Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Palladium Mall

"I want to explore the world. I want to watch TV in a different time zone. I want to visit strange, exotic malls. I want to live, Marge! Won't you let me live?"

-Homer Simpson

A strange, exotic mall has opened in the center of Prague.The Palladium mall is certainly big. It is certainly an eye-popping architectural expression of modern design, a vast amalgam of concrete, escalators, and glass.People will argue about whether this is a great addition to the Czech capital. Or a tragedy.

Does Prague need more H&Ms, C&As, and Marks & Spencers? That's a debate for another time and place.

I'm here to talk about food and drink.

So, after you walk into the Palladium, hop on one of those escalators. And then another one. And then another one.

And they are not all next to each other, so you have to do some walking. Past some shops, of course.

The top floor of the Palladium is where you will find the restaurants and most of the food. I hesitate to call it a food court.

The Palladium website calls it "Patro Gurmán," meaning Gourmet Floor.

For the most part, these are not fast-food places. In fact, you will have a hard time finding a cheap meal at this high altitude.

There are mostly a lot of sit-down restaurants with ambitious aspirations. And at many, you will pay fancy, sit-down restaurant prices. I saw more than a few main courses in the 300 CZK range and full meals at many restaurants could easily hit the 500 CZK mark.

Here's an exhaustive and exhausting tour of what you will find.

At the top of the escalator is Tretter's Cafe. This is an outpost of the trendy and expensive Old Town cocktail bar.
This Tretter's is for people who have graduated from the original bar's pickup scene. There is actually a small play area for children.

If drinks and coffee at Tretter's feel too upmarket for you, then head over to Harley's Cafe Bar.This is a miniature, mall version of the subterranean den of late-night drunken dancing on Dlouhá. But something tells me they will be serving more cappuccinos than caipirnhas. And I believe they'll have much less dancing.

There is another place for coffee and cakes called Daylong Cafe. At the back, it has a disco, but I walked by once in the evening, and it was packed with teenagers.The main decorative features here seem to be blue lighting and crudely cut sticks lined up around the cafe.

There is a fancy buffet restaurant called Taste the World.

It has a salad bar where you can serve yourself, a grill station, a pasta station, a bread station, and a dessert station.

The salad bar had a lot of different offerings, not just basic stuff, and wasn't too expensive. But I wouldn't eat it. I know they've just opened, but the lettuce and rucola was sadly wilted when I was there.

The grill station offered a pork steak for 199 CZK and included potatoes or grilled vegetables. A beef steak was 249 CZK. The dessert station said the sweets were "homemade." In a mall? Seemed like they were playing a little fast and loose with the term. All the cakes looked a little too uniform and perfect.

Anyway, you throw in a dessert and a drink here, along with your grilled meat, you are looking at a pretty substantial tab.

There always seemed to be big lines at a place called L.A. Finger Food. This was probably because it is one of the cheapest outlets, making a variety of fried items, sandwiches, and wraps.The line at the counter was also probably a result of the fact that only one or two people seemed be putting together the food for everyone.

A little further along, there is a Mediterranean restaurant called Uno.I had a brief look at the menu. It was a fairly short document, and not too much jumped out at me.

There is an Indian restaurant called Chanchala.It is fairly small inside, but like many places, there is more seating out in front amid the crowds.

Amid white, hanging curtains is a restaurant called El Emir, which serves Middle Eastern cuisine.Lamb is a specialty here. So are some fairy high prices, with some over 300 CZK . But there are a few sandwich/wraps that are more affordable.

An Italian place called La Piazzetta looked quite popular.Most of the menu is devoted to pizza, but there are also a few pasta dishes and other Italian basic choices.

There is an Uruguayan steak house called Las Ruinas. The restaurant looks like something you might find at Disneyland.Angry, stone-faced gods stare down from the walls, demanding that you eat your meat.

The steak prices don't look too crazy at first, especially for imported beef. But I noticed that almost everything from the sides to the sauces have to be ordered separately, and they are not cheap.

A full meal will cost you mucho dinero.

Las Ruinas may also have some potential competition nearby. There is an Angus Burger-Angus Grillhouse just a few meters away.

Despite the name, this appears to be a Czech owned and operated establishment. The website links to a Pension - Angus Farm and Steakhouse in Nepomuk and the Aberdeen Angus Steakhouse in Plzeň.

