Monday, July 30, 2007

Bredovský dvůr

The pig, if I am not mistaken
Gives us ham and pork and bacon
Let others think his heart is big
I think it stupid of the pig

-Ogden Nash

You are standing at the top of Wenceslas Square. Your top priority is high quality beer. A decent Czech meal is a requirement, but it comes a distant second.

One more detail. You can't be bothered to walk more than five minutes in any direction.

What will you do?

I, myself, faced this dilemma recently and ran through some options with my dining companions.

I knew that a Pilsner Urquell Original Restaurant was opening in the historic Deminka space on the corner of Škrétova and Anglická.

It still has the Deminka name. And the place now has the same interior style and signage as the Kolkovna Group restaurants, like Kolkovna, Olympia, and Celnice. Given their track record, I'd bet they'll finally make a success out of this long-doomed location.

But this is a story for another time. My friends, V and I were on the hunt for a place to eat several days before the new Deminka opened its doors.

Ferdinanda is a good option, with their own special-brewed 11, 12, and 13 degree beers. But we had just been there recently.

U Pinkasu? Good, but too far. An arduous seven to nine minute walk, depending on the foot traffic. I haven't always enjoyed my food there, either.

In the end, we picked Bredovský dvůr (Breda's Court), one block over from Wenceslas Square. This is a very popular place, with mostly Czech customers, I'd say. It's also why I don't go so often. The restaurant is usually full at prime times.

Bredovský dvůr has a stylish interior, with exposed brick traveling up the walls and continuing to form the arched ceiling. Framed football jerseys hang on the walls. The lighting has an artistic flair.

The same style continues over at the small, narrow bar area, which you have to pass on the way to the rear dining room. There are only a few stools, so it is not the best place for a group to hang out and drink.But the green glow behind the bar is really what the place is all about. Bredovský dvůr is a tankovna, or tank pub. Behind the bar, they have fresh, unpasteurized Pilsner Urquell.The restaurant's website says (in Czech) that "the Pilsner only travels 3 meters between tank and tap (true beer aficionados know what that means)" and then "Thanks to its unique tap system, the beer never comes into contact with air, oxygen, or any other gas, preserving its exceptional taste."

Yes, this is very good beer. They sell it for 32 CZK. I realized how much I love a fresh Pilsner Urquell after a number of trips back to the United States. Every beer I drank, even special microbrews lacked serious character and tasted totally bland in comparison. I missed that bitter kick. Even the Pilsner Urquell I had on tap in Manhattan was flat, stale, and not cold enough.

Only the real deal will do for me now.

I do dream about food, but Czech cuisine is not the food of my dreams. That said, I do enjoy it from time to time. A popular Czech specialty is pork knee (pečené vepřové koleno s kostí). V ordered one for 185 CZK.

It comes on a metal spit, held up by wrought iron over a cutting board. There is mustard, horse radish, and cold sauerkraut. V liked it. There was a lot of good meat on it. The pork was tender and juicy. Sometimes koleno can be extremely fatty, but this one was fine, meaning moderately fatty.

She also ordered something that was basically fried potato pancake batter (bramborové strapačky) for 85 CZK.They were sort of like fried potato pancake fingers and came with warm, sweet red and white cabbage. V thought they would be more a traditional Czech style and didn't like them so much. But I have a weakness for anything fried into finger shapes. I thought they were well-seasoned and tasty. I loved the sweet cabbage.

The restaurant's menu is available on line and has both Czech and English.

A-man got the pork ribs (Pečená vepřová žebírka v medu), also for 185 CZK. They had a honey glaze, which gave them a slightly sweet-salty exterior. They came with the same condiments as the koleno. A-man said he liked them a lot because the big ribs still had pork skin and a fair amount of fat left on them. Others may have different tastes. I had a non-fatty piece, and it was good.

A-man and V both got bread which cost 16 CZK. A glass of white wine was 50 CZK. Tartar sauce was 30 CZK.

