Monday, October 6, 2008

Vermeer Restaurant (closed)

**April 12, 2009 Update: This restaurant near Jiřího z Poděbrad has closed down.

“If at first, the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it” Albert Einstein
A good Reuben sandwich in Prague?

Sounds absurd, but it's more than a hope. It's a reality.

I first heard about it from a few American foodies buzzing and raving about the sandwich at a brand new place called Vermeer.It's in Vinohrady, near the Jiřího z Poděbrad metro stop and Tram 10 and 16 stops. When I heard the Reuben news, I hustled over there as quick as I could.

I almost missed the sign with the name on one side of the outdoor seating.It was too cold to sit outside, so I headed down the stairs.There was a good looking space, with vaulted brick ceilings and lots of dark woodwork.There were three small dining rooms to chose from. The furniture was tasteful, comfortable, and good quality.There was another small space upstairs that they call "the bistro" with the same menu and light shining in the windows. But it was still under construction, so no pictures of that.

I got down to business and ordered my Reuben with steak fries. I grew up eating them, and still love them greatly. Perhaps more than any other sandwich. I've discovered a number of other Americans in Prague share my Reuben obsession.Vermeer's was made exactly as it should be -- corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, Thousand Island (AKA Russian) dressing, on grilled rye bread. It was crunchy, salty, sweet, sour, buttery heaven.

I should note that when the restaurant first opened, the sandwich cost 185 CZK. Now, it is 235 CZK. But the last one I had did have more corned beef.

I met Vermeer's very friendly owner, George, and had a long discussion with him about Reubens and more. I asked where he found anything close to real corned beef in Prague. He told me he had a secret source who made it specially for him.

I said it wasn't exactly New York style, which are overstuffed with super tender meat. But I was just nitpicking. It's not like that anywhere else outside New York.

This Reuben was more than good enough to make me a regular. And for comparison, it was better than any Reuben I'd ever had in Atlanta, Georgia.

Three fellow Americans told me they loved it and that it was an authentic iteration. I also observed a Slovak woman trying one for the first time, and she said she really enjoyed it. Which was a good sign, because they are going to have to pull in more than just expats to make it.

George also told me they will be doing American style breakfast every morning from 7 a.m. He's Macedonian, but spent some years living and working in the USA and knows what should be on the menu.

I was impressed by what I saw: Eggs Benedict, pancakes, waffles, French toast, plus the usual variations of eggs, bacon, sausage, and toast. They'll even do an English breakfast.

Vermeer will have specially made bagels to go with their smoked salmon and Philly cream cheese. They won't come from Bohemia Bagel, which I tolerate but are too dense and chewy for me.

At the end of the meal, George gave me a complimentary piece of their homemade carrot cake (I didn't tell him who I was at that point).It wasn't Bakeshop Praha level, but hit the right basic notes, with a sweet and tangy cream cheese icing.

Someone else told me they struck up a conversation with George and also got a piece. He liked it so much, he ordered a whole one to take home.

I'd received a recommendation for the bacon cheeseburger with steak fries, so I ordered that on my second visit.I'd rank it near the top of all Prague burgers, with only a few small caveats.

First, let me say that this was a beautifully constructed burger. Construction means a lot.

It had perfect proportions of meat, grilled onions, sliced tomatoes, sliced pickles, bacon, and cheese. There was a little lettuce overhang, but nothing I couldn't deal with. They all sat on a large, fresh, toasted sesame seed bun.The ground beef had some seasoning. I'd say salt and pepper and at least one other spice I couldn't put my finger on. If I had to guess, I'd say cumin.

The patty was very juicy. Eventually, it did soak through part of the bun and was a bit messy to eat. This was a hard burger to put down, in more ways than one.

There was plenty of bacon, but it got a little lost in the mix of all the other toppings. I though the burger would benefit from a more assertive, smokier bacon. The small pickles were sliced the long way instead of in round slices. But again, I nitpick.

It was one of the largest burgers I've seen. A very filling meal, all by itself. It was 195 CZK when I first went, but now the price is north of 200 CZK.

On my third visit, I went for the club sandwich with steak fries (155 CZK).I've sampled a few around town, including at Cafe Louvre and Cafe Imperial. They were OK, but nothing special.

Vermeer's club sandwich was the real deal. The best I've had in Prague, without question. It was made with smoked turkey, bacon, lettuce (though not iceberg), tomatoes, cheddar cheese, and mayo. The ingredients were all good, especially the turkey, which is usually the downfall of club sandwiches in Prague.

It tasted just right.

But the construction and presentation were amazing. Again, everything was in the right proportion on double deccker white toast. I can't recall the last time I'd seen such stylized grill-marked toast.After the club sandwich, there were just so many other things I wanted to try.

