Thursday, March 29, 2012

CottoCrudo

“We enjoy change and freshness and disco was only one area we've delved into." Barry Gibb
The big news for foodies recently was that Michelin awarded one coveted star to the Prague restaurants, La Degustation and The Alcron.

The only previous recipient was Allegro at the Four Seasons Hotel. It was helmed by star chef, Andrea Accordi. When he moved on, Allegro closed down.

Instead of maintaining the status quo, the Four Seasons folks started over from scratch, changing everything from the food to the furniture.

In Allegro's place is the brand new, CottoCrudo. The name means "cooked/raw," which is the basic theme. The executive chef is Richard Fuchs.

You can enter either through the hotel or directly into the bar lounge area.
As you walk into the main restaurant, you pass the Crudo Bar.
There, a variety of mozzarellas, other cheese, and cured meats can be prepared according to your wishes. Some enjoy watching the show.

The dining area has casual chic feel that is much better than Allegro's more hotel-like space.
It's modern but not pretentious. Lighting was low, but not too low, lending more atmosphere.

The dining room is non-smoking. There is outdoor dining on the terrace in warmer months. Smoking is allowed there, weather permitting.

We went shortly after opening when things were quiet and scored one of the few tables with a castle view.
The music was cool, but not too heavy. A friend did complain to me that on a separate visit, the restaurant was busy and loud.

A basket of bread arrived. There was good, crusty Italian bread and light, spongy focaccia flecked with rosemary.
Strong, sharp olive oil sat on the side.

We wanted different wines, so my date had the 2010 Giacobbe Pinot Grigio, blush (180 CZK). I had the 2010 Broglia Gavi il Doge (150 CZK).
The prices are for .15 liter servings.

It would be easy to run up the bill quite quickly with wine. Most, but not all the bottles on their list are over 1000 CZK. They do offer .5 liter servings for those who want to split the difference.

We also had a .75 liter bottle of Mattoni (90 CZK). I was glad to see they served this good Czech mineral water and don't push the fancier and more expensive Italian stuff.

I started off by ordering the smoked mozzarella from the Mozzabar (140 CZK).
I've had semi-hard circles of scamorza before, but I'd never tried a fresh, creamy ball of bufala like this. The lightly smoky and silken cheese was a revelation.

In some places, the tomatoes are an afterthought. These Italian imports were just amazing -- the best I've had outside of Naples. They captured the true essence of the fruit.

I also had to try their salumi so I got the Misto CottoCrudo board (380 CZK).
This included Prosciutto di Parma, salame felino, bresaola, mozzarella di bufala, Pachino tomatoes, and rucola. This was some of the best I've tried. All the meats were soft and buttery.

Often, I find this stuff too salty. This was not the case here. The salinity levels were right where I wanted them. My date didn't want any, so I ate it all myself, with only good effects.

It was time to taste their raw fish. First up was the lobster with pink grapefruit, and chives (240 CZK).
The price looks small for lobster, but so is the portion. The pieces were the size of your thumb. But they were very good pieces, so delicate and lightly cooked.

The grapefruit does not overwhelm -- it has a hint of the citrus with little bitterness and some sweetness. Underneath was gari, the pickled ginger served with sushi.

Next, we had the scallops with red radish, lime, and sweet chili (190 CZK).
These six pieces were the size of small coins and sliced just as thin. The olive oil and tiny slices of non-spicy chili pepper dominated. The scallops themselves provided more of a buttery texture than flavor.

Then there was the yellowfin tuna with sea salt and coriander (190 CZK). This one was just a little more substantial.
The chunks of fish were as fresh as could be. They sat on cucumbers that absorbed a small amount of a mild garlic and balsamic vinegar, lending some sweetness. They were gone in four quick, meaty bites.

At this meal, we shared one main course (piatti forti). It was the pan-fried cod with chickpea puree, guanciale and artichokes (490 CZK).
It's hard to emphasize what a nice piece of fish this was. The chef did it justice with not too much heat and not too little. Top to bottom, it was just right.

On the side, there was a lemony chickpea puree, whole chickpeas, the tasty tomatoes, excellent artichoke hearts, and wilted bok choy. My health conscious date deleted the guanciale without me catching her. She knows I don't allow substitutions during my evaluations.

Even without it, this dish was gorgeous in its simplicity, letting the outstanding quality of each element shine through.

I'm a big dessert guy and couldn't make up my mind, so I went for the mix of three desserts (280 CZK).
There was the crostata with ricotta and mascarpone, which was basically cheesecake but seriously heavy and didn't thrill me. There were biscotti, which I can't imagine paying 180 CZK for as a separate dessert.

