Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Restaurace Mlýn

In the same week, I got two recommendations to try Restaurace Mlýn (The Mill Restaurant). I looked at the menu online, and I liked what I saw.

It specializes in seafood and Mediterranean cuisine, which are big favorites for us. It is reasonably expensive, but the prices are not as high as many other top seafood places these days.

So, the next week, when another couple invited us to dinner and, by chance, offered Restaurace Mlýn as an option, I was quick to agree on it, even though it is quite a long trip to Prague 6 from where we live in Prague 10.

We took the metro out to Dejvice, and the tram up Evropska. Our friends offered to drive us all down from their place in Hanspaulka in Prague 6.

A very helpful reader says that it is possible to get there by public transport (see the comments section).

The sign out front actually says Chorvatsky Mlýn (The Croatian Mill), though the website only says Restaurace Mlýn. The dining room has a somewhat rustic interior. It was fairly empty when we were there about a month ago. I was told that Mlýn is something of a favorite with embassy types and business people. We did see a couple of Japanese tourists there. I've been told it is nice to eat outside there in the summer.I have to admit that since we ate at the restaurant quite a while ago, I don't have very detailed memories of the food. What I do have is pictures of almost everything.

For starters, Mr. UK recommended the Croatian prosciutto (Pršut) for 140 CZK (the website says it is 130 CZK). It was thicker cut than Italian-style prosciutto, but it was very tender, with a strong smoke flavor.I had the beef carpaccio for 150 CZK -- A fairly basic version with good quality sliced beef, ruccola, shaved Parmesan, lemon wedges, and fresh cracked pepper.V ordered something she'd never tried before: Monkfish carpaccio (Carpacio z Mořského ďasu) for 160 CZK. It comes with lemon wedges, garlic, and olive oil.

She loved it. I really liked it, too. Monkfish has a texture often compared to lobster. I thought it had a nutty flavor.Let's run through the main courses. Jersey Girl had the grilled sea bass (Mořský vlk) for 507 CZK. She liked it.The seafood is priced by weight. They use a somewhat complicated formula that, I think, requires a calculator. They start with a base price for either 100 or 200 grams. Then, for each 10 grams over the base, they add a specified amount of money.

So, be aware, seafood can significantly add to your bill.

Back to the food. There was grilled calamari (Kalamáry na grilu) for 320 CZK. Simple but delicious.I had the risotto frutti di mare for 350 CZK. It was studded with tiger shrimp, grilled calamari, and mussels. I liked it, but my favorite version is still the one at Kogo in Slovanský dům.V had the grilled octopus (Chobotnice "Pod pekou") with potatoes and vegetables for 420 CZK. This is one of her favorites and she really enjoyed it.We shared two bottles of Vranac from the Plantaže winery in Montenegro (480 CZK each). Mr. UK recommended it, and said he'd ordered it before. It was very good.We had quite a few other things, including half liters of Pilsner Urquell for 45 CZK, a mixed salad for 60 CZK, "American" potatoes (Americké brambory) for 40 CZK, espresso for 35 CZK, and cafe latte for 55 CZK.

The total bill for the four of us was 3524 CZK.

I won't make Restaurace Mlýn a regular habit, partly because a good meal here is not cheap, but mostly because it is far from the center, and even farther from my home.

But if someone suggests it again for a special night out, I certainly won't mind making the trek.

Restaurant Mlýn
Horoměřická 3a
Prague 6
Tel: (+420) 220 610 760

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Friday, June 8, 2007

City Cafe Bar Club

"It's all about the journey, not the destination."
-Paris Hilton*

My friend A and I were on a journey to somewhere else. City Cafe Bar Club was not our destination. But we were thirsty. I was hungry. We made an unplanned stop.
What drew us down the stairs was the nicely done interior, with exposed brick and good lighting. It's a nice space.

The Pilsner Urquell is 32 CZK for a half liter. The Gambrinus is a bit less.
The menu didn't thrill me -- It had mostly Czech dishes and pasta. I wasn't in the mood. One offering was a little different -- pljeskavica -- the Balkan specialty that looks like a hamburger without a bun and is usually a mixture of ground lamb and beef and onions. The pljeskavica (99 CZK) was very greasy. Didn't love it.
It didn't come with bread on the side, so I ordered fries (29 CZK). They were OK. I asked for ketchup and the waiter brought me a giant bowl. It did cost 20 CZK, though.

All the servers were smiling and friendly.

It wasn't too full when we were there, just a small party and a few others. But someone said on a discussion board that it is popular and can get full. I'd guess the clientele would be mostly Czech. I wouldn't say you should go out of your way to City Cafe Bar Club. But in a part of town where it is sometimes hard to find a free seat in a bar, it's not a bad place to stop for a drink.

