Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Fosil Mexican Bar and Kitchen (Closed)

"Any authentic creation is a gift to the future." Albert Camus
I was in a bar a few nights ago and, as I often do, I was talking about food.

I was lamenting the lack of good Mexican restaurants in Prague and recounting my recent disappointing visit to Cantina.

I also mentioned the failings of the city's other Mexican places like Amigos (spoiled beef quesadillas!), Sonora (bland chimichanga), Buffalo Bill's (not what it used to be), and Žlutá pumpa (OK, but not it).

I came to drink with G-Man. But it was my karmic good fortune that he was with three very nice and interesting people who hailed from Mexico, one of whom lives in Prague. This good man did not just listen sympathetically to my complaints. He also gave me advice.

"Go to Fosil," he said. "It is the only real Mexican in Prague."He is a friend of the owner and told me to mention his name if I went. That's not my style -- I like to keep a low profile. But I went the very next night.

It was a Friday. There are only five tables. I was alone, so I was happy to sit at the bar.I started with a margarita (95 CZK). Very good. The chef came out of the kitchen to make it.He squeezed limes in his fists over a blender, threw in tequila, triple sec, and Cinzano Limetto. That's all. There were a few ice cubes, but not enough to make it slushy. Then, he blended it, and poured it all into a martini glass.

It took quite a while, but it was worth it. Quite tart, not too sweet. Nice kick. It did make me wonder how he could keep up with the cooking. It made me hesitate to order a second one, while waiting for my food. But I liked it too much and went for it.

As an appetizer, I got guacamole and chips (90 CZK). It was the best I've had in Prague.The avocados were blended to a creamy state, and mixed with cilantro, tomatoes, green chilies, and a lot of chopped, raw onion.

It was quite spicy, especially when I got a piece of hot pepper caught in the back of my throat. A swig from my margarita cleared that up nicely.

It looked like a small portion in the dish, but it lasted through many chips. I really enjoyed it.

For a main course, I ordered the tacos de bistek (180 CZK).Out came three steaming hot tacos filled with beef, fried onion, and refried black beans, covered with melted cheese. The most pleasant surprise was that they were made with soft, warm corn tortillas.

I had never seen soft corn tortillas anywhere in Prague before. A few days later, I saw a package of them in Tesco Eden, but Fosil's were far superior with a much stronger corn flavor.

However, the beef was a disappointment. It didn't have a lot of flavor, and it was very tough. I also wished the black bean refrito had more seasoning. But I'll tell you, those tortillas made me forgive a lot of sins.

And there was another reason for absolution. It came with four different bottled Mexican chili sauces -- red and green habanero sauces, chile arbol sauce, and chipotle pepper sauce.I tried them all, and loved them all. I couldn't make up my mind which one I liked best.

They really saved the day and the dish. I enjoyed it in the end.

I was pretty excited about the place, so I took V the next night, calling ahead to make sure we got a table. Good thing because it was full except for that table when we arrived.I should add that I wanted to go another night with friends after work, but no one answered repeated calls, so we didn't go because we didn't want to risk being turned away.On this visit, V had the margarita and loved it, too. In fact, she had three. She did ask for no salt and it came with salt on the rim, but she was easy going about it and didn't send it back.

I tried the pina colada (100 CZK).Extremely basic, not very good. It was very foamy from the blender. The pineapple juice quickly separated from the cream and foam.

Then, I went for the coco loco (100 CZK). I didn't realize it would come in a coconut, and I can't remember the last time I had a drink with an unbrella in it.The bar guy made a hole with a cork screw and poured in the alcohol. Then, he had a difficult time getting two straws in the little hole.

I forgot what was in it, but it tasted a lot like a pina colada. I wouldn't recommend it, either. It was gone in four sucks on the straw.

When we started eating, I switched to beer. I had a half-liter of Pilsner Urquell (33 CZK).They also had Gambrinus on tap.

V tried the guacamole and also thought it was great. Later, she decided to pick something that sounded exotic and she'd never tried before, so she got the Plato Azteca (195 CZK).There was a shredded chicken in a sweet mole. The real deal. Yum.

There were nopales (prickly pear), black beans rice, cheese, and a corn tortilla taco -- I guess that was the part called alambre on the menu. It may have been chicken with onions, and peppers. But I couldn't really tell you exactly what is under all that cheese. It was dark.

V tends to be more adventurous than me, and loves new and different things. So, I was a disappointed when she said the flavors were too strange for her, and she didn't like her dinner. Especially because I enjoyed it all.