Then there was the Amarena cherry chocolate cake. Dio mio!
You'd think that cream would be heavy, but you'd be wrong. It was impossibly light and heavenly. Inside, there were sweet and sour cherries with chunks of bittersweet chocolate.

An espresso at the end was 50 CZK. This multifaceted meal cost 2520 CZK. I was surprised we kept it under 3000 CZK.

We enjoyed the meal so much that we were back again a few days later. I called to reserve the same table again. They wouldn't guarantee it, but it was quiet so we scored it again.

On our return, I needed a stiff drink after a hard day, so I started with a cocktail. The London Rain is Tanqueray, fresh mint, and dry vermouth (230 CZK).
It was soul-refreshing. I really dug the verdant look and flavor.

I rationalized that some of the wines cost just as much, and it is a Four Season hotel, after all. However, the price is well above what you'd fine at Prague's top cocktail bars. My Italian companion had the Aneri Prosecco (230 CZK), which she enjoyed.

They have some serious cheeses beside mozzarella. There was robiola capra from Piemonte (140 CZK) on the left, with its creamy hint of goat. I had the gorgonzola dolce from Piedmont (110 CZK) on the right, which was also creamy and mild.
At the lady's suggestion, I tried the Pecorino di Fossa from Marche (240 CZK). It was expensive for such a small slice, but it was the most interesting and worth the experience. It was sharp, tangy and, to my surprise, it had a sharp, stinging finish. This sheep's cheese gets its kick from a complex maturation process that includes being left in straw-lined holes in the ground.

For a starter, my date had violet artichokes with mint and thin wisps of that same Pecorino di Fossa (360 CZK).

The fine artichokes were mixed together with eggplant and their quality tomatoes, some of which were concentrated into sweetness. It was a tasty but expensive little salad.

I couldn't resist the pull of the homemade black tagliolini with lobster (550 CZK).
The tender lobster meat had just the right sweetness. We agreed that the pasta was overcooked. And this was the only time the fresh tomatoes misfired for me. I thought the sauce was too sweet and one-dimensional.

During the meal, we tried a glasses of Chablis (240 CZK) and Barbera d´Alba  (230 CZK).
The enjoyable red was round and full-bodied.

For a main course, I had the tagliata di manzo with glazed shallots and morels (640 CZK).
The medium rare beef from Piemonte had the lovely lean but tender and dense texture I'd experienced before with a steak I'd had at La Finestra in Cucina. The meaty morels were rich and chewy and the shallots were a fine partner. The fennel underneath was just too sweet and overwhelmed the rest. I'd give La Finestra's rib eye the edge in this battle.

My Italian companion ordered the grilled yellowfin tuna with eggplant caviar and caponata (630 CZK).
Before we could say anything, the waiter took the words out of our mouths, saying that the fish would only be briefly seared on each side and served very rare -- basically "blue."

"Perfect," we both said. "That's exactly how it should be. We want to see a lot of red."

Of course, there will always be different interpretations of "very rare." so when it came out with a centimeter of cooked fish on the outside of the thick cube of tuna, it was sent back to the kitchen. To their credit, it was re-done without fuss or complaint and a new tuna arrived, cooked exactly as desired.

And it was a pristine piece of quality tuna. The rich caponata sat on a piece of decadent, buttery toast. The tomatoes had a lemony pop. I know caponata includes capers, but neither of us are big fans of those and there was an overabundance, including in the eggplant caviar.

I'd say the service was generally excellent, both friendly and efficient, though both visits were on quiet nights. The waiters were knowledgeable about the dishes, fielding many questions about ingredients and preparations.
I'd take away a point because the overly helpful manager sometimes followed up after the waiters, asking questions that had already been answered or grabbing a plate we'd already requested to keep on the table.

We were carried away by curiosity on this second trip, wanting try everything. Our lack of restraint, perhaps due to the extra round of drinks, showed up on the tab. The bill for this evening was 3810 CZK. Drinks accounted for 930 CZK.

This ristorante has its work cut out for it. There is plenty of competition for Italian places on the top end, including Aromi, Gabriele Ristorante, VINOdiVINO, Divinis Wine Bar, and neighboring La Finestra.

I've eaten at all of them, and I say the Four Seasons is worth a visit. I was often amazed by the quality, if not always by the creativity.

If you are looking for freshness and change, delve into CottoCrudo.

CottoCrudo
Four Seasons Hotel
Veleslavinova 1098/2a
Prague 1
Tel: (+420) 221 426 880

2 comments:

XAVI said...

excellent post.. .watery remarks...pricey but worth it..will try it on a special ocassion.. great pics ...
still 7euros for a glass of wine.. the wine should have been also great

Rake said...

Thanks for the post. I will be there in June 2012. I will have to try some of these places out.