At this point, I'll mention the service. Slow, like usual. This is another crowd-related issue that keeps me from coming too regularly.

It took a while before our waitress came over. She got our drinks, then disappeared. Literally. At a certain point, I saw her walking out the front door. Her shift was over. Not even a wave goodbye.

Eventually, a waiter with a few too many tables took over our table and the meal continued.

On balance, despite a few problems, helped by low expectations regarding service, we were reasonably satisfied.

I went back another time with some friends, and we sat in the outdoor section in the courtyard. This is almost always full, as well, and we were lucky a table opened just as we were about to give up.
There are some interesting people watching opportunities, with a glitzy beauty salon and cafe-bar across the courtyard. Women with aluminum foil in their hair sit at small table sipping drinks.

On this day, I was with two people who felt the need to order, shall we say, outside the box. Mr. B got the salmon for 185 CZK. It came with a mixture of pineapple, bacon, and onions. He said that this was the best part. The fish itself was.. Fishy. Not so good. He had rice on the side for 30 CZK.Mr. S ordered the fusilli pasta with chicken for 125 CZK. The menu says it has peas, carrots, leaks, ginger, soy sauce, and vermouth.

I asked him a few days later what he thought of the dish, since I forgot to ask him on the spot. He said it was "unmemorable." A fair and true assessment. He couldn't remember anything about it. Not something I would order.

A Slovak colleague heard me talking about this restaurant, and she told me she was very disappointed with their treatment of the Slovak national dish, halušky (125 CZK).

She explained that the little flour and potato dumplings, similar to Italian gnocchi, were the wrong shape, the Bryndza cheese did not taste right, and the pieces of bacon were too big and not cooked enough.

So, do not judge all halušky by this halušky. It is apparently something close to an insult to the Slovak nation.

My feeling on Bredovský dvůr is that the beer is worth the wait if you can walk in and get a table. And if you are hungry, be smart and get the stupid pig.

Bredovský dvůr
Politických vězňů 13
Prague 1

Tel. (+420)224 215 428

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Louka Lu

*Update: This restaurant has dropped the "o" from its name and is now called Luka Lu

"All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better."

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

I love discovering and trying new restaurants. Of course, there are risks. But, the benefits of dining on the razor's edge far outweigh the disappointments.

Recently, we got a tip that a Balkan restaurant had just opened in Malá Strana. We strapped on our dining gear and headed over.

Louka Lu is on Újezd, and has four tables out in front. It does get a bit noisy there with all the trams going by on this busy route. But, there were big sunflowers outside that added to the good feeling on a sunny Saturday.

Inside, they've completely done over the space, with bright colors on the walls, interesting decorative tiles on the floors, and all new furniture and table settings. I believe it used to be occupied by a standard Czech pub.

There area also a number of whimsical touches, like a pastel-painted little table, chair, and lamp attached to the ceiling. There is also a mini faux terrace above the dining area with little chairs on it. It was a little too cute and doll house-like for me, but it is easy enough to not look up.

They bring good bread along with very intense black and green olives. On the side, there is a cheese similar to American cream cheese or Czech lučina. It is a nice alternative to butter.

For a starter, I ordered the prosciutto and melon for 150 CZK. The prosciutto was moist and tender and the cantaloupe was the sweetest I've had in a very long time. This refreshing dish is often spoiled by unripe melon. Not here. If they can keep up the melon quality in winter, I'd order it more often. I love the contrast between sweet and salty.

V got the grilled peppers with garlic and oil for 90 CZK. Served cold, this is another good summer appetizer. We liked it, but thought it could use a shot of vinegar. They weren't quite tart enough for our us. There is balsamic vinegar on the table that I liked very much. It is syrupy and on the sweet side.
For a main course, I had the grilled calamari for 220 CZK. They were small, but fresh and tender, and there are about a dozen on the plate. There is also an olive oil, herb, and garlic dip, and a lemon wedge with a convenient metal squeezer.
The waitress told us they were cooked on a lava grill, but I did wish there was a little more of a smoky flavor. I liked them a lot, but thought they were on the bland side. The olive oil didn't quite jazz it up enough for me, and there was only one small lemon wedge. So, I put a shot of the balsamic on the side of my plate. A little dip in there was exactly what I was looking for.