The Mexican gentleman I met had recommended I try the Al Pastor (170 CZK). So, this time, I did. And I was very happy.There was marinated pork, cilantro, diced raw onions, and fresh pineapple. Lime wedges sat on the side.

On paper, this combination did not look so appealing to me. But on the palate, I loved it. I didn't even add any hot sauces to this one. It was just right as it was. There was only one defect. On this night, the corn tortillas were a bit al dente and chewy at the edges.

The service on the first night I went was pretty good, and I was in and out in about an hour.On the second night, it was busier. I'd heard things moved slowly there, so I wasn't surprised it took almost 45 minutes to get our guacamole. The whole meal took over two hours, but we were drinking a lot and not starving, so it didn't bother us that much.

One table ordered a big platter for four -- the waiter let me get a look at it.There were "pigs in blankets," quesadillas, and black beans, among other things.

Also, I saw something I'd never seen before -- the waiter was taking pictures of the food, himself. So, he didn't think too much about my penchant for food photography.

The waiter brought us a gift of a small piece of house-made lemon cake he carved out of a tupperware container.It was delicious -- a good combination of sweet and sour.

The final tab that night was 1041 CZK, which was more than fair because we had six cocktails, two beers, and a bottle of Mattoni mineral water.

I will return to Fosil. I want the al pastor, the guacamole, and the margaritas again. And that mole, too. If someone asks me my favorite Mexican restaurant in Prague, I will now say "Fosil."

Sure, the service was slow, some cocktails were misfires, and the beef tacos needed work.

But it is run by Mexicans, and there is a feeling and a taste of authenticity that I've never found anywhere else in the city.

This ain't Czech-Mex, muchachos.

I look forward to having some of those authentic creations in the future.

Fosil Mexican Bar and Kitchen
Bělehradská 66
Prague 2
Tel. (+420) 737 502 824

Read the full post


“What the United States does best is to understand itself. What it does worst is understand others.” Carlos Fuentes
There is no consensus on the best Mexican restaurant in Prague. But more often than not, you'll hear the name Cantina.

The place has been around for a long time and has a good location near the heart of Malá Strana.The combination of location plus reputation means it is almost always full.

Showing up without a reservation at this relatively small place often means you will be turned away.So, I was surprised when we were able to snag a table for lunch on a weekend afternoon.For a long time, I'd been wanting to see why some people like it so much. I ate there once many years ago and wasn't terribly impressed.

When the waiter came over, V ordered a bottle of Corona with lime, and I reflexively said to make it two.

I know she ordered this beer for nostalgic reasons, but I felt regret as soon as the waiter left.

First, it was way overpriced (85 CZK). Second, it is not good beer.

It's like drinking a club soda with lime, which is pleasant enough, but not worth the money. Still, it reminded us of old times back in the USA, and that's worth something.

For a starter, I had the Sopa Azteca (50 CZK). It is described as a traditional Indian soup with beans, corn, tomatoes, nachos, and cheese.Disappointing.

It was seriously bland. I ended up doing the seasoning myself, first adding salt, and then throwing in plenty of the hot sauce on the table. It was OK after that.

The finely shredded white cheese was pretty to look at, but very annoying to eat. It melted into the soup, and when you tried to eat it, it left strings of gooey cheese on your chin with every bite. I need to use a knife with my soup?

I ordered a frozen margarita (120 CZK). Terrible.

There was almost no flavor.

It was desperately lacking in lime and even sweetness. It just tasted like a tequila slushee.

At least there was plenty of alcohol in there to help me forget.

For a main course, I had the quesadilla lomitas (230 CZK). A fried flour tortilla was filled with cheese, pork tenderloin, green onion, cilantro, and jalapenos.Another disappointment.

I thought the pork was cut too thick, and I really didn't taste any marination or seasoning beside salt. There was hardly any cilantro. The green onions were overcooked and lost their flavor.

The whole thing just bored me. If it wasn't for the jalapenos, I would have fallen asleep.

V ordered the mixed chicken and beef fajitas (289 CZK). It came out on an iron skillet. It was hot, but lacked the spectacle of a full sizzle.On the side, they served little dishes of refried black beans, sour cream, and red rice with a few sad corn niblets thrown in.

There was also a small amount of unremarkable guacamole.

The meat picked up a lot of flavor from heavy seasoning, but we wished it got more from charring in the pan. There was a ton of onions and peppers.

The whole thing came with two large flour tortillas, but we had order one extra to eat it all. Overall, it was pretty good, but nothing special.

The brightest spot of the lunch was the service. Very friendly, attentive, and efficient. I'll admit, in a place so popular and busy, I expected less. A pleasant surprise.I can now check Cantina off my "to do" list. There's nothing there that would make me go out of my way to return.

