Thursday, October 20, 2011

Krystal Mozaika Bistro

"I'm a real defensive person, because if you were sensitive in my neighborhood, you were something to eat." Richard Pryor
There was a time when Karlin was a total blank to me. For the first years I lived in Prague, I never set foot in that neighborhood.

In the last few years, I've been stopping by occasionally at the office in Karlin. In the beginning, the dining options in the area seemed pretty dire. Ristorante Porto was one I thought was decent.

More recently, I heard about the opening of Krystal Mozaika Bistro, and I heard good things. This restaurant is connected to the Vinohrady restaurant, Mozaika, which I used to like but haven't been to in a few years. So I when I was in Karlin, I dropped by for my first solo visit.

It's right next to the cute and quirky Polévkárna on Sokolovská.This was back when outdoor dining was still a regular option.

Inside, the looks are smart and modern.There's a chalk board in the front with a variety of changing specials.The back room keeps up the same design theme.It has a long window to the kitchen and you can watch the chefs at work. I always enjoy that.

I sat in front and started off with a beer. I had a half-liter of the Bernard 10 degree (27 CZK).It was a little flat, so I didn't enjoy it much.

Then I had the 150 gram Krystal beef burger (169 CZK).There is also a 300 gram version (289 CZK). The one I had was plenty big. It's hard to imagine consuming the bigger beast.

The burger is made with homemade onion bread, bacon, onion, pickle, lettuce and home-made mayonnaise with mustard seed. It was excellent.The patty was made with high-quality, juicy beef. It was cooked to medium. I liked the bread. The bacon was plentiful and American-style crispy.

I found the burger superior to the one I had at Mozaika years ago. My main quibbles are that there was too much mayo, and it was hard eat and to hold the big burger together. By the last bites, it was a total mess.

The fries are extra (39 CZK).They were hot and crisp, very McDonald's-like. They were fine for that style, but nothing special.

For dessert, I had the crème brûlée (59 CZK).It was well-executed, with a hot, freshly-torched caramelized sugar top and a cool, sweet, eggy cream underneath. The dish was shallow and the portion not large, but still I thought it nice for the price.

The bill for this meal was 294 CZK.

For my next visit, I was tempted by the flank steak. I'd seen a picture of it on my Foodspotting iPhone app.

Instead, I ordered a daily special, the veal entrecote (255 CZK).The meat was very good quality and it sat on a savory, peppery demiglace.

My big regret, which I realized as I cut into it, was that I didn't say how I wanted it cooked. It was delivered cooked all the way through, which made the veal tougher than it should have been.

The buttery mashed potatoes were mixed with sun-dried tomatoes. It was an excellent side for this dish.

For dessert, I had their carrot cake (55 CZK).The modest slice was not as fancy as one you'll see at a place like Bakeshop Praha. It was moist and chock full of walnuts -- almost too many. The creamy icing was delicious. It was simple, but I'd get it again.

This time around, I paid 343 CZK.

For my last visit, I sat in the back with a friend.My friend had vegetable soup (65 CZK). I'm not a big fan of this type of soup, but I thought it was very tasty.The broth had a lot of flavor. The carrots, broccoli, and celery were cooked aldente, not too hard, not too soft. There were small, soft pieces of beef and potato in there, too, so it was not for vegetarians.

Then, my friend had the goat cheese salad (165 CZK). This was the least successful of all the dishes I tried.There was a nice mix of greens, but cheese came in cool, rubbery cubes. The waitress said the dressing was something special, but we found it was a rather weak raspberry vinaigrette. There were some crunchy croutons, but that was about it. It didn't feel like a good value.

I went for the Beef Bourguignon (199 CZK). This I liked.The beef had been slow-cooked and was relatively tender. But it still required slicing with a knife and there was some gristle.

The cooked veggies with it were great. The carrot, pearl onion, and mushroom, mixed with some pork, maintained their crunch.

The sauce was both sweet and source with the clear flavor of wine. But aside from that, there was not much complexity to it. While I enjoyed this dish and would get it again, it was not as good as the very tender and flavorful version at Brasserie La Gare.

This dinner for two, which included a big bottle of mineral water, a glass of wine, dessert, and coffee came to 619 CZK. Service was good the first two visits, but occasionally absent too long on the last visit.

In the big picture, I enjoyed both the atmosphere and the food at this restaurant. I'll return, for sure.

Karlin is turning into a nice neighborhood with more and more good places for sensitive people like me. And right now, Krystal Mozaika Bistro is at the top of my list of places to get something to eat in the area.

Restaurant Krystal Mozaika Bistro
Sokolovská 99/101
Prague 8 - Karlín
Tel. (+420) 222 318 152

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Thursday, October 6, 2011

Chateau Mcely - Piano Nobile Restaurant

"Wealth is not his that has it, but his that enjoys it." Benjamin Franklin
I needed a change of scenery. A friend felt the same and offered to take me to lunch at Chateau Mcely.