For seafood, you can drop in on Nordsee. I noticed a wider variety of offerings than I'd seen at the Nordsee at Flora mall.Many items here are sold by weight, so it is another place where things can get expensive fast. V saw a man with a small tray of food pay 500 CZK. I saw a plate of lobster tails that cost much more than that.

The Asian restaurant Makakiko was quite popular. I'd attribute this the fact that it offers a fair number of Thai, Japanese, and Chinese style meals for 100-200 CZK.There are dishes like chicken teriyaki, red curry chicken with coconut milk, and fried rice or noodles.

There is also sushi. A single piece of salmon nigiri is 55 CZK. There is not a wide selection.

I tried a couple of hot main courses. It was decent food, but nothing too special. Just know that the take-away box they gave me was leaky.

If you decide to eat in, there is a quite a view from Makakiko's mall-side tables.I ate there once already. The service was frustratingly slow. I discovered that one reason for this was that my food was freshly prepared. So, I relaxed a bit. However, getting the bill was an ordeal.

There is an eye-catching conveyor belt sending hot and cold items around the restaurant. It is 298 CZK for all you can eat at lunch, 398 CZK for dinner.

You cannot eat a la carte from here, which confused at least one person I saw. I looked carefully at the various items on the belt and, honestly, it didn't look worth it to me.

If all these international choices get your head spinning, and you don't know where you are anymore, Kasárna might remind you. This restaurant and pub serves actual Czech food.There are classic dishes like pork knee (koleno), and the prices are a bit more reasonable than other restaurants in the mall. They serve Staropramen, Stella Artois, and Hoegaarden.

But there is more to the food and drink at the Palladium than just the top level. If you are having a caffeine withdrawal crisis, a cup of coffee will always be a few steps away. There is Fashion Cafe, Face Cafe, and Taboo Cafe.

The only one that mildly interested me was the Yessi Cafe.This is a mini version of a place with the same name just down the street on V Celnici.I like that place because it has sandwiches made-to-order with lots of really nice ingredients to choose from. The one in the mall has some decent looking sandwiches, but no made-to-order option. Too bad.

There are a few places worth noting at the very bottom level of the mall.

Au Gourmand is a French bakery and pastry shop that is connected to the place with the same name on Dlouhá.There were lots of nice looking cakes, croissants, quiches, salads, and sandwiches.I'd say this would be a favorite place to go, except the prices are pretty steep. I lusted after a piece of Black Forest cake, but the 98 CZK price tag put me off.I did notice later that the cake is the same price at the Dlouhá shop. For comparison, a slice of fancy cake at the Half & Half shop on Wenceslas Square goes for 60-70 CZK.

There is small a wine and spirits shop. The limited selection of wines tended to be on the expensive side.What caught my attention here was the large selection of single malt scotch whiskeys that took up one whole wall. There were several varieties of Macallan, Lagavulin, Talisker, and Glenmorangie, just to name just a few.

Fresh fish are not the easiest commodity to find in Prague, and I saw a pretty nice-looking fishmonger in the Palladium's bottom floorIt's called Seafood Shop. The fish I saw there were very clear-eyed, indicating freshness. There were also clams, mussels, and a variety of oysters. Some were 60 CZK each.The shop was also selling meats like a whole rack of lamb.

For somewhat more pedestrian tastes, there is Centrum Delikates.Here, you'll find your hams, salamis, sausages, salads, cheese, chlebíčky, which are Czech open-faced sandwiches.

Finally, there is an Albert supermarket on this level. Albert is not my favorite chain in the city, but it will do in a pinch if I need to pick up some basics.

When you are all done shopping, you can easily jump on the metro to get home. The Náměstí Republiky metro station for the B Line is right under the mall. Plenty of trams stop nearby

But I figure a few people who eat at the Palladium will have their driver fetch them out front with the limo.

The Gulfstream V and exotic malls await.

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Monday, October 29, 2007

U malé velryby (Little Whale)

"Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana."
-Groucho Marx
Speaking of time, another birthday has passed. That's not a surprise.

But my party was.

V organized a special dinner and invited a bunch of friends to U malé velryby (Little Whale), a new restaurant at Maltézské náměstí in Malá Strana. It opened just a few months ago.

This is a very small, cool place. So small, in fact, that we took over the whole restaurant for the evening. There are only about eight tables.Because of the location, the restaurant often pulls in tourists and people working at nearby embassies. I think the often-high quality and reasonable prices will keep its few seats full for the foreseeable future.

It has an "open" kitchen. This is not an über-cool, modern design concept. This is just a very small space for a restaurant, and the kitchen opens right into the dining room.