City Cafe Bar Club
Balbínova 4
Prague 2
Tel: (+420) 739 077 988
*The accuracy of the attribution of this Paris Hilton quote is in dispute. However, Ms. Hilton has also been quoted as saying, “I don't really think, I just walk.”

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Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Beer Factory

"Oh, well, of course, everything looks bad if you remember it." Homer Simpson

The concept for Beer Factory seems like a winner. As for execution, not so much.

It's a drinking establishment at the top of Wenceslas Square, right across from the Charles IV statue.

It opened within the last year. There's plenty of foot traffic, and the area is a favorite with the stag party crowd. You'd expect pre-marital bliss.

However, the bar itself is underground, with the door at street level.I noticed a number of times that people seem to have a fear of going all the way in. They go in the door, look down the glass spiral staircase, and then turn around and walk out.For those brave enough to venture down, they'll find a bar, and a big open space with tables with beer taps built into them.There is a kitchen in the back. One friend called it "heaven" the first time he saw the tables.

When you sit down, you let the waiter know you want to drink, and he brings you beer mugs. The taps pour Pilsner Urquell.There are four taps on each table. Each has a pressure valve.

You have to be very careful with these.

If the pressure is too high, you'll get a mug full of foam.

This leads to wastage because the people I drink with have no patience for watching beer foam settle.

On top of the taps, there is a meter that measures how much your table has drunk. Beer Factory charges 40 CZK per half liter.

The meter can be programmed to display your consumption information in a number of languages. It seems pretty accurate.

Burns: Smithers, this beer isn't working. I don't feel any younger or funkier.
Smithers: I'll switch to the tablespoon, sir.

There is also a projection on the walls that shows how many beers each table has had.It's a fun idea that I'm sure it goes over well with the stag boys.

I've been to Beer Factory three times, usually between 6 pm and 8 pm. And it has always been virtually empty. So, I'm wondering what their peak times are and if the place ever fills up. We did see a group of seven young men come in the last time.

But perhaps the lack of customers caused what we considered a serious, perhaps fatal problem for the place. The beer was bad.

On the last visit, I poured my beer and took a sip. The first thing I noticed was that it was not very cold. Not warm, but it was not at a reasonable temperature.

The second thing I noticed was that the taste was off. Way off. It had something of a sweetish quality and it smelled stale. I made a comment and the two friends with me agreed.

And for further confirmation, as if any were needed, a fourth friend arrived, poured a beer and too a sip.

"This beer is bad!"

We hadn't said a word about it. And he complained about the bad taste in his mouth for the rest of the night after we left.

Our theory is that the kegs are nowhere near the taps. There must be long pipes running through the floor. And when the beer is not flowing all day, the beer just sits in uncooled pipes. And goes bad.

Results might be better after a big party comes through and fresh beer gets sucked into the pipes. Sort of like a Vegas slot machine, you have to hope someone has been giving it a few pulls before you get there.

A couple of friends have tried the food. One had the beef (svíčková). He said it was good. I tried some onion rings and thought they were very greasy. I do think the prices are very high for what you get. I couldn't find a menu online for some other examples.

The waiters are a pretty surly lot. Their jobs seem mostly limited to dropping off beer mugs on tables. And throwing out anyone who gets out of line, which I'm sure must happen when people are in charge of pouring their own beers. More on that later.

The music is not to my taste, often techno or some Euro pop, and pretty loud. There is a big open space in the middle of Beer Factory. There is a DJ station at the end. Perhaps it turns into a great dance party at some point. But I've never seen a crowd at the hours I've been there.

Some time around 10 pm, they turn the music up. My friend, Mr. B, was there with a friend one night and it got so loud, they couldn't talk any more. Since there was almost no one else in the place and a disco party was not about to break out, he asked a waiter if the music could be turned down.

The waiter said no and Mr. B told me the waiter was pretty rude about it. So, he went to the manager. He admits he was pretty annoyed at this point and was, perhaps, less polite with the manager. The manager kicked him out.

I had such high hopes for the place, but now I'm filled with a sadness that can only be expressed in song (To the tune of "When I was 17"):

I drank at Beer Factory
I had a very bad beer
I had a very bad beer
It might be because the pipes weren't clean
And it was too warm for me
Oh, the waiters were mean
So, I don't like Beer Factory

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Sunday, June 3, 2007

Cinque Terre, Italy

Grant, of Grant's Prague Bike Blog, returns today with a guest post from his trip to Italy (with bad captions by Brewsta):

High above Vernazza, on Italy's Cinque Terre coast, on the narrow trail to Corniglia, is a restaurant called La Torre. It's only a 10-minute hike out of the village, but the entire route is up steep stairs and trails, and that seems to be enough to discourage many of the tourists flooding the tiny streets below from overrunning the place. (Or maybe it's the restaurant's unpredictable hours.)

