Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Park Restaurant & Cafe

**UPDATE: The menu for this restaurant has changed significantly. There are fewer seafood options and it appears less international and more Czech oriented. The Internet version of the menu had not been updated to reflect his, last time I checked.

Fear less, hope more; eat less, chew more; whine less, breathe more; talk less, say more; hate less, love more; and all good things are yours.

-Swedish proverb

A number of people say they won't tell me their favorite restaurant, fearing that they will be overwhelmed by the crowds who read this.

I usually think they need to relax.

However, I recently found a restaurant with a nice garden and some great food. Getting a table outside on a nice weekend day never seems to be a problem.

And, I have to admit, I asked myself: Do I tell everyone?

Well, yeah.

I first stumbled upon the Park Restaurant & Cafe one day on the Internet. The menu looked interesting, with steaks, seafood, and pasta.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that it is owned by the company that runs La Bodeguita Del Medio and La Casa Argentina, which have some great food.

I was happy to see it was actually not far from my neighborhood. Walking distance.

I was taken aback by the location. It's an unusual choice, given the style of the place and the obviously large investment that went into it.

The restaurant is in Vršovice, near the border with Nusle. It is very close to an Esso station and a Czech Railway overpass. I believe the 6, 7, and 24 trams stop nearby. It is on Vršovická, a major thoroughfare and sits at the back of a new housing complex that also hosts a Lidl economy supermarket.

Not so good.

But when you walk around to the back corner of the housing complex, things get a whole lot better. The trick to having a good first impression is to come in the back way, through Havlíčkovy Sady (Havlíček's Park). The opposite side of the park has an entrance in a leafy and wealthy section of Vinohrady.

As you walk in the park from that side you'll pass the Neo-Renaissance Villa Grébovka built in the late 19th century for industrialist Moritz Gröbe. There is a steep hill behind the villa that is part of a working vineyard.

There is also a beautiful wood gazebo that is now a wine bar and cafe. Then, at the bottom of the hill, there is an exit on the right side of the park that leads to a bridge to the Park Cafe and Restaurant.

V started out with the bruschetta with salmon tartar and mustard vinaigrette for 125 CZK.

The chopped, marinated salmon was fresh and tasted very nice. One can eat the salmon by itself or load it onto the slices of toasted baguette. They were slightly sweet and seemed to have soaked up some of the mustard vinaigrette.

There is ruccola on the side, along with half a lemon, and diced tomatoes dressed with basil and olive oil. We both liked this -- it will be a regular order.

I had marinated peppers with goat cheese with marinated peppers for 95 CZK. We are big goat cheese fans. It was very creamy and had small bits of red pepper mixed in. I'd spread it on some bread and then lay some of the sweet red and yellow peppers across the top. Nothing too exotic, but good enough to order again.

On another visit, I had the Caesar salad with marinated chicken for 132 CZK.

It has what is billed as an "anchovy dressing." It was pretty close to a classic Caesar dressing, but there was definitely an extra-strong anchovy kick there. The salad is punctuated with a few of the little swimmers on top. There is also a generous amount of shaved Parmesan cheese. I'm a big Parmesan fan.

The marinated chicken is something of weak point. It was tough to cut and dry and didn't really have a lot of flavor, given the promise of marination.

For a main course, V got the calamari with tomato sauce for 235 CZK. This was just excellent, perhaps the best squid we've had in Prague. It was lightly cooked and all the rings were extremely tender. It was grilled and had a strong smoky flavor.

The menu said it comes with baguettes and salad. She got the two, rather ordinary mini-baguettes. But no salad. We neglected to ask why. She had this dish the both times we went.

I had spaghetti with mozzarella, zucchini, pine nuts, sun-dried tomatoes, and ruccola pesto. Simple and delicious.

I only had to chop up the big pieces of dried tomato so they'd be more evenly distributed. The little melted pieces of mozzarella were a nice touch. I didn't see much in the way of zucchini, but didn't mind so much. A lot of different flavors in there, but all pretty subtle.

