** I've been told this restaurant has closed - November 2013
"The pleasure of criticizing robs us of the pleasure of being moved by some very fine things." Jean de la BruyereI've been watching Prague's restaurant scene for more than 10 years.
I've seen chefs come. I've seen them go. I've seen them come back.
I've watched restaurant locations that fail. And fail. And then succeed.
The most recent example of this is the return of chef Jean-Paul Manzac with his opening of Bistrot M at La Boucherie Moderne in Smíchov.
His return reminded me of the location for his previous effort, Brasserie M, which I wrote about back in 2007. A great deal was invested in fitting out that restaurant with an ultra-modern, open kitchen, custom-made furniture, and interesting copper accents.
That restaurant closed and was replaced by the unremarkable Fama Grand. Now it has been replaced by the more remarkable Fine Café.
But a glance at Fine Café's enticing and creative online menu inspired me to return once again to this spot. The inside is not dramatically different than it was during the Brasserie M days.
The smoking area is up front. The nonsmoking section is the slightly raised area across from the kitchen.
I drank a very pleasant Pinot Grigio (62 CZK/.1 liter).
One thing I like about Fine Café's menu is that everything is available in half portions. It is easier and cheaper to sample a number of different dishes. We started off ordering the ricotta gnocchetti. (165 CZK/small).
Another choice in the "From the Garden" section was the pumpkin risotto (85 CZK/small).
The next menu to sample was "From the Sea." I got the soft-shell crab with saffron risotto (195 CZK/large).
Actually, there was a second problem. I told the waitress I wanted small portions of everything. I even repeated it in Czech. When it was delivered, the crab portion looked large, so I asked about it.
"What size portion of crab is that?" I asked.
"That's a large portion," she replied.
"But I ordered all small dishes."
"No, you didn't. You ordered a large."
I always appreciate it when told that my memory of very recent events diverges sharply from reality. Thankfully, there are plenty of servers in this town willing to help me with this.
"From the Land" we ordered the pork tenderloin (155 CZK/small). The silky, tender meat was cooked to medium, which I consider perfect. I do not fear pink pork.
I ordered the corn-fed chicken with pistachio pesto and polenta (125 CZK/small).
The bill for this meal, which included two .2 liter glass of wine came to 1117 CZK before tip. We were very full and thought it was very fair for how much we ate.
I returned a week later with another friend.
JK had the Jerusalem artichoke soup (55 CZK/small).
I went for the beef tartare (175 CZK). The meat by itself was rather bland. But it was topped with avruga caviar and an almost butter-like sour cream mixed with wasabi.
JK was interested in the goat cheese ravioli with raisins and maple syrup (85 CZK/small). This she loved.
I ordered the linguini with squid, spicy salami, and pine nuts (105 CZK/small).
I tried the veal cheeks (155 CZK/small). The meat came apart easily on the fork, with a beautifully savory sauce.
JK had the sea bass with artichokes and chili jam (170 CZK/small).
We both went for dessert. I had the chocolate souffle, which was really more like a fondant (105 CZK).
JK had the banana bread (78 CZK). I admit, I had low expectations, but it was the best banana bread I've ever had.
The bill for this second large feast was 1271 CZK. I thought it would be more, considering all the food we had. My overall feeling is that the value and quality at Fine Café more than make up for its imperfections.
Yes, the service was inept at times. But it was also mostly friendly. I was told by JK that "the ladies room smelled like a men's room." From my point of view, the lights are too bright and that, along with the poor music choices hurt the atmosphere. I think the name of the place itself is bland and doesn't clearly evoke what kind of restaurant this is.
I take no pleasure in criticizing these small things. The food is what counts to me, and I would like to see this place succeed. This type of cooking, especially at these price points, needs to be nurtured. We left both times feeling like it was a good deal for a good meal.
That is a very fine thing, indeed.
Te. (+420) 224 054 070
(+420) 725 605 040