Personally, I've never really had good Mexican food in Prague, so there's not a lot of competition.

Why do some people think Cantina is the best Mexican in Prague?

Don't ask me. I can't understand them.

Ujezd 38
Prague 1 - Malá Strana
Tel. (+420) 257 317 173

Read the full post

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Argument Restaurant-Cafe

"I argue very well. Ask any of my remaining friends." Dave Barry
What made me want to try Argument?

Two things: I liked the name, and I heard they had really nice lamb chops. Sometimes, that's all it takes.

We went for an early dinner.The restaurant was only about a five minute walk from the Hradčanská metro station.

The interior reminded me of my grandmother's place. That was actually a good thing.My grandmother was a very stylish, Dutch-born woman, who surrounded herself with modern art, bright colors, and clean lines.

The banquettes looked just like my Oma's couches. She liked orange chairs, too, but maybe that's a Dutch thing.I felt very at home in this restaurant. That's said, this style can be polarizing. V thought the fabrics were too bright and rough.

The waitress brought out bread. They charge 20 CZK for that. It was cold baguette slices, no butter or olive oil.

For a starter, I had the tuna tartare (160 CZK). It was shaped into a cube and was a generous amount for the price.There were bits of avocado mixed in, but unfortunately, they were not ripe. The tuna itself was fairly salty and didn't need the extra soy sauce on the side.

I didn't like it so much at the beginning. But then I discovered that the rucola underneath had a very sweet dressing. When the salad and tuna were combined on the fork, the flavor balanced out, and I enjoyed it.

V had the Burgundy snails (135 CZK). Six of them were covered with plenty of butter and garlic.The snails themselves were OK, but didn't impress. They had more of that garden flavor than those you'd find at Cafe Savoy, her favorite snail source.

I had a .3 liter glass of Pilsner Urquell (38 CZK each).V had a couple of Mattoni mineral waters (35 CZK) and a shot of Jägermeister (55 CZK).

Yeah, I thought it was an odd choice, but she said she had a taste for it. To me, it tastes like medicine.

For a main course, I gave V the honor of ordering the lamb chops in a honey crust (355 CZK). They were all I'd hoped and dreamed.There were two double chops and one triple on the plate. They were cooked perfectly as requested, medium rare. They were oh so tender.

The delicate lamb sat on a lovely sauce that tasted of plums and wine, but we weren't exactly sure of its composition. We wished there was more sauce. We wiped the plate clean.

There was also rucola with cherry tomatoes. Even the crust was just right.I can easily imagine a big name restaurant in the center charging double the price.

I was in the mood for a steak. The menu has them divided by tenderloin versions, called svíčková, or a more ordinary cut called roštěná.

I went for the beef tenderloin, topped with bacon, and a thyme demi-glace. (360 CZK).There was grilled corn on the side.

I got a separate order of fries to go with it (45 CZK).I asked for some ketchup and was surprised when they told me they had none in the restaurant.

I was even more surprised when I tasted the house-made frites and discovered they were the best I'd had in a long time. They were terrific all by themselves, which is pretty rare in my book.

However, the steak itself was disappointing. It wasn't bad, just very unremarkable. It wasn't tough, but not too tender. They did cook it to my requested medium-rare.There was no stand out flavor. The demi-glace was dominated by too much salt, with the other flavors hiding too far in the background.

I'm sorry to invoke Cafe Savoy again, but they used to do a demi-glace for their entrecote that inspired love in my heart. They don't make it anymore, and this one didn't come close to requiting that lost love.

The bacon on top was a total disaster. I'm not sure how they cooked it, but it had the consistency of plastic. It was like eating a smoked credit card.

On the plus side, the grilled corn was good. We enjoyed passing it back and forth to nibble on the niblets.

We ordered the chocolate fondant for dessert (95 CZK).It was pretty average and could have used a more intense chocolate.

Don't get me wrong -- even an average fondant is still enjoyable for me. But it didn't impress like the one at Buddha Bar or Maze (R.I.P.).

I should add that the menu says it comes with ice cream, the receipt mentions ice cream, but when you examine the photo, you will not see ice cream. We weren't in a complaining mood, so we let it slide.

The bill came to 1371 CZK. Not a cheap dinner. And for that money, I wouldn't go out of my way to go back for most of it.

However, I'm the type of person who can fall in love with one dish, become obsessed with it, and have to go back just for that.

And that's what those little lamb chops have done to me.

I'd argue, as I often do about restaurants, that Argument is worth trying just for those alone.

I'd even recommend them to my remaining friends.

