Thursday, July 31, 2008

Hospůdka Na Hradbách - Vyšehrad Beer Garden

"Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone. But if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery." Malcolm X
I called V and asked where she wanted to go for dinner. She directed me to a cemetery. Seriously.

To be more precise, she wanted to go the beer garden up at Vyšehrad.

It is very close to the cemetery of Czech heroes like Antonín Dvořák, Karel Čapek, Alfons Mucha, and Bedřich Smetana.

We met near the Congress Center at the Vyšehrad metro station and then walked through Vyšehrad's gates.This ridge is the site of a 10th century fortress that was the original Prague Castle.

We turned at the 11th century Rotunda of St. Martin and climbed the small hill.At the top is the entrance to Hospůdka Na Hradbách, otherwise known as Vyšehrad's beer garden.It was my first time at this garden of eatin'.

There are a number of other outdoor drinking and dining options inside the walls, so don't be confused. I'm sure most are more expensive and touristy.

I'd been many time to the more popular and central Letna beer garden and Riegrovy Sady beer garden.

The Vyšehrad beer garden sits in a large, weedy area at the top of one of the fortress walls. There is a small pub where you can get drinks.On this particular Saturday evening, it seemed like a local crowd with few tourists mixed in. There were a few prime tables and benches with views from the walls.In one direction, you can see part of the serpentine ramparts, the Nusle Bridge and the valley.In the other direction, you can see the Congress Center, where some conventions and concerts are held.After taking in the sights, we walked over and stood in line to order our meal.

The chalkboard menu proclaimed the shack as the "Global Gigi-Migi Gril." They had a small wood-fired grill going under there.Once we got to the counter, it was about 10 minutes before the food was ready.We went inside the small pub and waited on line at the bar to get some drinks. It can get a little chaotic and congested in there.They have most of the major liquors, along with soft drinks and bottled water.

There were a few tables inside. They were occupied by some very drunk young people.At one point, a rather well-endowed blond stood up, peeled her shirt off, and traded it for the one worn by a skinny guy sitting across from her.

I am not so familiar with this ritual outside of football matches, but found it can be rather charming in a pub setting, as well.

Sorry, no pictures.

We went outside and drank half-liters of Gambrinus draft beer (23 CZK) while we waited for the food.

They also have Pilsner Urquell (30 CZK).

There was a wider variety of food choices than the beer garden at Reigrovy Sady.

They offered a pork or chicken skewer (90 CZK), sausage (50-70 CZK), and fish (80-100 CZK).

There were also a number of different grilled vegetables.

I went with the pork neck or krkovice (80 CZK).You can select your own condiments. I chose mustard, onions, and little peppers. On top, I squeezed a bottle of something called "honey marinade" but tasted like cheap Czech teriyaki sauce.

The meat was hot from the grill, still a bit juicy, with a little bone on one side. The pork tasted pretty good, though the sauce I added didn't help so much.

V got the ćevapčići (60 CZK), which are a Balkan specialty. The are little fingers of beef, sometimes with pork mixed in, cooked over a grill. The five pieces came with bread.They may have been OK when they were hot. These were barely warm when we got them and quickly turned cold.

On the side, we had raw onions and ajvar, which is a relish made mostly from red bell peppers, along with some eggplant, garlic, and chilies.

We shared some grilled vegetables. There were partially mashed potatoes with broccoli mixed in (50 CZK), grilled eggplant (40 CZK), and a stuffed mushroom cap (30 CZK). We wanted grilled corn on the cob (40 CZK), but they forgot to make it.It was all barely warm. It tasted OK, but nothing special. The eggplant was my favorite.

For dessert, I had a Czech chocolate treat called a Fidorka.For those not in the know, it's sort of like a round KitKat bar.

When we were finished, we went for a lovely summer's eve walk around the fortress walls.The sun had gone down behind Prague Castle in the distance across the river.A bit closer, I faintly heard something that sounded like electric guitars mixed with the sounds of bagpipes. As we walked further, it turned out my ears did not deceive me.

There was a Celtic music festival going on. It cost 150 CZK to see the last band play, but we decided to watch for free from the wall above for just a couple of songs.After we'd had enough of that, we strolled in front of the Cathedral of Saint Paul and Peter.Then, we passed along the tops of more walls and checked out other views, including a few couples making out. Based on my experience, passionate kissing is a popular activity at these scenic spots, day or night.

When we'd finally seen enough, I laid a hand on V's shoulder.

