"The American mood, perhaps even the American character, has changed." Archibald MacLeishIf you're a native English speaker and you've lived in Prague for a long time, it can feel like a small village. If I don't know you, I bet I know someone you know.
This "One Degree of Separation" principle applies to expat American chef, Jeff Cohen. Our circles overlap slightly, and I've run into him a few times over the years.
Cohen was the opening chef and creator of the international menu at Artisan. It was well-regarded by many, including me. Then he worked in the kitchen at Kampa Group's Hergetova Cihelna. I had some very enjoyable meals there.
Now he's the head chef at the new Mood Restaurant. It's in the richly renovated boutique Hotel Voyage in Žižkov.
The interior has a pop art feel, with spare, modern furniture, more bright colors, and odd, eye-catching photos of toothy smiles on the walls.
Because of the car, I was drinking water. They serve .25 liter bottles of Bonaqua (39 CZK). I wish they'd carry Mattoni instead.
I'd heard talk that burgers would be a specialty of this restaurant and I'd enjoyed Cohen's burger at Artisan. So, I ordered the Mood Classic Burger (215 CZK).
There was no cheese, although this is available on the Jalapeno Cheddar Burger (235 CZK). I found out the toasted buns are custom-made for Mood at Bakeshop Praha.
I'll be frank, I think this is one of the top burgers in the Czech Republic. The top quality ground beef patty is hefty, wonderfully smoky from a lava grill, and just juicy enough, even though it was cooked almost well done (I asked for medium). The bun holds it all together like a champ.
These small details didn't put my love asunder. I have a very high opinion of the burger. For second point of view, I talked to a friend who also tried the Mood Classic Burger. He gave it a full on rave. He even went so far as to say that Mood's is better than the much-beloved burgers at The Tavern.
Do I agree? I'm going to wait until my end of the year burger ranking list to reveal my final decision on that.
On my second trip, I was on the terrace.
I realize there are many ways to make this cold soup. This one was on the thin side. I'd point out that the gazpacho photo on Mood's website shows a soup that appears quite thicker.
Then I had the pineapple-soy marinated rib eye (365 CZK). This was a quality, very tender piece of beef.
Houston's, at the same time I lived there. He told me this steak is modeled on their "Hawaiian," which I ordered regularly.
That one had a charred, sweet-salty, teriyaki-like crust on it from the marinade. The Mood version is saltier and dominated by the soy sauce, rather than pineapple juice. I assumed this was something of a concession to local tastes.
The green beans were fine -- hot but still crunchy and topped with chopped bacon. The mashed potatoes were creamy, buttery, and lovely. The lightly sweet and salty demi-glace sauce on the side was truly excellent. It was plate-licking good.
Although full, I felt it my duty to try a dessert. I ordered the bread pudding (110 CZK). This is one of the most decadent sweets you'll find around these parts.
If that were not enough, there was a homemade toasted marshmallow on the side. It was briefly flambéed and tasted like it just came off a stick over a campfire. Amazing.
On the third visit, I finally had a beer. They serve Pilsner Urquell on tap, but only in .33 liter glasses (39 CZK).
I had the buffalo wings (95 CZK). They had a crispy skin, with tender, juicy meat underneath.
My date had the mussels (195 CZK).
I hope that gets fixed, because the sauce that went with these mussels was crazy good. It was one of the most buttery I can remember, so if you're on a diet, forget it. Also it had an almost lemon-like tartness that comes from reducing the serious amounts of white wine. I was soaking it up with bread, but had to stop because it was too rich for me.
For myself, I had the club sandwich (195 CZK).
You don't see it in the photo, but there was an overwhelming amount of very strong, raw, sliced onion. I picked a lot out, but since it mixed with the mayo, it was hard to get it all without a majorly messy operation. That said, I'm sure they'll make it without onions on request.
That wasn't the only issue. The smoked turkey breast, although quite smoky, tasted like the rubbery and insubstantial supermarket variety.
Although there is no law saying a club sandwich should have bacon, I'm one of those people who think there should be.
Good curly fries, though.
I had to go back one more time for no other reason than there were still several items on the menu that piqued my curiosity.
I started off with the tomato tartare (145 CZK). This I liked.
Last but not least, I went for the barbecued ribs (185 CZK). These were real baby backs and they were cooked just right.
The ribs were coated with a thick, sweet sauce. It's an imported variety that Cohen jazzes up with molasses, brown sugar, and sambal chili sauce for a mild kick. Some might find the sauce too sweet or too generously applied. I didn't.
These small but satisfying racks come with coleslaw that, unlike some American versions, was on the savory side. That's a good thing, given the sweetness of the meat.
Since Cohen knows me, I did my best to sneak into the restaurant unnoticed. He often walks the floor of the dining rooms, so he usually found me half-way through the meals. I did take the opportunity to ask him detailed questions about what went into many dishes.
Burgers, ribs, club sandwiches, wings, and rib eyes are available in many places around Prague. But a lot of the "American" food tastes decidedly un-American. Mood has an American-style menu designed by an American chef. And it tastes like it.
Of course, I wish every dish was a home run, especially with offerings that remind me of home. But more than enough of the food hit me in my strike zone -- especially that burger.
I'm sure I'm going to be in the mood for Mood again soon.
Mood Cafe - Bar - Restaurant
Prague 3 - Žižkov
Tel. (+420) 222 517 615