I'd heard some good things about this hotel and spa opened in 2006 by Inéz Cusumano and her husband James, a former energy company executive. The menu of the Piano Nobile Restaurant looked pricey but tempting.

Since someone else was paying, why not? We hopped in the car and made the hour drive out to the small town of Mcely.

Coming through the electric gates, you catch your first glimpse of the stately, reconstructed manor at the end of a well-kept lawn.Passing through the front door and under the custom-designed iron work, you begin to feel the attention to detail that has gone into restoring this building.We were led into small dining room, which was empty following a wedding party.The heavily draped room had what appeared to be original parquet flooring, but just about everything else looked new.Almost too new.

Our waitress brought a bread basket. It was very ordinary stuff, with cold butter.I'm too often surprised that high-end restaurants invest so much in their cooking and the first impression they make is with boring bread and a hard spread.

For a starter, I had the hot foie gras served with Rémy Martin granité, homemade marmalade, toasted butter bread and veal jus (490 CZK).Each small bite of the rich, delicate goose liver melted in my mouth with buttery flavor. It was perfect.

The granité was a cool and interesting palate cleanser. The sweet veal jus provided a nice base and it was nice to mop it up with the brioche-like bread. I thought the acidic "marmalade" also provided a nice acidic contrast to the smooth foie gras. The menu said it was made with fruit, but the consistency and flavor tasted more like red cabbage to me. Either way, I liked it.

My friend had the "homemade ravioli stuffed with tiger prawns." (490 CZK).The menu needs a small correction. Ravioli is plural. This was one medium-sized raviolo.

It contained chunks of a shrimp and sat on top of a sweet and sour sauce made with fresh garden basil. We both found the dish too small and simple.

Enya songs played over the sound system.I saw that the spa area of the hotel has a nice-looking massage room, which is where I most often hear this relaxation-inducing music. It's not my favorite outside that context.

For my main course, I had the lamb chops baked with herbs (690 CZK). It was served with a dandelion-potato purée with mascarpone and thyme.The small but thick chops were tender and delicious. The honey-sweet and tart sauce had the complementary flavor of rosemary.

The lamb was barely warm, while the potatoes where piping hot. Even though the chops were served medium-rare as requested, there should have been more heat in the meat.

My friend had the fillet of pollock made according to Grandmother Cusumano's recipe (590 CZK).It came with roasted potatoes, capers, homemade dried tomatoes. There was a light white wine sauce. The fish was fresh and light, the vegetables well-executed, and the sauce sauce fine.

I liked it more than my friend did, but overall, the dish didn't greatly impress either of us.

For dessert, I had the chocolate fondant with raspberry and cream, and a glazed chocolate wafer (390 CZK).The chocolate was super intense and I enjoyed it very much.

My friend had the plateau of French cheeses with homemade marmalade (390 CZK). I can tell you that we greatly enjoyed these cheeses and especially the marmalade made with plums, onion, and wine.

I can't tell you too much more. When I asked our friendly waitress to describe the cheeses, I was rather amused by the response:

"That one is cow, that one is goat. The one over there is cow," she pointed out.

"Could you be more specific?"

"I'm sorry, I don't know," she replied with an embarrassed smile.

"Could you find out?"

She returned a few minutes later with the flags that had been on the cheeses in the kitchen and haltingly read the names and pointed out which was which. I gave up learning more about these. The service started out OK, but faded by the end of the meal.

We had a cappuccino and a cafe latte (85 CZK/each).We didn't drink alcohol so we also had two .33 liter bottles of water (50 CZK/each).

The three course lunch menu is 990 CZK per person. But many of the better dishes have 100 CZK supplements. We had 500 CZK in supplemental charges. That comes to 2750 CZK before tip. If we'd been drinking wine or cocktails, the final tab would be closer to 4000 CZK.

After lunch, we took a stroll around the manicured grounds. The house stands on a hill above the surrounding farm land.There is a very nice patio for outdoor dining in good weather.It would certainly be a nice place for a posh party.

A walk around the property only takes about 15 minutes. The most interesting part was the pool with lily pads growing in it.As we walked, we talked. Was Chateau Mcely worth the trip? The food was quite nice, with the foie gras the stand out dish, but we didn't feel it justified the big bill at the end.

We felt like pretenders on a playground of the super rich. We had initially thought about staying over for a night, but with weekend room prices in "Castle Season" starting at 246 euros, not to mention the cost of spa treatments, it was beyond what I'm comfortable spending.

I usually avoid thinking in terms of other currencies, but I succumbed to the temptation in this case out of curiosity. For example, the shrimp raviolo starter worked out to more than $25 or 20 euros.

If the prices don't sound high to you, and you need a quiet place to decompress, I'd say go for it. I did read a lot of happy comments in their guest book.

As for me, I'm far from poor, but I'm just not that wealthy.

Chateau Mcely
Mcely 61
289 36 Mcely
Tel. (+420) 325 600 000

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