"What's the best way out?" I asked.

She pointed toward the cemetery.Hospůdka Na Hradbách
Vyšehrad Beer Garden
Prague 2

View Larger Map

Read the full post

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Villa Richter Restaurants

"Like tourists huffing and puffing to reach the peak, we forget the view on the way up." Friedrich Nietzsche
We huffed and puffed up the hill to Prague Castle.

Our final destination: Villa Richter.

The recently restored house and grounds fell into disrepair after it was taken over by the Czech Communist government in the 1950s.

Now, it is home to three different restaurants.

We passed through the newly reopened gates, but we did not forget the view on the way.In one direction, you can see Malá Strana and the St. Nicholas Church.One new addition is the replanted St. Wenceslas Vineyard on the hillside. A Czech Radio piece has some of the history. Charles IV, the Bohemian king and Holy Roman Emperor, planted the first grape vines there in 1375.

In another other direction, this choice piece of real estate overlooks Malá Strana, the Charles Bridge, and Old Town.We walked a little further and we came upon the first restaurant, Panorama Pergola. It was actually more of an outdoor cafe.The Pergola menu looked fairly limited, with a couple of sandwiches, a couple of salads, three pasta dishes, and grilled beef, chicken, or pork.From there, we walked down the paved path above the vines and saw the cushy-looking, couch-laden patio in front of the fanciest of the restaurants, Piano Nobile.Why they used Italian names for the different levels, evoking the palazzos of Venice, I'm not quite sure.

I looked at the Piano Nobile menu. The prices were as high as the hills we were on. There was a six-course tasting menu for 2100 CZK. A vegetable salad starter was 290 CZK. A duck confit and foie gras starter was 420 CZK.

For main course, the salmon and chicken dishes were 590 CZK. A filet of Argentinian sirloin with truffle juice was 710 CZK. Šumava lamb chops were 690 CZK.

Too rich for my blood. The dining room did look pretty cool, though.We headed down the hill to Piano Terra.

It also had a big patio, with a relatively cheaper, but far from inexpensive menu.There weren't too many others sitting out there for a weekend lunch.

It also had the sweeping view of the Czech capital. It could be quite a romantic spot with the right person.There was a dining room inside the villa, which was fairly austere and overwhelmingly white, with light green and white, Baroque-style chairs and tables.On the more appealing terrace, we looked over the menu, which had offerings like Wienerschnitzel (390 CZK), chicken breast (310 CZK), and a salmon filet (340 CZK).

For a starter, we decided to split a Caesar salad. It came with strips of freshly-cooked bacon on top of the torn Romaine, along with pieces of chicken breast.The chicken was OK, but slightly overcooked and dry.

The dressing was traditional, but on the bland side. We found one tiny piece of anchovy in it, but didn't taste it much. Grated Parmesan livened up the dressing when mixed in. The croutons were stale and chewy.

It was 190 CZK on the bill, but the Internet menu said it was 240 CZK. There may be a different price at lunch.

To drink, I ordered housemade iced tea (59 CZK). I love the real stuff, and it is not so usual in Prague. It came lightly pre-sweetened, with a little lemon.

Ironically, the iced tea came with very little ice. I had to ask for extra.

The waitress almost brought me a Nestea bottle by mistake. I figured out she was confused when she asked if I wanted lemon or peach flavor. Crisis averted.

V had řezané pivo, a mix of light and dark beers. They were 59 CZK each for a 0.3 liter glass. I believe it was Pilsner Urquell mixed with Kozel dark. I'm sure there are better combinations. You can learn more about "cut" beer and the proper way to serve it on the Beer Philosopher's blog.

For the main course, we decided to go with special menu offerings. They had a gas barbecue grill outside and a chalkboard advertised grilled chicken (250 CZK), pork (300 CZK), or beef (350 CZK).

V ordered the chicken. It came with a horseradish cream sauce, cornichons, and heavily vinegared cabbage, shredded carrots, and onions. There was a small mound of rucola.The breast gained very little flavor from the grill and not much from its marination. There was a light taste of salt on the outside, and little flavor inside. Bland.

The side items are traditional Czech, but brought too much sourness to the table for me. The cream sauce was fine, but not much more exciting or different from something you'd find in a jar.

I had one of my Czech favorites, beef tenderloin in cream sauce, otherwise known as svíčková na smetaně (170 CZK).The veggie-based cream sauce was very good. The Karlovarský dumplings were fine.