Argument Restaurant-Cafe
Bubenečská 19
Prague 6
Tel. (+420) 220 510 427

Read the full post

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Sami Grill

"I shall make that trip. I shall go to Korea." Dwight Eisenhower
I've never been to Korea. I've rarely even eaten Korean food. One of the few times was at Hanil in Prague, which we usually go to for sushi.

So I barely know kimchi from bibimbap.

Still, I was intrigued when I saw that Sami Grill opened up in the Vinohrady space formerly occupied by the Thai restaurant, Tiger Tiger.The interior was changed with new lighting and a white and light green color scheme. It was too bright for us.They have special tables with built-in gas grills imported from Korea.

There was another unique feature. The tables have buttons you can push to call the waitress. Push it and you hear an electronic "ding-dong" in the other room.We had two half-liters of Krušovice (40 CZK each) and a .33 liter bottle of Mattoni mineral water (40 CZK).The menu had no real appetizer section to speak of so we went straight to the main event.

We really wanted to try out the grill. I took a peek under the protective stainless steel cover.There were a few pieces of charcoal, with flames fueled by a built-in gas can with a control knob.

V asked for the duck, but was told it was not available. She didn't want the pork, so she ended up ordering the pricey grilled rib eye (390 CZK).

The unmarinated meat was well-marbled. The waitress cooked it on the grill along with mushrooms, onions, and garlic.It was a somewhat awkward procedure.

We were given side dishes. There was a dish with bean sprouts, kimchi, another kind of pickled cabbage, and a little seaweed salad.There was another little dish with sesame oil and a very salty soy sauce-flavored paste.And there was a salad with a lot of onions and what tasted like a rice vinegar dressing. The waitress said there was wasabi in it, but I didn't really taste it.The beef itself? I'd be hard-pressed to identify it as rib eye in a taste test. It wasn't tough, but it wasn't rib eye tender, either.

The flavor was pretty unremarkable. Disappointing. I dipped it in the salty soy sauce paste or the sesame oil to keep it interesting. The vegetables were only lightly fried and had nothing special going on.

When they said it was grilled over charcoal, I was really looking forward to that smoky taste. It wasn't there.

When the food was removed later, I saw that the charcoal under the grill had barely burned at all. The food was mostly cooked by the gas flame and the heated ceramic blocks.

I ordered the bulgogi (280 CZK), which a table next to us recommended. I had, in fact, heard of this dish before. I have a friend from L.A. who has spoken of his love for it.

It was brought to the table raw.There were onions, carrots, mushrooms, and sesame seeds mixed in with marinated beef.

The waitress/chef threw it all into the wok at the table and fried it up. The beef was not the highest quality, but it was pounded hard and shredded to the point that it achieved a certain tenderness.It tasted pretty good, but perhaps it was a little too sweet. As I was eating and thinking this, I realized it would have been much better with rice. It did not come with any, and none was suggested.

Halfway through. I ordered a side of rice (35 CZK), and it really helped. However, it brought the price of this course up to 315 CZK, which was really more than I thought it was worth.

Whether it was a good iteration of this dish, I don't know. I have nothing to compare it to. Perhaps a Korean foodie can say. It was nice, but didn't excite me enough that I'd dreaming of having it again.

The service was friendly, but chaotic. The waitress/chefs were moving in and out of the rooms, alternately stirring the food in a wok, clearing plates from another table, running out, coming back, taking an order, and then stirring some more.

The cooking was not getting the attention it deserved. I also had trouble getting clear descriptions of the food from the waitresses.

There was also a humorous moment.

A couple in the same small room as us didn't like the bright lighting, either. They realized they were sitting next to the dimmer switch and turned it down to a more romantic level.

They looked over at us, wondering if it was OK, and we encouraged them to leave it low.

We all had a little laugh.

A short while later, the waitress came in, took care of some things, and walking by the dimmer on her way out, pushed the lighting all the way back up again.

We all had a big laugh.

Our final bill was 825 CZK without tip.

They bring some complimentary pealed apple slices with it.

One could certainly eat more cheaply by avoiding the rib eye (which I would).

But it wasn't so cheap for basically two courses, a couple of beers, and a water.

There are several other places that combine Japanese and Korean cuisine. A real Korean food expert will have to tell you how Sami Grill compares.

The Prague Post critic brought one for a meal there, and the review had a more positive perspective on the place.

We were on our own. I can relate our experience as Korean food novices.

Sami Grill wasn't bad, but nothing special for us.

I shall probably not make that trip again.

Sami Grill
Anny Letenské 5
Prague 2
Tel. (+420) 222 524 666

Read the full post