Another nice touch was the cherry tomatoes on the side. They were left on the vine and lightly grilled so that they were slightly blackened on the bottom. The tomatoes also softened up and had great flavor.

I also thought it was interesting that items like potatoes are not included with main course, but the waitress did not suggest or press that we order any. As it was, I was didn't want anything, but I thought it could slip by you if you are not paying attention. If you want a side with your main course, it is up to you to order it.

V ordered the seafood mixed grill. It came with crayfish, prawns, and calamari. They seemed to pick up more of the flavor from the grill.

The plate also had the grilled tomatoes, olive oil mixture, and lemon wedge on the side. The waitress brought a finger bowl for cleaning up.

They didn't have Mattoni or other Czech choices for sparkling water, so we had two .75 liter bottles of Perrier at 95 CZK a pop. V
ordered the house red wine, which was 50 CZK a glass. She said it was very good. I forgot to ask if it was Croatian.

Finally, we really enjoyed the Croatian music they played over the sound system. There were several different styles, from classic folk songs to more stylish, jazz influenced tunes.

When we are wandering in the area and spontaneously looking for something to eat, we almost always end up at Cafe Savoy. This particular area of Malá Strana has a handful of other decent restaurants, but it is not exactly overflowing with quality, mid-range choices.

It's not exceptional, but we like Louka Lu. I think a few Praguers and out-of-town visitors will, too. I don't know if we'll make regular plans to go, but when we are in the neighborhood, I'm sure we'll be experimenting there again.

Louka Lu
Újezd 33
Prague 1
Tel. (+420) 257 212 388

For another perspective, you can read The Prague Post's review of the same restaurant, written a month after this post.

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Fraktal - Brunch

I have written about Fraktal before. They do have pretty good hamburgers. But what I really like most is their Saturday-Sunday brunch menu.

And what I like most specifically about their brunch is their "breakfast enchilada." It doesn't seem to fit the classic definition of an enchilada -- no corn tortilla -- but I won't quibble.
The menu says it is a flour tortilla, filled with scrambled eggs, spicy klobasa, and sofrito. The "klobasa" had nice flavor, but was a little hot dog-like in consistency. Sofrito is usually chopped onions, pepper, and tomatoes, but I had a hard time seeing some on the inside. The menu says there is melted cheese, salsa, cilantro, and crème fraiche on the outside. I think there is a little enchilada sauce hidden under there.

In the end, I really don't know. It was early and it is very, very dark in there. Anyway, it doesn't matter. These are not complaints, just minor confusions.

I love this breakfast -- Real comfort food that reminds me of a restorative morning meal I once had in Ensenada. Or was it lunch in Rosarita Beach? Again, I don't really know, but I do know that Fraktal's dish also comes with black beans and rice and costs 150 CZK.

You can only order from the brunch menu during brunch hours on the weekend from 11:00-15:30, and it slants strongly toward Mexican-style dishes.

Another offering is huevos rancheros for 125 CZK. The menu says it has "Two fried eggs, melted cheese, Cuban-style black beans, cilantro, crème fraiche, salsa, and shredded lettuce served on a grilled flour tortilla."

It has a lot of similar components to the breakfast enchilada, but I could do without the lettuce, myself.

If you want to go non-Mexican, there is the Pipérade Omelette for 130 CZK. This is a "three-egg omelette with Pipérade (a traditional Basque vegetable blend with onions, peppers, fresh tomatoes and bacon sautéed in olive oil."It comes with homemade garlic mashed potatoes and a small salad.

For the vegetarians, there is the "Big Salad" for 115 CZK. It is a tossed green salad with feta cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers and grilled vegetables. It is served with goat cheese crostini and Balsamic mustard vinaigrette. V said it was just OK.

