Sunday, August 24, 2008

Restaurace Jáma

"My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble mind." Albert Einstein
In that heavenly area close to Wenceslas Square, I resumed, once again, my never-ending survey of Prague's hamburgers.

I went to Restaurace Jama, which means "the hollow" a couple of times recently.The place is quite popular with expats, though I rarely go myself.I'd heard boasts about the burgers over the years. Regarding the vaunted Jáma Burgers, I have good news and bad news. More on that later.

Jáma is a big place, and it is often pretty full. Drinking is a common pastime.A half-liter of Pilsner Urquell was 45 CZK. Gambrinus was 35 CZK. Kozel dark was 35 CZK, and Kozel light was 29 CZK.I should note that the prices listed here should be correct but, as of this writing, the prices on the Internet menu were not up to date.

On my first, I had the world's most popular of burger combination, the bacon cheeseburger. But, I had to wonder why the menu offers a bacon burger (175 CZK) and a cheddar burger (175 CZK), but there was no combo.To achieve full bacon cheeseburger status, you have to order one of the above burgers, and then add extra cheddar (45 CZK) or extra bacon (45 CZK).

This annoyed me. I was also irked that a slice of cheese cost the same price as the bacon -- a mind-boggling 45 CZK.

Regarding the bacon itself, it seemed that the chef took a little shortcut. The strips had the tell-tale signs of being deep fried rather than pan fried.

A friend who worked at a snack bar once told me about this trick. The bacon cooks much faster, but comes out with a dried out, brittle texture.

I have also have a beef with the onions served on the side. What are they thinking, slicing them that thick? When you put them on the burger, they create an airy loft space under the bun.

There was also lettuce, tomato, and oddly, black olives on the side. You can have fried onions for an extra 10 CZK, which I presume would not raise the roof as high as the raw ones.

The menu said the burgers came with fries. But later, I saw there was a 10 CZK charge that said "hranolky (fries) plus." I'm not sure why.

OK, that's the bad news.

Yes, there is some good news. The beef patty was thick, well-shaped, juicy, and held together well. There could have been a little more seasoning.

The bun was large, sturdy, and perfectly-sized for the meat. It was nicely toasted. The steak fries were hot, crunchy, and there were plenty of them. It was all very filling.

On second visit, I decide to try the Jack Burger, made with Jack Daniels barbecue sauce (195 CZK).I don't know what I was thinking. This was a mistake.

That's because the plain, classic burger cost only 150 CZK. I don't see how they could justify the 45 CZK premium for the small amount of sauce unless this liquid gold was hand-carried from the USA on a first class flight.

And I could hardly taste it. A big disappointment. I should have tried the chili burger.

I noticed they had Canada Dry in the fridge, so I ordered a bottle (30 CZK).

Unfortunately, it doesn't taste quite the same to me as the Canada Dry ginger ale in the states. It had a slightly saccharin flavor.

Jama had other offerings besides burgers. There were burritos (155 CZK), Czech beef in cream sauce (159 CZK), and ribs (155 CZK).

I saw they started making something called an "orange drop" chimichanga. I'm not sure what that is, but I'm intrigued.

I probably will try the Tex-Mex options some day in the future. The burgers have so much potential, but the puffed up pricing, odd onion slicing, and bad bacon put me off.

They get the big things right.

But to my mind, they got too many of those slight, but devilish details wrong.

Restaurace Jáma
V Jámě 7
Prague 1
Tel. (+420) 224 222 383

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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Žlutá pumpa (The Yellow Pump)

“Conversation is food for the soul” Mexican proverb
I mentioned to a colleague that I'd never found any exceptional Mexican food in Prague. He recommended Žlutá pumpa (The Yellow Pump) in Vinohrady.We walked there on a Sunday night and found a table outside. I'd been away all weekend at a wine tasting in Moravia, so we had some conversational catching up to do.I'd walked by the restaurant a number of times, and it always looked full, so I thought we were lucky to get some seats.We put in our orders. The place was only half full on this evening, but it appeared there was only one waiter serving everyone.It took 45 minutes for our food to appear.

I'm pretty predictable. I ordered the chimichanga (98 CZK). It was filled with big pieces of chicken breast, a few red beans, tomatillos, jalapenos, and salsa. The flour tortilla was lightly crisped on the outside, but was not deep fried.It was relatively small as chimichangas go. The filling was fairly simple. But I liked it. Their salsa really made it work. It is excellent, with lots of tomato and a powerful kick of cilantro. I love cilantro.

There was more salsa on the side, along with sour cream, and a pile of undressed lettuce that I thought was mostly a waste.

V ordered the chicken fajitas (150 CZK). The meat came out on the expected iron skillet, mixed with onions and peppers.Contrary to expectations, it was not sizzling on arrival. It was hot, though.

