Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Giardino - enoteca con cucina - Revisited

Take care of your garden
And keep out the weeds
Fill it with sunshine
Kind words and kind deeds
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
As the weather turns warm, now is a good time to talk again about one of the more pleasant gardens for dining in Prague.

I'm talking about the one behind Giardino in Vinohrady.It can be a relaxing place to spend a sunny spring afternoon or a warm summer evening.Do not confuse it with Il Giardino at the Mövenpick Hotel, a place I have not visited.

In Giardino's garden, they have blankets in case the temperature drops.The garden is shaded by trees, so there is not a lot of direct sunlight during the day to warm things up.

The interior is nice enough, but I think we only ate inside once.In fact, this picture is from last year. It's not necessarily rational, but this restaurant is tightly associated in my mind with eating outside. We tend not to go in the winter.

On two different gorgeous spring days, we headed straight for the back.The waiter, another Kogo exile, remembered us. Like Mirellie, Giardino's menu is also quite similar to Kogo's. Both have staffs drawn mainly from the Balkans.

Their bread basked came. It was a small, sliced loaf. Good quality, it is usually served warm.The olive oil on the table was fairly bland, though.

For drinks, I had a .3 liter glass of Pilsner Urquell (45 CZK). V started of with a Cinzano martini (90 CZK) and then switched to wine.We had some pleasing starters.

Our favorite is the grilled octopus (150 CZK). Really well prepared. Crisp and crunchy on the outside, delicate and tender on the inside. Delicious.It came with silky, saucy white beans, a little rucola, and lemon on the side. The beans had a sour tang that hit my taste buds the right way. The whole dish was a bargain. V has ordered it on almost every visit. I'm crazy about it now, too.

I had the beef carpaccio (165 CZK). Let me tell you why I liked Giardino's version more than the usual iterations.It came with the standard olive oil, pepper, and lemon. But the raw beef filet was cut slightly thicker than standard. It felt more substantial. The meat also had a deep ruby color, rather than the bright scarlet you might see elsewhere.

In addition to the rucola on top, there was a generous portion of Parmesan shavings, rather than the finely grated stuff. It did need salt.

For a main course, I had the grilled calamari (240 CZK). The squid rested on a big pool of olive oil and came in a variety of sizes.I liked the small ones best. They were fresh and tender, with a hint of sweetness. The two larger ones weren't as enjoyable. They were much thicker, a little tough, and had a slightly bitter aftertaste.

I squeezed all the lemon on top, but overall, the flavor wasn't balanced enough for my taste. It also needed salt, which was not on the table.

V had the dorade, AKA sea bream, baked in salt (380 CZK). She absolutely loved it, saying it was the best fish she'd had "in a very, very long time."She told the waiter how fresh it tasted. He said it had just come in the day before, on Saturday.

V went on about how moist it was after cooking in the salt, as opposed to grilled ones she'd had recently. No joke, she discussed her deep feelings about this fish for days afterward.

For dessert, I had what they call "chocolate soufflé" with vanilla ice cream (95 CZK). It was not a soufflé. It was a fondant.I'm 98% sure it wasn't baked on the premises. It tasted remarkably like a "Melting Middle Chocolate Pudding" from Marks & Spencer.

Nothing for fondant fanatics to write home about. That said, I confess to liking this possibly packaged treat.

We were happy and satisfied after the first two visits this year. I hadn't planned on a third trip, but somewhat spontaneously, we ended up there one more time for a dinner with three friends.

SPOILER ALERT: The third meal had an unfortunate twist. I hate unhappy endings. If you feel the same, then read no further.

For the rest of you, I can report that things started relatively well. Everyone raved about the grilled octopus I recommended.

But I was annoyed by the pop music blaring from the flat-screen TV they have outside.

Jersey Girl had a radicchio salad (165 CZK).It had a large lump of mozzarella on top, which the waiter said was burrata. There were cherry tomatoes. Jersey Girl said the cheese was good, but the chopped radicchio was oversalted.

We had some lovely wine, a 2006 Vranac from Montenegro's Plantaže. Everyone commented on how much they enjoyed it.Very smooth, low in tanins, and an inviting perfume rising out of the glass. We ordered two bottles. Great for just 490 CZK each.

Now comes the disappointing part.

Lady J ordered the sea bass baked in salt (380 CZK). She said it tasted odd. She had a cold so her nose was stuffed and couldn't smell it. She had several more bites (which is why it is pretty torn up in the photo) commenting on the strangeness of the flavor.This is roughly the conversation that ensued.