They also do steak and eggs (135 CZK), corn muffin and eggs (90 CZK), crepes with fruit (115 CZK), scrambled eggs and bacon with mashed potatoes, tossed salad, and a grilled tomato (115 CZK), and a club sandwich (95 CZK).

You can see the whole brunch menu online here.

Did I mention it is dark inside? This subterranean space is a popular bar and hangout, especially for expats. It can pull in the crowds at night.

During the day, there is mininal lighting, and even with small windows, it is hard to see your food in some areas. V didn't like eating in such dim light.

Fraktal is something of a labyrinth and there are a few back rooms where you can disappear. But they are big enough that they could handle a big group of around 12 of my friends.

There is also the bar area up front, which has a few tables. For some, after a long night, the lack of any harsh glare could be a good thing.

However, if you want bright light and fresh air, you can try to score one of the few outdoor tables on the street. I've said before, Prague is not a big breakfast town. But when I'm hungering for big meal on a weekend morning, Fraktal is one of the few places I can go that satisfies.

Fraktal Bar Restaurace
Šmeralova 1
Prague 7
Tel. (+420) 777 794 094

You can read an earlier post on Fraktal's hamburger here.

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Friday, July 20, 2007

Picante (Closed)

"Men of the South! It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees!"
- Emiliano Zapata (1879-1919)
R.I.P. Picante

I'd heard the complaints about the fluctuating prices. I'd heard the complaints about fluctuating quality. I could even do some complaining myself.
But now, with the news of Picante's demise, I'm left with a burning hole in my heart rather than my wallet or stomach.

Say what you want about this so-called "Fresh-Mex" joint, it was open late and had a central location off Náměstí Republiky, not far from Old Town Square.

When drinking heavily in the area, it was the fast food place to stumble into and fill up on quesadillas or burritos before heading home.

Sure, I only ended up there a few times a year. But it was good to know it was there when I needed it. I have some warm, but foggy memories of the place.

The grapevine speculates that Picante was done in by some of the negative factors mentioned earlier, but also that this small shop had the misfortune of being located next to one of Prague's biggest construction projects, The Palladium shopping mall.

Tram service was cut off for a long period of time, and sidewalks and streets were blocked off, as well.

And now they are dead. Via con dios, muchachos!

Restaurant In Peace

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Riegrovy Sady Beer Garden

Prague is full of beer gardens, great and small.

In the great category, there are two that divide the loyalties of Praguers and expats who love outdoor drinking, hot summer socializing, watching internationally televised sporting events, and observing lightly clad men and women partaking in all of the above.

First, there is Letenský zámeček, which was written up in an earlier post. And then there is the Riergrovy sady beer garden.

The park (sady) is not far from Wenceslas Square. I went through the entrance on Italská and passed the statue of Mr. František Ladislav Rieger, a 19th century Czech politician. The park was completed in 1908.

From this entrance, there is a bit of a hill to walk up, but as you get to the top, there are some great views of the city, including the back of the National Museum and, off in the distance, Prague Castle.

There are some nice gardens, and benches line the paths through the park. These often fill up later in the evening with people who want a break from the beer garden to chill out or make out.

The entrance to the beer garden itself doesn't really have any big, clear sign saying "Riegrovy Sady Beer Garden." You enter under a sign, written in Czech, saying dogs must be on a leash. The sign is sponsored by Coke.

Inside, you dive into a veritable sea of humanity, a few hundred people, sitting at long tables with benches. The prime activity is beer drinking. It is self-service only, though they do have people who come around and pick up the empties.

I was shocked! shocked! to discover the strong and pungent smell of marijuana wafting through the air. This is a common feature of large Prague beer gardens.

For smokers and nonsmokers alike, the most popular beer choice here appears to be Gambrinus, which is 25 CZK for a half liter. People line up at the shack devoted to dispensing only this beverage. The line waxes and wanes, but it can grow quite long. If you buy multiple beers, they'll often give you a tray for carrying the beers back to your table.

