pretty good." Unknown
I've been hearing about Pepe Nero for a long time. A couple of years back, their pizza won The Prague Post's contest for the best in town. In a recent newspaper interview, Prima TV chef Emanuel Ridi of Da Emanuel ranked it among the best three pizzas in town, along with Pizza Nuova and Rugantino.

So there you have it -- lots of buzz for this pie. And I've read the restaurant is a favorite of Prague's Italian community. But you know me, ever the contrarian. I had to see about this myself.

I got Jersey Girl and the Englishman to brave the cold on, yes, another snowy day in Prague. The restaurant is just across from the InterContinental Hotel, where I had brunch not long ago.Pepe Nero's interior is light and bright, with blonde floors, blonde chairs, and semi-nude brunettes on the walls. Very Italian.We started off with drinks. The Englishman had a half-liter of Pilsner Urquell (70 CZK). Jersey Girl had a .2 liter glass of Italian merlot (80 CZK). She said it was smooth and slightly sweet.I stuck with a bottle of Mattoni mineral water (40 CZK).

Jersey Girl had a small, mixed salad (50 CZK).She dressed it herself with balsamic vinegar and olive oil that was on the table.

The Englishman said he thought the best test of a restaurant's pizza-making ability is to order the classic Pizza Margherita, so that's what he got (165 CZK).Jersey Girl got the Bufalina (240 CZK). It's essentially the same as the Margherita, but with mozzarella di bufala instead of cheese made from cow's milk.The yeasty crust was crispy and relatively thick for a Neapolitan pizza. A recent review on Eat Drink Prague called the tomato sauce sweet. But perhaps that was an anomaly. Jersey Girl and I both thought the finely chopped tomato puree was on the tart side. She thought it was a little too much, but I felt it balanced out well with the other flavors. The sauces also had a hint of basil, but it was fairly muted.

The mozzarella di bufala had a better, clearer flavor, but I'm not sure it was worth an extra 75 CZK.

Of course, I had to sample a few other things on the menu, so I ordered one of my favorite dishes, risotto alla pescatora (270 CZK).The high-quality Carnaroli rice was perfectly al dente and studded with fresh pieces of calamari, clams, and mussels. Parsley was cooked up in the mix. Overall, the flavor was very good.

But there were also a couple of problems. First, one or two of the mussels were a little less than fresh, with a strong fishy flavor. Second, one of the clam shells had shattered during cooking. It wasn't visually obvious, but after a couple of bites, I was picking out shell shards from my mouth. Not pleasant.

I'd still say my favorite version was the more complex, more tomato-based version served at Kogo in Slovanský dům (295 CZK).That dish also contained shrimp and occasionally langoustine and benefited greatly from fresh-torn parsley, rather than cooked. But I haven't eaten there in a long time. Unfortunately, they became inconsistent in their preparation. On a good day, though, it was the best.

I wondered how they handled meat, so I ordered the grilled entrecote (390 CZK).The meat had a light, almost veal-like color, and it sat almost alone on the plate with just some tomato slices and lettuce. Even at this price point, side items were extra.

When I ordered, the waitress asked if I wanted it cooked to medium. I told her I'd like it medium-rare. Instead, it came out medium, or even a bit past that point.That was a shame because it was a high-quality, very tender cut of meat.

I was also disappointed with the seasoning. It was cooked in olive oil, which was nice, but the beef was bland and undersalted. I added salt myself, but it took me a few attempts to get the level right, and it would have been so much better if it was properly seasoned just before cooking.

I felt this steak had great potential, but it didn't live up to it because of inattentive preparation.

I thought I should sample a dessert and didn't feel like something as heavy as tiramisu, so I had the panna cotta (90 CZK).I was disappointed. The texture was very rubbery. The sweet, condensed milk was just too simple, and the chocolate lightly drizzled on top added almost nothing to the flavor.

Jersey Girl had an espresso (50 CZK).I had a latte macchiato (60 CZK). Both of us found the coffee to be very bitter.

Let's come full circle, so to speak, and consider the main question here: does Pepe Nero have the best pizza in Prague?

First of all, "the best" is such a subjective term, and I don't like to use it. I prefer to talk in terms of "favorite," which is less imposing.

But having been to Naples last spring, I think it is interesting to compare Neapolitan-style pizzas to the one I had at Da Michele.That simple pie was a revelation, with each humble ingredient singing like Pavarotti.

Da Michele's pizza did have a thinner crust, and there was much more of a char on it. It had a very smoky flavor. The sauce tasted more of basil. The San Marzano tomatoes distilled the very essence of the fruit.

In my opinion, Pepe Nero's pizza comes close to this standard, but not as close as the Pizza Margherita done by Ambiente's Pizza Nuova. This is the Diavola, but it looks similar to the Margherita, which I didn't have a picture of. Their pizzas are also certified "La Verace Pizza Napoletana," and it's the most similar to Da Michele's.

That said, I've had a lot of experience with Pizza Nuova, and while I've had a couple of great pizzas there, it can be inconsistent. Often, that restaurant's pies will get oily and soggy in the middle and turn into a mess.

That wasn't a problem with Pepe Nero's somewhat thicker crust. That pie had more and thicker cheese, but that also resulted in some of it not being melted all the way through and pulling off in strips with some bites.

While I wouldn't compare the pizzas from Pepe Nero or Pizza Nuova to good sex, both are really good.

Declaring a favorite is a tough call, and when I finally do a round up of all the pizzas I've tried in Prague, you'll hear my final answer.

So you could say that these are just tease pizzas. Like a few other things I can think of, you might enjoy my verdict more if you have to wait for it.

Pepe Nero Ristorante & Pizzeria
Bílkova 4
Prague 1
Tel: (+420) 222 315 543

7 comments:

lyndsey said...

If you want the best pizza in Prague, you have to try Kmotra ( http://www.kmotra.cz/en ). I left Prague almost 4 years ago, and I still dream about it. Mmmm... excellent beer prices too. I lived down the street on Kremencova, and would visit Kmotra at least once a week.

Anonymous said...

Funny, I remember when Pizzaria Kmotra first opened. It must have been 1993 or so. After a few years I stopped going because nobody went there anymore because it was too crowded. My personal favorite is the place on Letenska Nam.

Anonymous said...

If it's so crowded in Kmotra, it's a sign of success.
Friendly service, delicious pizza.

Anonymous said...

Great review Brewsta. I like your honesty.

The Lone Beader said...

The first pizza looks awesome! The risotto dish looks delicious, too! :)

Anonymous said...

Nero is tasty; the best (or at least my favourite) in Prague.

Note to fellow Americans, be sure to ask for the olive oil to drizzle on your pizza (garlic- or chili-flavoured); I think it makes a huge difference, and I only found out about it in Italy. Not something we do in the new country.

Anonymous said...

just a trivia fact:the quote was said by Stephen Baldwin who played "Stuart" in the 1993 movie "Threesome" .

I love your Blog!!