Friday, February 15, 2008

Chez Marcel

"It was the best of times. It was the worst of times."
-Charles Dickens
This is a tale of two dinners. One was the best of dinners.

One was... I won't say the worst. But it was not good.

Both took place at Chez Marcel in Old Town.I had been several times before, but not for a few years. I remembered it as a decent French bistro, but nothing too special.

The very French looking interior was perhaps the most memorable aspect. They call it Prague's most authentic Parisian-style brasserie. The first, more recent dinner was a happy gathering of friends and a visitor from London. The Divine Miss C, The English Patient, and the VIP were all in a good mood. Carafes of house wine (235 CZK for a half-liter) helped in this respect.

TEP ordered the duck breast with mashed potatoes, drizzled with balsamic syrup (250 CZK). I thought it was the best duck I'd tasted in several years. I also thought the price was delicious.It was served rare. It was tender. The layer of fat and skin along the top had absorbed a wonderful smokiness. The balsamic added its tart sweetness.

TEP wasn't too hungry, so I ended up eating half of his dish. The mashed potatoes were just OK.

DMC and VIP both got what the menu called tuna sashimi (290 CZK). It was actually very lightly seared, with a black and white sesame crust. The fresh fish was served in six big chunks.I thought it was a generous amount of tuna for the price. As a main course, you might want to consider ordering an extra side dish.

There was a strong soy sauce in the middle of the plate for dipping. The plate also came with pieces of fresh pineapple.

I had steak tartare with frites (320 CZK). It was a good version. The chopped raw beef had a smooth texture, studded with chopped onions.It was well-seasoned by the kitchen, with just the right tang and a good balance of salt.No extra input required.

The frites were such a hit with my fellow diners that we got an extra order.

They were very hot, right out of the fryer, with a bit of salt. They all disappeared fast.

VIP and I decided we wanted dessert. He ordered the tiramisu (90 CZK).It was a cake-like version, the layers well-soaked in espresso. He's a veteran consumer of tiramisu, and he declared it very good. I agreed.

I ordered the fondant au chocolat (150 CZK). I find these hard to resist when I see them on a menu.This one disappointed me. One reason was that the outer shell of the cake itself had a rubbery texture. I'd never experienced one like that before.

The second reason was that the liquid chocolate interior didn't have a strong enough chocolate flavor. It was bland.

At the end of the meal, TEP and VIP were in such a good mood, they each declared that they would pay for the whole dinner tab. Neither would yield in their insistence.

VIP cleverly whispered to a waiter, and the bill for 2510 CZK was delivered to him.

Suddenly, a drama errupted. TEP demanded the bill. VIP refused. A foot chase around the restaurant ensued. I kid you not.

TEP threatened VIP with bodily harm. VIP laughed and dared him to try.

To make a long story short, when VIP was momentarily distracted, DMC stole the bill and handed it over to TEP.

VIP gave up the fight. And that was the end.

But I enjoyed the dinner so much, I decided I wanted to go back with V a few weeks later.

On this night, I avoided wine and drank Velkopopovický Kozel dark beer. I had one while I waited for V to meet me at the restaurant. When she arrived, she thought it was a good idea and ordered one, too.

We decided to share some appetizers and got the Assiette "Marcel" (210 CZK). This plate includes baked goat cheese, Parma ham, and red, yellow, and green marinated peppers.By themselves, the goat cheese with pesto and the ham were very salty. But when put on the fork with a piece of soft, sweet pepper, the flavors balanced out.

For a main course, V ordered one of the specials, the mussels. They came in a thick cream sauce. The mussels themselves were top quality, with firm but tender flesh. The sauce, however, was incredibly salty. The mussels were fine after the sauce had run off of them. But we tried dipping bread into the sauce, and it really was inedible.

I got the duck again, but it was not the same as my first visit. This time, it was cooked to at least medium, which gave it a drier texture and a less pleasant taste.The fowl still had the nice smokey flavor in the fat and skin, but was so much better rare.

For dessert, I ordered the profiteroles (130 CZK). V walked away for a while to make a call. She missed the arrival of the three pastry shells filled with vanilla ice cream and topped with chocolate sauce.It was not good. There was something seriously wrong with the chocolate sauce. It was very sour.

I didn't see the waiter or V for a while. I got bored, so I ended up pulling the tops of the profiteroles and eating the bottoms.

V finally came back. She tried the chocolate sauce and agreed there was a problem. The waiter came by, and we told him about it. He went to the kitchen and came back.

Something, indeed, was wrong. He said they usually use port wine in the sauce, but they had run out and tried using sherry instead. And they had used way too much.

He had tasted it in the kitchen and agreed it was bad. He offered us a different dessert, but we were full and didn't want more food.

When the bill came, it still had the profiteroles on it. It would have been nice if he had taken it off. But I had eaten about two-thirds of the dessert, so I didn't feel on solid ground to argue about it.

Looking back at these two meals, I'm amazed at how different they were. One was the most enjoyable I'd had in a while. Good atmosphere, good service, good prices, and almost all good food.

The other was a great disappointment.

Perhaps there was a revolution in the kitchen between visits. Whatever happened, I think some heads should roll.

Chez Marcel
Haštalská 12
Prague 1
Tel. (+420) 222 315 676

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Jan Čeřovský said...

I have kind of "problem" with Chez Marcel. I've been there couple times with our business partners for lunch, since it's close to our office. It was not my choice of place. Food is "decent", duck breast definitely one of the restaurant highlights, but I must agree that quality is not consistent. Also wine list is, for kind of French restaurant, very poor and prices not equal to wine quality at all. And for some reason restaurant is almost always empty or half-empty... which didn't helps atmosphere at all.

The Lone Beader® said...

I am looking forward to Prague's dark beers:)

Anonymous said...

Never been to Chez Marcel in my about 10 visits to Prague. From the photos you took, the interior looks more like a Bistro than a Brasserie.

Since duck is not my favorite dish, I may not eat there anytime soon but it's always pleasure to read your intsallments. Thanks.


Brewsta said...

Thanks Kat1. I thought a bit about the bistro/brasserie question. Their website says "all the bistro classics are here" but also calls it a "Parisen style brasserie." I guess I tried to have it both ways.

Anonymous said...

Only been once but wasn't impressed and wouldn't return in a hurry - food below average, poor wine list and was far too hot inside.

Seemed to be v. popular with ex-pats when I visited.

Anonymous said...

you may already know this, but, just to make an hypothesis of what might had happened... most rest. in Prague have two sets of "parta" , you know, short week/long week.. with different sets of cooks.. so by the look of the duck, the chef who cooked it the first time, was obviously not the same.... of course, you as a rest. owner want to have a standard set up where all the plates look and taste alike disregarding who is the cook.. although as you might have noticed is not always achieved..
good post

Anonymous said...

I went there with girlfriend on Saturday for a rather hungover lunch. Gf had the wings with honey and ginger, some French fries. I had some tagiatelle with duck and mushrooms, I think. Washed down with a couple of glasses of rose. We both thoroughly enjoyed it, but I was in the mood where I would enjoy anything, even a Big Mac. Great service though. Very attentive.

Anonymous said...

great place! loved the food great service when i visited the restaurant last summer.

Anonymous said...

Order one of the salads. The "maly" size is large enough for most people I'd imagine.