They do serve half-liters of Pilsner Urquell at a different shack for 36 CZK. It is the one with the big Heineken sign, which comes in bottles, and a much smaller Pilsner sign. For some reason, the line here was short for most of the night. It did get long around 10 pm, though.
At this window, it is possible you will get the topless server with the enormous chest. You may find this titillating if you like men who spend a lot of time lifting weights.

This shack also serves cocktails that start at 80 CZK, served in a plastic cup. They have a Long Island Ice Tea for 160 CZK. I once tasted one that someone else ordered. My verdict: Strong, but not recommended if taste and drinkability are important to you. You can also get soft drinks here.

But alcohol is not the only form of entertainment. There is also a large screen and projector television for showing sporting events. If there is a big football match on, this is when you will see the garden at its most crowded. They also have a couple of foosball tables.

There are a few kinds of food available on a self-service basis. The main choice is sausage (klobasa), which sell for 35 CZK. They have the white kind or the red/black kind.My friend, Crazy A, got both. He said the dark one was very fatty. He said the white one was undercooked. He also told me that he felt pretty bad the next morning, but it's hard to know for sure if his dinner was the cause.

Grease is the word

The shack that sells the sausage also has light snacks like nuts and potato chips (crisps).

If the alcohol, sporting events, lightly seared pork, and fine conversation with your friends is not entertaining enough for you, there is always just people watching.You are being watched

Want to see the Czech Please Riegrovy Sady music video? Click here.

Not sure where it is? Check out this map.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Ristorante Rialto - Brno

This rather ordinary looking building, not far from the center of Brno, is actually quite special. There are two reasons for that.

First, in the 1970s, it housed the maternity hospital where V was born.

Second, it is now the home of Ristorante Rialto, which prepared the best meal we have ever had in Brno.

The dining room is nicely done, with tasteful furniture, exposed wood beams, and hardwood floors. But it is not super fancy.

Little, except perhaps the small parking garage in the back, remains to remind one of its former incarnation.

There is also a very pleasant outdoor seating area. It has a wooden deck lined with plants and different styled chairs.

We went for a weekend lunch, and it was almost a bit too hot under the awning. But, lucky for us, the sun ducked behind some clouds and a breeze picked up.

The deck looks out on a garden with beautiful plants and a lush, green lawn. The back of the restaurant looks out on a residential area with a number of villas.

There is also a more primitive garden next door with an apricot tree in the middle. This is V's kind of garden.

Only two other tables were occupied, so we had a very quiet, peaceful time, and practically the full attention of our friendly and efficient waiter.

The meal started with a nice bread basket with three kinds of bread - dark, French, and a rustic country white. All were fresh and crusty.

We received a bottle containing both oil and balsamic vinegar, which could be dispensed with an atomizer spray pump at the top. The only problem here was we did not get bread plates, so there was no convenient way to combine the olive oil and bread.

Then came an amuse bouche of salmon mousse terrine with chunks of salmon, bitter red leaf lettuce, and a little balsamic. It was a light, refreshing start on a hot day, though nothing too special.

If you are wondering why all the food photos have a bit of an orange tint, it is because the sunlight was filtering through the colored awning overhead.

For a starter, I wanted to keep things light and cool, so I ordered the pickled rolls from aubergine (eggplant) stuffed with goat cheese mousse (Nakládané rolky z lilku plněné pěnou z kozího sýru) for 160 CZK.

The three eggplant and goat cheese rolls sat on leaves of crisp endive. I wish there were more. They were two bites each. In the middle of the plate was a salad with more of those red leaves, with shaved Parmesan and a light dressing. On the side were sprigs of rosemary and fresh parsley.

