Thursday, March 1, 2007

Modrý Zub Noodle Bar

A high-quality sandwich shop on Wenceslas Square is my dream. But then I wake up and deal with lunch reality. I've described this patch of Prague real estate as a culinary wasteland.

But it's so easy to be negative. Let's be positive today. It's award season. Let's give out an award.

(Drum roll)

"Ladies and gentleman, the Golden Stool for best fast food in the greater Wenceslas Square area goes to:

Modrý zub Noodle Bar at Jindřišská 5!" (Cue music and applause)

I know a lot of people who have eaten at Modrý zub, which means "(The) Blue Tooth." I asked them what they thought. Their reviews were mixed -- not very positive, along with disappointment that it wasn't better. Before this week, I was in that camp.

Now, that has changed and not because the Golden Stool awards ceremony fell on Let's Be Positive Day.

Modrý zub is a pretty interesting set up. In the front by the street, it looks like a cafe, with regular tables and seats. There is a glass case with desserts. There are waitresses and service at the tables.
But there is a hallway that bypasses the dining area and goes to the back. There, it looks more like a take away joint, with an open kitchen, stainless steel counters, plastic chairs and stools, and just a couple of tables. The cooks are working their woks behind the counter.
I was there for a meeting with L, and a bit surprised that every table in the front cafe was taken. We went to the back and found one empty table.
I got the "Tom Kha Kai" soup (60 CZK). This is the one thing I always thought they did pretty well. It has a nice sweet and sour coconut milk base, cilantro, lemon grass, fish sauce, a generous amount of chicken, and you can really taste the galangal floating in there. A real bargain.
L got the Phad Thai with chicken (135 CZK). You can also get it with tofu (130 CZK), pork (135 CZK) or shrimp (155 CZK). This dish of glass noodles, green onion, fish sauce, egg, peanuts, and more is the standard by which I judge all Thai restaurants. And this is where Modrý zub had failed in the past. I'd gotten it three times before. It always looked right, but even after I squeezed the lime slice on top, it was too bland. I didn't like it.

L gave me a bite of her Phad Thai. It was totally different than my earlier visits. It was much better. It was now much saltier, which brought up the other flavors. It was almost too salty, but I liked it. I would now order it again.
I got the Lab Mu (110 CZK), the hot Thai pork salad. I'd seen someone eating this the last time I visited. It looked great and asked the woman what it was. She told me and said she liked it. I like it, too. A lot. There is generous mound of ground pork meat mixed with cilantro, mint, fish sauce, green and red onions, and red chilies. It is spicy. If you don't like hot dishes, avoid this one. Otherwise, go for it. I want more.
On two previous occasions, I tried the Kaeng Phed Kai, the chicken and red curry with rice (145 CZK). The first time, I loved it. The curry mixed with coconut milk was very, very spicy and also very thick, which is how I like it. I think there is some lime leaf as well. The second time, the curry was very watery and not as tasty. I was disappointed. I also tried the Kaeng Khiao Whan, the chicken and green curry with rice (145 CZK). It was good, but I preferred the red.

They also do a few sushi combinations. They have eight pieces of tuna, salmon, shrimp, and egg for 180 CZK. I haven't been tempted.

I should say here that two friends who tried Modrý zub said they liked it, but thought the food was heavily laced with monosodium glutamate (MSG) -- both were literally red-faced afterward. I didn't notice it myself.

Almost every dish on the menu is Asian, either Thai, Japanese, Indian. There is one odd exception to that. There is a Greek salad (70 CZK). Must be a demand for it.

You can see the full menu on their website and there is also a good photo gallery if you want to see more pictures:

They do quite a few take away orders. Based on how busy it was when we were there, I'd suggest calling in your order ahead if you don't want to wait around too long. Now that Modrý zub is an award-winning restaurant, it may only get more popular.

Then again, awards don't mean that much. Modrý zub could end up becoming the Marisa Tomei of restaurants: The toast of the town, holding the golden statue, and then the next day, everyone is asking, "What were they thinking?"

You know what they say: You're only as good as your last Phad Thai.

Modrý zub
Jindřišská 5
Tel. 222 212 622


Anonymous said...

Your obsession with sandwiches is alarming. Jeez, buy the ingredients you like at Tesco and prepare your preferred sandwiches on your own. Or start your own sandwich shop if you believe there's a market for it. How many Czech restaurants selling pork and dumplings there are in Manchester or LA?

Anonymous said...

Czech restaurants abroad simply don't work - what discerning foreigner wants a kilo of fatty pork with bland, stodgy dumplings these days? You'd also have to scour high and low for grumpy, miserable bastards as wait staff - no easy task in this culinary day and age.

Applying said logic, it's no wonder foreign restaurants don't really take off in Prague - if the food isn't some generic pork cut and the wait staff are pleasant and polite, it can't be good...

