Thursday, December 27, 2007

Restaurant U Emy Destinnové

"Being in therapy is great. I spend an hour just talking about myself. It's kinda like being the guy on a date."

Caroline Rhea, actress
For a comment like this to be funny, it has to be a widely-shared, common experience that resonates with an audience.

But everybody knows that your abilities to show curiosity, listen, and talk briefly but entertainingly about yourself are key to a good dinner date.


And with all due respect to Ms. Rhea, these truths are self-evident for both men and women.

In addition, everybody knows that another important factor is where you decide to eat.

The newly revamped Restaurant U Emy Destinnové, while not perfect, is the kind of place I'd recommend for an intimate tête-à-tête over a meal.

It's walkable from Wenceslas Square, in a space below street level and used to be known as JB Club. You'll see the small bar area when you first walk in. It is not a big place.
The lighting is kept very low -- so low that it is hard to read the menus -- so flash photography doesn't do much justice to the atmosphere.In the back area of the dining room, you can have your meal on cozy couches and arm chairs, should you so desire.I can't say we loved the style of the coverings on close inspection, but it was really dark and I think few people but me would notice.

In the rest of the dining room and in a smaller back room, there are conventional wooden chairs and some nice touches like a grandfather clock.

One of the big attractions during winter is a real, well-stoked, working fireplace in the middle of the room. We sat right in front of the flames. I was the closest and did get a little too warm, but V loved it.

The website advertised live piano music on Wednesday and Thursday nights, but we were there on a Friday and their player was there, tickling the keys.

He played jazzy versions of "The Girl From Ipanema," "I Just Called to Say I Love You," and the theme from "Forrest Gump."

Whether you find this type of music appealing is a consideration, but I will say that V has a very soft spot in her heart for "Forrest Gump," so you never know what might work for you.

When I first read the menu on the internet, a number of items caught my attention, as well as the fact that the chef is American. The cuisine is basic international. Some rave reviews on Internet discussion boards helped convince me to give the restaurant a try.

We started with grilled eggplant stuffed with roasted peppers and goat cheese over tomato butter (95 CZK). We both liked this, especially the price.The warm goat cheese oozes out onto the plate and can be mixed with pesto and balsamic syrup that is drizzled there. The dish is topped with a sprig of basil. Everything on the place works well together.

The small Caesar salad (75 CZK) worked less well. It was too lightly dressed -- I could hardly taste the dressing at all. What I could taste of it didn't seem like a classic Caesar dressing to me.I thought the Romaine lettuce leaves were torn into pieces that were too small.

I like the big pieces of shaved Parmesan. The croutons were nice, though -- served warm and with a strong anchovy flavor.

For a main course, V got the pork tenderloin with a horseradish crust and apples under a Gorgonzola sauce (215 CZK). This was a winner.The pork tenderloin was very tender and the crust was nice and crunch. Neither of us could detect any horseradish flavor in it, but we still liked it. The Gorgonzola sauce was creamy, salty, delicious, and comforting and the sweet, fresh apples were a nice counterpoint.

V got a side order of very fresh green asparagus (60 CZK). There was sliced garlic on top. It went well with the dish.

Presentation could have been better -- it all tasted better than it looked. The non-headlining salad dominated the plate.

I ordered the black sesame crusted tuna served with wasabi pesto and ginger soy vinaigrette (330 CZK). For a side, I had the rosemary potatoes (40 CZK).I liked the tuna, but didn't love it. My reason for this requires some explanation.

When I order tuna, I only like it very rare. I've had problems with getting my tuna seared rare almost every time I've ordered it in Prague. Even at Kampa Park.

So, I went through my routine with the waiter, telling him I wanted it "very rare" using the Czech word for red, and saying I wanted it "like sushi."

When it came out of the kitchen, the tuna was cooked almost all the way through. Around the edges, it was all white, but toward the middle, it was pink, not red.

It was a fairly small piece of tuna and also pretty thin, so cooking it rare would require just the briefest of searing.

I thought about sending it back, as I did at Kampa Park. But I had a taste and it was still pretty good. I certainly would have enjoyed it more if it had been done the way I liked, but the sesame and soy flavors were very nicely balanced and made up for a sin or two.

I do like wasabi very much and could see it drizzled on top, but couldn't taste much of it.

For dessert, I had a special of the day, what they called a "brownie." It was not a brownie in any classical sense. It was a nice, crunchy, chewy, small chocolate dessert, around 100 CZK, I think.

The "brownie" was chock full of walnuts. I liked it, but thought it was missing something. It might have been better if served warm instead of cold of perhaps with a little vanilla ice cream.

V got raspberry Port wine sorbet (99 CZK). It was a decent raspberry sorbet, but also nothing special. We really couldn't taste the Port wine at all.

V had a few glasses of Moranian wine (55 CZK each) and I had some .3 liter glasses of Pilsner Urquell (35 CZK each). We also had a few bottles of Mattoni sparkling water (40 CZK).

The final bill was around 1200 CZK, which we thought was a good deal considering we both had three courses and a few drinks. With a lot of main course in the 200-300 CZK range, the restaurant was quite a bargain compared with a lot of similar offerings around town.

Some dishes were better than others, but I would like to go back and try a few other items on the menu.

I'd say Restaurant U Emy Destinnové would be a good option for Valentine's Day, which is just around the corner.

Since I introduced her to this new place, V wanted to return the favor.

She took me down the street for a shot of Becherovka at a smoky neighborhood pub called Uterus.

If you can think of a more romantic end to a date, I'd like to know.

Restaurant U Emy Destinnové
Kateřinská 7
Prague 2
Tel. (+420) 224 918 425

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