The chicken did not taste of chili or classic Mexican seasoning. We couldn't really discern the spices on it, but it still tasted fine.

There were warm flour tortillas in a basket on the side.And there was the great salsa and sour cream.I would have loved some refried beans, but they didn't come with this dish.

For drinks, V had two glasses of white wine (32 CZK each).

We also shared a half-liter of Hoegaarden with a slice of lemon (42 CZK).

They also have Pilsner Urquell and Staropramen on tap.

We drank two bottles of Korunni sparkling water (20 CZK each).Still feeling hungry, I decided to order dessert. I got the cinnamon crisps (55 CZK). It was a flour tortilla, pan fried with cinnamon sugar in the middle. The menu said it came with sour cream, but there was, thankfully, whipped cream in the middle.It was nothing fancy, but I have a great weakness for anything with cinnamon sugar. I grew up eating cinnamon toast, so I liked it. V did, too.

I do wish the tortilla was cooked to a higher level of crispness. There was also a mound of jam on the side, which I didn't really need.

There were orange slices, but unfortunately, they had obviously shared a cutting board with some garlic. Not a good combo.

The total bill was 449 CZK.

Almost all the burritos were around 100 CZK, and there were quite a few different combinations.

Žlutá pumpa may not be an authentic Mexican culinary experience, but it was better than I expected, considering the prices.

So, we'll be going back for some more conversation.

And the other kinds of food, too.

Žlutá pumpa
(The Yellow Pump)
Belgická 11
Prague 2
Tel. (+420) 608 184 360

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Thursday, August 7, 2008

U malé velryby (Little Whale) - Revisited

"If you've heard this story before, don't stop me, because I'd like to hear it again." Groucho Marx
When I last wrote a post about U malé velryby (Little Whale), I told the story of my fun surprise birthday party there.We took over the little place that night and really enjoyed ourselves.

We've been back several times since. But we always missed the Wednesday seafood specials that Chef Jason was always telling us about.

Until now.

We grabbed a table outside on Maltézské náměstí. It's a peaceful square near the tourist center, not far from the Charles Bridge. We enjoyed sitting there on a warm summer evening after work.In fact, we even had some special entertainment. An opera singer was rehearsing "Carmen" next to an open window across the square from us. Outdoor diners on the square broke out into applause after she finished her song.

The special seafood dishes were offered as a degustation menu with six items for 720 CZK.

V ordered that. I mentioned that some of the food sounded good, but I didn't want to order the whole menu. I wasn't feeling so hungry.

The chef was very flexible and said I could order anything à la carte. I had three dishes for just 350 CZK, but I did taste everything V had.

The first was grilled mussels with garlic bread crumbs.I was a little concerned that it was not exactly mussel season, but they were fine.

The breadcrumbs were buttery, crunchy goodness. I could eat a bowl of just that stuff. Yum.

Next came prawns with a mango chili salad. This was my favorite.We'd made something similar at home, frying angel hair rice noodles around the shrimp. The mango, mixed with green onion, cherry tomatoes, and ginger, was a great match up.

For a third course, there was marinated Scottish salmon with creme fraiche and pickled cucumber.This was fresh fish, cooked by the acid of lemon, along with some of the pickle juice.

The pickles were a bit of an odd combination, but I still enjoyed it.

Then, we had what was billed as the lobster spaghetti. The sauce had a significant amount of butter in it. But the chef had almost run out of lobster.

So, he put a little lobster meat in the dish, along with a whole crab claw. Very generous of him.The shells were cracked in the kitchen before they came to the table.

Still, we had trouble getting all the meat out, so the chef brought out a big mallet for us to wield. I smashed those suckers open on the hard iron outdoor table.

It was a noisy, messy scene, but we haven't had that much delicious fresh crab meat in a long time.

The fifth course was scallops over wilted spinach with orange and Pernod sauce. This was V's favorite. She says this restaurant makes the best scallops she's had in Prague.They are perfectly seared, with a hint of char from the grill, yet very lightly cooked, maintaining the most delicate texture. She also liked the greens it rested upon.

For dessert, there was a frozen nougat parfait. Chef Jason described it as a semifreddo, something halfway between ice cream and a mousse.It was made with cream, egg yolks, sugar, walnuts, almonds, candied cherries, all whipped up with a shot of Cointreau. There were fresh-picked berries from a garden sprinkled on top. We loved it.

Little Whale is not perfect -- it's had some issues with service and consistency in the past. But that appeared to be on the mend, based on our last visit.

It was a very nice meal, very different from the usual fare, and like a good story, it was something I wouldn't mind repeating again.

U malé velryby (Little Whale)
Maltézské náměstí 15
Prague 1
Tel. (+420) 257 214 703

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