The meat itself? Well, it wasn't real tenderloin. Svíčková is usually a relatively inexpensive dish, and it is common that a cheaper beef cut, known as falešný or fake, is substituted. The meat was thin and tough.

Let's just say that, overall, the cooking was not as inspiring as the view.

The final bill was 787 CZK. If you took the scenery out of the equation, it wouldn't be worth it. The food was average, at best, overpriced, at worst. But the value of having Prague at your feet on a beautiful afternoon or summer evening is hard to measure.

What price beauty?

After the meal, we huffed and puffed down the hill. But our journey was not over. There was more beauty to behold.

V said she'd never been on the path behind the castle known as the Deer Moat (Jelení příkop). It was off-limits during Communism, but was opened to the public and restored in more recent times.After walking just a minute or two away from a busy road with a tram line, there was an idyllic peacefulness. It was hard to believe we were in the center of Prague. Not so many tourists make it down here.

We passed under the bridge to Prague Castle, through a tunnel built in 2002.On the other side, we got a wonderful perspective of the castle and St. Vitus Cathedral from below.We've lived in Prague a long time, but it was a view we won't soon forget.Villa Richter Restaurants
Staré zámecké schody 6/251
Prague 1
Tel. (+420) 257 219 079

View Larger Map

Read the full post

Friday, July 18, 2008

Grand Café Orient

"Create your own visual style... let it be unique for yourself and yet identifiable for others." - Orson Welles
We were in the center of Prague on a weekday morning, and we wanted some breakfast. The options are not unlimited.

I suggested Cafe Louvre. I often go for a club sandwich and creamy hot chocolate when I need a comfort food fix.

Not today.

"I'll take you somewhere you haven't been before," V said.

On this bright and lovely day, she led me to the House of the Black Madonna (Dům U Černé Matky Boží).The name comes from the Baroque statue on the facade.

I'd walked by this early gem of Cubist architecture hundreds of times. But I'd never ventured inside and up the spiral staircase.At the top is where you'll find Grand Café Orient. The space, described as Art Deco or Secessionist, first opened nearly 100 years ago, but closed around 1920. It was restored and reopened in 2003.There's a brief history of the café and the building, a former department store, on the website. If you want to know more, there's a good article on the BBC News site and a Wikipedia entry.

The dining room was virtually empty at 11 am. We decided to sit outside on the terrace.We had it all to ourselves and took in the sun as we watched the tourists pass underneath.

The menu was pretty basic and limited.

There were a few croissant and baguette sandwiches with fillings like chicken, tuna, cheese, or smoked salmon (62-135 CZK).

There was a variety of salads including a chicken Caesar (135 CZK), a Greek (128 CZK), a goat cheese (148 CZK), and a Nicoise (165 CZK).

There were also sweet and savory crepes and a fair number of desserts, like cake and ice cream, to choose from.

We decided to stick with eggs. I got fried bacon and eggs (85 CZK). It came with three eggs, the yolks cooked all the way through.The bacon was thick cut and mixed in with the whites. I'd say it was more English-style than American.

I have no great need for lettuce, tomato and cucumber with my eggs.

But in an effort put somewhat healthy food in my body, I did have a few bites of these side items.

V got the ham and eggs (85 CZK). The dish was almost identical to mine. However, the ham was a very ordinary type you'd find at a supermarket deli counter.We both love ketchup with our eggs. I understand that nothing is free in this world of ours, but charging 15 CZK each for two small dishes of the stuff seems excessive.

We received a basket of baguette slices to go with our meal.

They were soft and rubbery, which was a shame. I took one bite of one and that was enough.

V had a cafe latte (58 CZK).

We also had two 0.3 liter bottles of Mattoni sparkling water (35 CZK each).

The total bill was 328 CZK.

After breakfast, we browsed around in the street-level gift shop. They have everything from expensive little Cubist porcelain boxes to furniture.The building also houses the modest Museum of Czech Cubism, which is run by the National Gallery in Prague.

Overall, I'd say the food was nothing special.

But, I'd still recommend at least one visit, especially for out-of-town visitors.


The prices were not bad for the tourist center of Prague.

There were plenty of tables to be had at mid-morning.

Plus, there's one more unique and identifiable ingredient that will make it worthwhile for some.

Grand Café Orient is a triumph of style over sustenance.

Grand Café Orient
Dům U Černé Matky Boží
Ovocný trh 19
Prague 1
Tel. (+420) 224 224 240

View Larger Map

Read the full post