During a different visit, I went for the Uruguayan rib eye steak for 370 CZK. This was a fine piece of meat. I assume they must have some good South American beef connection via La Casa Argentina (apparently not - see comments).

It was very tender. I asked for it cooked to medium. Half of the steak was medium and half was rare.

It was lightly seasoned with salt and pepper, but I felt it needed a lot more salt. It was a bit on the bland side. Surprisingly, it lacked much flavor from the grill. The calamari actually had a smokier flavor than the steak.

On the side, I ordered the port wine sauce for 25 CZK. This had great flavor and I really would have liked it, except that after the great flavor came something of a bitter aftertaste. I liked it enough that I'd try it again to see if the aftertaste was a one-time issue.

The steak doesn't come with any sides, so I ordered the French fries for 30 CZK. They are big, hot, and crispy. Very good. Only one minor issue -- they were over-salted.

I haven't tried it, but Park Restaurant & Cafe also serves breakfast until 11:00 am. The offerings are fairly basic: Ham and eggs (hemenex), croissants, cheese, and such.

There most involved effort is the English Breakfast: Ham and eggs, sausage with mustard, roasted mushrooms with tomatoes, bacon, fruit salad, toast, juice, and coffee for 280 CZK. The menu also says that the kitchen is "willing and able to make your breakfast any way you want."

The restaurant has a stylish and modern interior design. Their website says the dining room's furniture is by the design firm, de.fakto. It also says they have free Wi-Fi. There are a couple of flat-screen TVs on the walls, and during one visit, they were showing a football game. There's a full bar and they can produce all your favorite cocktails. There is also a gelato case. I didn't get to sample any, but they do look pretty good.

Park Restaurant & Cafe does not always achieve greatness, but I think it is the best place in the area. Of course, impressions are often formed by expectations.

Who'd expect to find such a restaurant in such an out-of-the-way spot, where both your stomach and your car's fuel tank can be filled in such close proximity?

Some of the Nusle crowd might find their way to Park Restaurant & Cafe. And perhaps some of the Vinohrady/Vršovice noveau riche. And maybe some intrepid, free-range expats. But I really do have to wonder whether ravenous hordes are going to descend on this rather desolate part of the city.

Now, if you are already a regular at Park Restaurant & Cafe and, after you read this, you can't get a seat any more, you might want to inflict grievous bodily harm upon my person.

All I can say is, relax. V will beat you to it.

Park Restaurant & Cafe
Vršovická 1525/1a
Prague 10

Tel. (+420) 267 310 999


Anonymous said...

Kudos on the blog! I drop by weekly, and look forward to exploring some of the spots featured. My only peeve is that you beat me to the idea! :-)

Brewsta said...

Thank you. I say start another one. Lots of cities have more than one restaurant blog, they all have their own styles and unique points. The more info and pix out there, the better.

Pivní Filosof said...

Looks like a really nice place... good luck to you that you leave nearby.
About the beef, though. I don't think they buy it from the same source as "La Casa Argentina". The person who provides LCA with their beef is a friend of mine. I've had several "asados" made with that stuff and it's lovely. Actually, anyone can drop by and buy some of it. If you allow me to do some free advertising for a friend, here is the webpage www.nestar.net. The stuff won't come cheap, but it is certainly worth it.
BTW, those calamary look really great!!!!

Brewsta said...

Hell, that's a good tip. I might buy some of that beef myself!

Can you go to their "showroom" in Zizkov or do you have order online and get it delivered?

Pivní Filosof said...

Glad you liked the tip!
I think it is better if you call or order online, since it might happen that nobody is at the office....
Tell him that I sent you, he'll be glad. And if you need any tips on how to cook the beef, just let me know. :)
PS: He's got some really nice wines to go with the beef as well....

Julia said...

Looks great! Was there by chance a play area for kids out back to lure parents with kids?

Brewsta said...

Not really -- but there is an open grass area nearby.