Steaks? Quesadillas? Fried calamari? Caesar salad? Cobb salad? Savory and sweet crepes?

The scope and ambition of the menu had me concerned about the quality. But I'd already heard a rave about the chicken tikka masala. And the things I'd tried so far were all good.

Now, some people have accused me of being too American in my tastes. To them, I say, "Guilty as charged."

Which brings me to my fourth visit as I obsessively ate my way through the foods of my youth. I got the Monte Cristo sandwich with steak fries (175 CZK). Talk about a decadent meal.It was sliced turkey, bacon (instead of the more traditional ham), and cheddar cheese sandwiched between slices of bread dipped in egg (essentially French toast), which is then fried.

There was powdered sugar sprinkled on top and a strawberry compote on the side.

It was delicious, but let me warn you. I had one for lunch, had trouble finishing it, despite no breakfast, and I still wasn't hungry at dinner time.

I asked George why the restaurant is called Vermeer. To make a long story short, he fell in love with the Dutch painter's work and felt some creative inspiration from him. He even wants to add some Dutch cuisine to the menu.

Is Vermeer perfect? No, but the place just opened and a few small details needed to be ironed out.

The heat in one room hadn't kicked on so it was a bit chilly.The flowery font style on the menu was difficult to read in the low light. They played nice jazz music, but occasionally it got too loud.

The good news was that George was very open to all comments, feedback, and criticism and sounded like he aims to please.

And I was very pleased when he told me you can call ahead to order food to take out. I'm going to put the number in my phone.

What will I order most often from Vermeer? There were a lot of tempting choices, but you don't have to be an Einstein to answer that one.Vermeer Restaurant
U Vodárny 2
Prague 3 - Vinohrady
Tel. (+420) 222 516 992

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Anonymous said...

Really good, Brewsta. It even made me, a Brit, want to try it. I wonder if American corned beef is the same thing as English corned beef?

The only odd thing, I thought, was not using iceberg lettuce. I never use the floppy green stuff now.

Brewsta said...

My theory on the lettuce is that iceberg is more rigid and often has an awkward shape and therefore harder to make a well-constructed sandwich that holds together.

Julia said...

Yum, I'm ready to try their reuben and it's only 9:30 in the morning.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for publicising Vermeer, Brewsta. It's underattended thus far, but deserves our support.

George, if you're reading this, PLEASE make your burger meat ONLY meat with salt and pepper. I LOVE burgers; but I really find whatever that spice you use in yours is (similar to the "Fraktal" burger) off-putting. Seriously, I'd order your burger just about every other day if you can get it right. Potrefena Husa is just around the corner from you; they've got the burger taste right and the price completely wrong. You are SOOOOO close it's painful.

To all expats (and curious locals), give this place a try; it's really really good in every other aspect.

Anonymous said...

thanks for suggeston, i definitely try it soon. lazy local :)

Western Mass Mama said...

I went today and had the Reuben. It was great! Being a New Yorker, I too am used to overstuffed sandwiches, but it was very good and I'm still stuffed from it. The bread the sandwich was on was amazing. This was my first time having something so American in Prague and Vermeer did a really nice job. I would definitely go back.

Anonymous said...

I was underwhelmed. The burger is extremely tasty but the reuben wasn't as good as I had been led to believe -- mostly sauerkraut with a couple thin slices of meat. The thing that really gets my goat however is the drinks. It's novel to see Heineken on tap but at -- what was it? CZK 65 a half liter? I'm going to pass. The option is Musketyr, a crappy beer which is going to kill any dining experience. On top of that, there's no wine by the glass. Your options are buy a whole bottle for CZK 300 or buy a mini for CZK 95. Hello?

Brewsta said...

Fair comments.

Regarding the Reuben, they told me they had an issue with their meat supplier and switched to a processed "pastrami."

The most recent one I had also had less meat. I mentioned it to them and that I didn't like it as much. They told me they were going to switch back the way they did it before with the better, more authentic corned beef.

Anonymous said...

Any word if the Reuben is back to the corned beef? Thinking about going there on Friday and wanted to try the Reuben but will get the burger if the Reuben is still the lesser pastrami.

Brewsta said...

Haven't been recently. Just ask for George or Sonia -- they are usually there and will tell you.

Unknown said...

It seems that they are closed, seemingly never to return, but maybe it's just temporary. After your glowing blog, I was very sad to see that they have shut their doors since april 1.

Brewsta said...

I tried to call in a take away order for a Reuben sandwich last week (I still love that sandwich) and was told they had closed because of a gas leak. Hopefully, they'll be open again soon.