"I think there's something wrong with my fish," she said. Her husband, who had ordered the exact same dish, took a forkful of hers.

"Oh no, that's really bad!" It was spoiled. V and Jersey Girl said they could smell the rotten odor from across the table. I could see the flesh was desiccated and falling apart. Her husband's looked fine and firm.

I cannot understand how such a bad fish got cooked, let alone served, without the staff noticing.

V summoned the waiter and gave him a stern summary of what had happened and how bad it was. He was very apologetic. He swiftly removed the offending plate and said that desserts and another bottle of wine would be on the house.

Lady J ordered a replacement dish of pappardelle with tuna (190 CZK), which they did charge her for.She said the pasta was underdone, perhaps because it was rushed out. But she said the tuna was overcooked.

For dessert, we just ordered two "chocolate soufflés" for the table. There was more proof that the kitchen was in a hurry and off their game. The fondants have always come out warm or hot. This time, they were cold. The chocolate in the middle was not melted.

When the waiter came out at the end to ask if everything was OK, V calmly but directly let him have it again about the dessert. He was a sorry, defeated man.

I had plenty of kind words for Giardino after the first two visits.

And despite the unpleasant experience, we may give it another chance on a summer evening. I sincerely hope their piscine problem was a one-time issue.

If they don't learn to weed out major mistakes like that, they'll have a nice garden with no customers to fill it up.

Giardino - enoteca con cucina
Záhřebská 24
Prague 2 - Vinohrady
Tel. (+420) 222 513 427


Pivní Filosof said...

I followed the thread in Expats about this post, without a lot of interest, I must confess.

Now that I finally read the post, I think you did well in mentioning this not so little hiccup. It was a fair review. This shows why professional reviewers have to go more than once to the same place before penning their critique. Anyway, the attitude of the staff was very, very professional and it shows that such things don't happen too often.

Brewsta said...

Hi Max. Regarding your point on the number of visits, I have to repeat something I've mentioned before. I don't always go multiple times to a restaurant.

I feel I straddle a fine line between blogger and reviewer. My blog posts have often been a snapshot of one dinner shared by V and myself. Fair? Not always. But I spent my money and I tell what happened.

The majority of my Expat posts were based on multiple trips. But not all. Celeste was a one-visit piece. So, was Perpetuum, though that was a group affair that gave me a wider selection.

Do I consider myself a "professional" reviewer? I have a hard time thinking in those terms. I'm just a guy who eats out a lot and likes to share good stories. And there's really not much profit in it except for having fun with it and eating (sometimes) good food.

I have a lot of "hands on" experience, so to speak. I've been to hundreds of Prague restaurants. But I don't present myself as an expert. I don't say this how a coq au vin should taste. I just say it tasted good to me and why.

I mean, I didn't know what a mirepoix was until the great Dave Faries mentioned it in a review and I had to go look it up.

pivobud said...

And not to be confused with Il Giardino in Branik?


Off the beaten path but definitely worth a trip and a nice outdoor mix grill

Also, just a shout out for a neat place to take a cooking class or hold a team building event. Chef Parade on Husitska in Zizkov and they've got a nice little shop with outstanding olive oils.


Good fun and highly recommended.

Pivní Filosof said...

My mentioning of the multiple visits was by no means a criticism to you. I think everyone who follows this blog is well aware that you pay for most of your meals from your own pocket and the reviews are not "professional" in the sense that you are not getting paid for them. You are "just" a bloke who likes eating out and sharing your experiences with the world. No more, no less.

Professional or not, they are actually better than many from people that do get paid for having meals at fancy restaurants.

The question here is what if this incident had taken place on a first visit? What would you have done?

Brewsta said...

Sorry if I missed the point -- was not feeling defensive, but wanted to make sure there was no confusion.

Actually, I do get a small payment from Expats.cz now. But it doesn't really cover my costs (unless I review a pizza place ;-) Just helps, but the fact that it is a modest amount allows me to feel I still have an independent voice. Also that they have agreed not to edit or influence what I do. They've been great about that.

Your last question is a good one. I don't have a great answer except that I'd decide on a case-by-case basis. I've eaten at places I planned to review, been turned off by the food and decided it wasn't worth the effort.

Another time, I ripped TGI Friday in a post on one disastrous visit. One factor is if they appear to care or are sorry or don't appear to give a damn. Sometimes it just is what it is -- a story that happened to us and I tell my friends.