Brewsta said...

Anonymous #1:

Don't be alarmed. Relax.

I'm just a lazy, sandwich-obsessed dreamer.

Anyway, you seem to know more than me about markets for different kinds of food.

You think an Italian restaurant would work in Manchester or LA? How about sushi?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for another good review.

Modry Zub was excellent the first few times I went, then hit the infamous consistency wall.

Might return to see if it's on an upward curve again as it seemed to combine fresh, well-spiced food with cosy surroundings at a good price point.

Brewsta said...

Thanks. I'll have more to say on consistency in the future. These posts are not reviews in the classic sense -- I just go once, eat just a few things, and write about it. Maybe a different cook will be there when I go back and I'll hate it.

Anonymous said...

Well, this is exactly my point - there is no market for US-style sandwiches in Prague and there is no market for Czech-style pork and dumpligs in LA.

Czechs are not interested in US-style sandwiches because they have no use for them considering their food traditions and customs (which are nothing really special, but shared by many other Continental European nations):

the main meal of the day is lunch, which must always be cooked. Bread with butter and ham is good for breakfast and snack. Really, no room for sandwiches here.

And btw, the Czech way (main meal of the day at noon, lighter dinner) is definitely healthier than the Anglosaxon way. Just to counter the common prejudice claiming the Czech eating habits are unhealthy...

If you still think there is a market for sandwiches here, open your own shop and get rich (well, you already are...)

Brewsta said...

Your mixing the points of the other commenter with mine.

I never said I thought there was a market for high-quality sandwiches here, did I? Why such a rush to get me into the food service industry?

It's only a wish, a dream, a hope. And you would deny me that. So cruel...

My point, though, is that things change. When? I don't know.

And I think that other commenters have pointed out on other threads that generalizations about "what Czechs are interested in" are just a bit overpresumptuous.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to burst your bubble but Czech eating habits are among the most unhealthy in Europe.

Vegetables? Ummm. Healthy bread? Ummm. Decent range of fish? Ummm.

The high no. of kidney & pancreas transplants, heart disease deaths, digestive disease deaths and high obesity rate suggest otherwise.

Brewsta said...

Had a feeling someone would jump on that Czech health food claim.

Anonymous said...

That Pork Dish looks yummmmmy. Just made Thai Red Curry myself, first time ever so, I might try Modry zub... exciting times ahead.. hopefully

Anonymous said...

You hit the nail on the head. Modry zub is a hit and miss operation; tip:- it all depends on who is cooking. One knows and the other doesn't

Brewsta said...

Oh dear. I was afraid that that was the problem.

Anonymous said...

Interesting sandwich debate! I won't venture into the muddy waters of whether Czech food is "healthy" or not ... But about sandwiches. Okay, I accept the point that eating a sandwich at lunch time runs against the grain of Czech eathing habits. But look around at other cities, where arguably you could have also made the same claim a few years ago. In Vienna, for example, there are dozens of places (stand-ups, chains, delis, even restaurants) where you can buy decent sandwiches, with fresh bread and high-quality ingredients. Food -- including lunch -- there has greatly evolved away from stodgy pork, dumplings and a bland sauce in the past couple of decades. Czechs and Austrians shared a common culture, including -- yes -- eating habits, for hundreds of years. It works there ...

Anonymous said...

"Food -- including lunch -- there has greatly evolved away from stodgy pork, dumplings and a bland sauce in the past couple of decades. Czechs and Austrians shared a common culture, including -- yes -- eating habits, for hundreds of years. It works there..."

Yes, but is such a development desirable, after all? If so, it is then only from your particular culturally compromised perspective.

I will always prefer pork, dumplings and sauce to some arguably fancy sun-dried-tomatoes-filled sandwich. Especially when the price is the same.

Yulia said...

It would be interesting to read your review on the new Modry zub at Narodni Trida.
Though I couldn't really afford Modry zub quite often I liked to pop in there to have noodles with a friends. After a few times there I understood that there's no way I can eat the whole dish on my own (too big for me) I was offered to split it for two. Genious idea!
Not long after the opening of the 2nd Modry zub, we've decided (with the same friend) to check it out. And oh my! Our waitress served us unbelievably bad. After I've named the noodles I wanted I asked if they could split it for us. She said they don't do that. When I pointed out to the fact that I ALWAYS split my portion with a friend at the other Modry zub, she replied that they are DIFFERENT (!) and don't serve it like this but as a favor she will ask the cook to split it but just this once. However, they didn't split it. What we've got was just a phad thai and another clean plate. We were not given any sauce (they usually bring some chilly sauce and soy sauce). Mind you, we were the only clients at the whole restaurant. Horrible service with a stiff upper lip at unreasonably high price. Will never go there again.