At a small table overlooking the Ligurian Sea, glittering in the early evening sun, Daisy and I ordered a carafe of the house white wine and a plate of anchovies.

Yes, anchovies.

Now, anchovies -- or acchiughe as they are called -- are thought to be an acquired taste, like Tori Amos. Almost everyone, when anchovies are mentioned, thinks of those salty little fish on top of pizza, as in, "Hold the anchovies."

A visit to the Cinque Terre quickly puts all such thoughts out of mind. In Vernazza and the surrounding villages, the anchovies are served fresh from the sea and raw -- first butterflied and then drizzled in olive oil and lemon juice. They are slightly salty, a little tangy, and totally delicious.

They're also delicious fried or stuffed with herbs and bread crumbs.

And the version at La Torre is as good as they come. (A plate will set you back around 8 euros, or around $10.75 In fact, it seems almost every appetizer or entree in the Cinque Terre seems to be 8 to 12 euros or so.)
Spooning at La Torre

Daisy and I spent three nights in May hiking and eating in the Cinque Terre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The five villages are, in order from east to west, Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso al Mare.

You can read more about our hiking adventures here. This post is all about the food and the restaurants of the Cinque Terre. The nice thing about eating in the Cinque Terre is that you feel you've really earned your food and drink because of all the hiking you've done.

Culinarily speaking, the Cinque Terre and the surrounding Liguria region is known for, among other things:
  • Its dry, crisp white wine, the grapes for which are grown on the steeply terraced hillsides that surround the five villages.
  • Pesto, because basil is said to grow especially well in the soil and climate of the region.
  • Trofie, a type of pasta unique to the area that is first rolled, then twisted and which goes very well with pesto. It's a little like gnocci.
  • The olive-oily flat bread known as focaccia.
  • The honey-flavored gelato in Corniglia (miele de Corniglia)
  • And, of course, fresh anchovies.
  • Lemons. GIGANTIC lemons. Used in the local limoncino liqueur (only liqueur from the Amalfi Coast can be called limoncello).
Sour power

There are dozens of restaurants in each of the five villages to tempt you with all of these offerings, and many other dishes.

It's difficult, though (or at least we found it so), to steer away from the crowds and eat where the "locals" eat. The villages are so small, and the restaurants are all pretty obvious. The locals, it seems, are either at the next table or cooking at home.

We've been to the Cinque Terre twice now, and I can say we've never had a bad meal.

On this trip, we splurged on spaghetti with lobster for two at Il Moretto di Barbados on a tiny piazza in Monterroso al Mare, the largest of the villages, which has a lovely and vast waterfront.
Therein lies the tail

I enjoyed a wonderful bowl of mussels and sweet baby clams and herbs at Gambero Rosso, on Vernazza's cozy harbor front, beneath the village church's noisy bell tower.
Daisy had the trofie with pesto, which she didn't care for. It wasn't the restaurant's fault. She's just not a fan of doughy pasta. I thought it was very, very good.

We shared a giant plate of Parma ham and juicy melon at a restaurant in Corniglia whose name I have lost (ask me and I'll tell you how to find it).
But what we really couldn't wait to taste in Corniglia, though, was the miele de Corniglia, gelato made from the local honey. Most gelato is very good. Some gelato is great, either because of the texture or the intensity of the flavors, or both. And then there's miele de Corniglia.
Gelato, honey?

I cannot begin to describe how exquisite this honey gelato is, how subtle and tantalizing. It's made from honey, but it's got a special something that could be because some of the local honey is made by bees who have visited the flowers of the local chestnut trees. I'm not sure. I only know that it's in my Top 10 All-Time Taste Memories.

For one of the best sandwiches you'll ever have, stop by the train station in Monterroso al Mare. There's a little sandwich shop underneath the station, facing the sea. Order the focaccia with tomato and mozzarella. The tomatoes are juicy, the bread is heaven, infused with olive oil and slightly salty. It's heaven.

It's a great place to grab a sandwich to go as you're taking the train back to Milan, as we did.

As they say, all good things...

Bar Ristorante La Torre
Via Carattino 64

Ristorante Gambero Rosso
Piazza Marconi 7

Ristorante-Pizzeria Il Moretto di Barbados
Piazza Colombo 1 e 3
Monterosso al Mare

* Grant wrote more about Cinque Terre on his blog.

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