The question is -- do I have some greater responsibility and shouldn't say what happened to in just one experience because I have a bigger audience than just my immediate circle?

I'd usually tell the story anyway. I hardly think I have make or break power, and anyone is welcome to counter my experience with different views here or on Expats. I'll just keep doing what I've always done and let the chips fall where they may.

Pivní Filosof said...

Taking it case by case is exactly what I would do....

In this particular case, I think I would have given them another chance, mostly because of the way the service reacted, it showed they cared and that such things don't happen too often. I believe that at most places you would have got an apology, something new to eat, and that's it, mate.

In TGI's case, if I remember well, I think you did the right thing, not only the food was not up to standards, but the service didn't seem to give much of a shit anyway, so, they did deserve the ripping.

But, do they really care? Did they try to communicate with you? I don't think so.

I don't believe we bloggers are all that important, but in this day an age, every client counts, so businesses should pay more attention to what some bloggers write.

Brewsta said...

I look at it like this. On the one hand, one visit may not give a good overview of what a restaurant is about. That can be unfair.

On the other hand, as a paying customer, if I go once and have an unpleasant experience, I probably wouldn't go again. I'd feel disappointed and that I wasted my time and money. I'd tell my friends about it. But sucks for me.

Flip conclusion: Life is unfair.

Anonymous said...

There's another side to your conclusion, Brewsta: Murphy was an optimist.

I just read a post where someone was expressing reservations (without apparently having eaten there) about the atmosphere at a restaurant you recently reviewed.

Honestly if we're going to pick local restaurants based solely or even mainly on atmosphere, well...

I am inordinately happy anytime I get great food here and I personally don't care whether it's at a kiosk or at a 5* hotel (I've had both experiences recently). And it's happening more and more frequently; yay!

Hopefully your blog will be taken by the restaurants themselves as helpful pointers, rather than personal attacks. Consistency is very important and the work schedule here simply doesn't allow for this. Maybe restaurants will find it easier to find staff (nevermind good staff) in these economic conditions? Here's hoping things will change for the better, as they've already started to do foodwise.

Richard said...

I was yesterday in the restaurant.. Very nice food, helpful waiters (huge thunder shower broke out) helping everybody and their dishes inside..

But, I saw that the bread was on the bill. The bread was very OK. But, I think bread should be something like the extra of the restaurant and definetely for free.. Paying for bread is to me like lowering yourself to the category of tourist trap.

Laus Sorensen said...

I've had lunch at Giardino a couple of times, and I found it to be good value for money. So I decided to invite my boyfriend for dinner. That was a huge mistake!!!
The waiter was stressed (he was the only one working that night), but sort of friendly, and he gave us the menu. I picked a wine - they didn't have it. I picked another - they didn't have it. Third time lucky, and the wine was OK. A Chianti.
We were able to pick our starters without any problems. But then again the trouble continued. I wanted Ossobuco (which was actually one of my reasons for going). They didn't have it. Then I picked lamb, which they also didn't have. So I tried with the chicken breast filled with Italian bacon and ricotta served with rosemary-cream sauce, and again third time a winner. I asked if I could have the saffron risotto (from the ossobuco) as a side dish, and no problem. My boyfriend ordered Beef medaillons Rossini.
The starters came and were actually very good.
But the main dishes? Disaster! My boyfriend was sort of lucky. His beef was just underseasoned, completely bland and boring - but kind of edible, even though he didn't enjoy it at all. But my chicken was not edible at all. The risotto was undercooked (yes! Undercooked risotto in Prague), and I just couldn't chew it. But even worse, the rosemory in the sause was so overwhelming that it made the whole dish impossible to eat. I wanted to be polite and tried my best by removing rosemary leaves in the amount of a small christmas tree - but it didn't help, and I had to give up. The waiter came over and asked if there was a problem, and I told him it wasn't possible to eat the food. "Pity", he said. "I guess you should have picked something else, then".
When we got the bill, everything was there - also the ineible food we had sent out. They waiter didn't care - we had picked the food ourselves, and we had eaten from it (which is true - I really tried to give it a chance). I asked to talk with the manager. It turned out that it was the guy, who had been sitting all night at the table next to ours, sipping grappa (and a lot of grappa). He basically told us that we were stupid, if we didn't like the food and that people like us were probably better off dining in the centre with the other tourists.
I paid the bill. My last one in Giordino.