It gives Little Whale a homey, intimate feeling -- like you are eating next to the kitchen at a friend's house.

And the Irish chef and owner, Jason, is quite a friendly guy. He's often hard at work, but he'll also be out and about, talking to diners, describing and explaining the food.

For the party, V had pre-ordered some tapas and starters from the restaurant's short menu. As friends arrived, they had something to chew on as they began talking by the bar.

The calamari ceviche was my favorite (45 CZK). It was marinated with chili, ginger, and lime. The slices of squid were served warm.

I also liked the creamy duck rillette with onion jam (45 CZK), the very sour marinated white anchovies (35 CZK), and the roasted red peppers with pesto on fried polenta (35 CZK).There were plenty of other choices.

We had black olive tapenade (35 CZK), which I didn't get a picture of, but it had big chunks of mushrooms mixed in.

Inhouse toasted almonds come with black olives (35 CZK). The nuts had a very nice flavor, but were a little on the oily side.

And there was cold, rare roast beef wrapped around green beans with sesame (45 CZK) and a special appetizer of salmon pate on bread with a sweet pickle.

V is a big lamb fan, so she ordered one portion of the seared lamb fillet with green beans, feta cheese, and pesto (115 CZK).

I had half of this dish and it really was outstanding. V agreed. She knows she will have this again.

We finally sat down for dinner pretty late. I order a special, the venison with roasted butternut squash and mixed herbs.

The meat was very rare, very tender, and not gamey. In fact, it did not have a strong venison flavor at all. The meat could have been mistaken for beef if you weren't paying attention. But I very much enjoyed it.The butternut squash was served fairly plain, with basically its slight, natural sweetness. The mixed herbs on the plate were very salty. I opted for dabbing the meat with some really nice, spicy and sweet red chili sauce that I found on the table.

V absolutely loved her crab papperdelle (295 CZK). This dish was made with real king crab meat, fresh pasta, lemon, and crushed pepper.The amount of pasta was not very large and, generally, main courses are not full meals by themselves. The final bill can climb when you add sides and starters, but I thought the prices were more than fair.

Anyway, it was an real extra pleasure to eat the generous portion of real crab meat, after so often seeing imitation "krab" in so many so-called crab dishes in Prague.

On an earlier visit, I enjoyed the char-grilled sirloin steak with onion tarte tatin with cherry and red wine sauce (315 CZK). I was wishing for more of the sauce on the side.The tart was a nice touch and quite good, but the plate looked a little empty as it was. I'd recommend ordering another side dish, perhaps grilled vegetable or some potatoes.

There were a number of other main course that I saw pass by, but I didn't get a chance to try.

There was a char-grilled salmon steak with a lemon-herb crust and panzanella (tomato, cucumber, olive, and fresh basil). That was 265 CZK.

The Englishman ordered the Little Whale Seafood Pie for 265 CZK. I wish I had tried it.

Someone else got the crispy roast duck with potato-herb stuffing and apricot sauce for 285 CZK. This is another one I didn't taste, but sounded quite good.

I thought apricot would be a good combination with the duck. A fork got into it before I could get a pristine photo.On an earlier visit, V had the creamy seafood chowder with homemade brown bread (90 CZK). It was a fine soup, and left me wanting more. We'd order it again.For dessert at the end of our first visit, we had the apple tarte tatin with vanilla ice cream (85 CZK). It was not a classic version and just a few bites, but a nice little treat at the end of a meal.For the end of the birthday dinner, there was only once choice: A birthday cake. And V, knowing me, knew that it would have to be chocolate.

This is not on the menu and the chef made it just for this special evening.

It should be on the menu -- it was great.I didn't ask exactly what kind of cake it was, but the chocolate was intense, and it was very light and moist, covered with roasted nuts. It was served with a little whipped cream and fruit on the side.

Little Whale has reasonably priced wines to choose from. But all evening, I was drinking half liters of Pilsner Urquell (40 CZK).

I did have a digestive at the little bar at Jason's suggestion -- Fassbind La Vielle Poire -- a brandy with a very intense pear flavor. I can recommend it.

I'd also recommend reservations if you want to be sure to eat at U malé velryby.

Yes, in part, because it is so small.

But when you add in the decent prices for some good cooking in Malá Strana, it also means that on some nights, you could have a whale-sized problem getting a table.

I'm not talking about a little whale.

U malé velryby (Little Whale)
Maltézské náměstí 15
Prague 1

Tel. (+420) 257 214 703

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