V got the seared scallops on a skewer with limes, zucchini basket, and tomato risotto (Špíz z mušlí Svatého Jakuba a limetek s cuketovým košíčkem a tomatovým rizotem) for 330 CZK.
The scallops were perfectly cooked and tasted great. Again, we wished there were more than two, but quality over quantity is a pretty consistent feature of the fine dining circuit. The zucchini was cut spaghetti style, sitting in a thin flour-based shell. I really liked the risotto -- it had a very strong essence of tomato.

As a main course, I had the roast shrimp "Aglio olio" with cuttlefish ink risotto (Pečené krevety "aglio olio" se sépiovým rizotem nebo bylinkovou rýží) for 590 CZK. Rice with herbs can be substituted for the risotto.
The shrimp were cooked just right. The outer crusts of the shrimp were golden-orange and slightly al dente. But the inner portions of the meat were very tender.

The risotto was delicious, especially after I squeezed some of my lemon over it. It was also slightly al dente, and had a very light amount of cuttlefish ink -- no black teeth. It had a complex flavor and I thought, for a moment, it was mixed with cheese, but the waiter assured me it was cream. A touch of wine perhaps?

V ordered the mixed salad with chicory shrimp and calamari (Míchaný salát s čekankou, krevetami a kalamáry) for 250 CZK. She loved it.It came with three warm shrimp, along with grilled calamari rings. V was glad the seafood was served warm, as it always bothers her when hot food is placed on top of cold lettuce, causing it to wilt. It had a dressing similar to the earlier appetizer salad. There was a mix of several kinds of leaves and endive. She thought this dish was the best value for money.

We decided to go for broke and share a dessert. For some reason, I have a craving for anything with ricotta cheese, so I ordered the "mousse from ricotti au gratin with lemon cream in pistachio sauce" (Mousse z ricotti gratinovaná citronovým krémem na pistáciové omáčce) for 150 CZK. I meant to tell the waiter we would share the dessert, but I mistakenly said "Na půl, prosim" (pronounced "nah pool, pro-seem"), which actually means "split in half, please."

The dessert took a long time to arrive. When it did, the waiter explained that the conscientious chef tried to split it evenly in half, but it did not stand up well to cutting, so he had to make a second one. I felt a little guilty, but appreciated how much he cared about making us happy.

It was worth the wait. I've never had a dessert quite like this one. It really wasn't so much like a mousse. It was denser. The sweet ricotta was studded throughout with pistachios. It was topped with a lemon glaze that was slightly browned like a crème brûlée.

On the side, there was an essentially unsweetened green puree of pistachio. It was fairly intense by itself, but dabbed on a fork full of ricotta, it was perfect. The fresh but somewhat tart fruit also made for a great combination. There was a piece of chocolate on top. It lacked the required intensity, but I was more than happy with everything else.

We want to try the other desserts next time, but wonder how we will be able to avoid ordering our first love.

For drinks we had Mattoni sparkling mineral water for 30 CZK, .25 liter bottles of San Pellegrino still water for 40 CZK, and V had a couple of .2 liter glasses of a very nice 2003 Moravian Riesling from Mikros, I think, for 120 CZK. No beer for me, I was driving.

There was also a cover charge of 30 CZK a person.

Look, this was an expensive lunch. The total bill came to 2100 CZK with tip. Is it worth the money? I can only say that we really enjoyed our meal - the food, the atmosphere, the service - and we left for our trip to Macocha with smiles on our faces. That's worth a lot to us.

I'd say we enjoyed this meal more and paid a lot less for it than our last meal at Kampa Park. Ristorante Rialto compares favorably with the best Prague has to offer.

With the prices as high as they are, we won't be visiting every time we are in Brno. We still have our second favorite place for quality dining in the city, Brabander, which is quite a lot cheaper. But we are already trying to think of special occasions, so we can go back and try other dishes.

Given the history of the building, V's birthday in December would certainly be appropriate. I just don't think we can wait that long.

Ristorante Rialto
Veveří 125
616 00 Brno, Czech Republic

Tel. (+420) 541 235 035, 541 235 040
Monday - Saturday, from 11.30 to 24.00
Sunday, from 11.30 to 15.00

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