Sunday, September 27, 2009

Cloud 9 Sky Bar & Lounge

"The brightest sunshine of success is not without a cloud." Samuel Johnson
Cloud 9 Sky Bar & Lounge first floated onto my radar screen at the 2009 Prague Food Festival. The beef satay from their stand was a little dry, but I had a feeling they could do better on their home turf.

More recently, I checked out the internet menu of this relatively new cocktail spot on top of the cube-like Hilton Hotel, which is not to be confused with the Hilton Old Town.There were a lot of tempting items, and I thought the cocktail prices looked relatively reasonable for such an upscale place.

And I was curious. Despite many years in Prague, I'd never set foot in this Hilton, which boasts a top-end restaurant. Something about the location and the architecture put me off, even though it's pretty close to the Florenc metro station and bus stops.

The other night, I walked into the atrium and eventually found the special mirrored elevator up to the roof. I came out into a dark black marble hallway.When I turned the corner, there was a corridor that looked liked the entrance to CONTROL headquarters in "Get Smart." Lights around each section blinked on and off in succession, bidding you to follow.Just before entering the cocktail lounge, I passed one of the terraces.There was a somewhat distant view of Prague Castle, sitting above a much closer insurance company office building.I turned right past a well-dressed, well-muscled door man and walked into the purplish-hot pink seating area.I discovered they can alter the colors and the lights came down more later on. Techno-style music, which fit the decor, was played at an acceptable level. But it was not exactly my favorite style.

A bevy of attractive hostesses descended upon me as I sought out the optimal place to sit. I walked with them over into the second section of the lounge, but there were only four-seaters there.

So, I went back to where I started and sank down into a comfortable chair at a two-top. V was out of town -- I was going to have to manage solo once again. I was surrounded by, from what I could tell, were mostly hotel guests. There was a spread of age ranges. A fair number of Americans.

They started me off with some chips and nuts. They may not look like much, but these were some of the best cocktail snacks I've had.The chips, which were a wide variety of shapes, sizes and colors appeared homemade. The waitress told me they were all potato, but they all had different flavors, from slightly sweet to salty to spicy. There were also slightly sticky sweet and salty almonds.

For a start, I ordered one of Master Bartender Roman Uhlíř's "Signature Cocktails," called a Mystic (160 CZK). It was vodka, lime, homemade ginger syrup, and brown sugar.It was quite sweet, with a hint of lime-like bitterness. I was disappointed the ginger flavor was not more obvious. The Mystic wasn't bad, but I'd prefer the similar, but rum-based Jamaica Mule served at Bukowski's.

Even though I'd already eaten earlier in the evening, I felt it was my duty to eat again. I had to try that peppered beef satay (260 CZK). I was impressed by the very tender, top quality meat.It was exactly the kind of beef a place like Essensia at the Mandarin Oriental should be using, rather than the chew toy they served on our recent visit. Cloud 9's beef, with its soy marinade, was just a tad too salty.

On the side, there was a sesame oil mayo. I wish there was a better accompaniment. I could hardly taste any sesame, and mayo is far from my first choice of beef condiment. That part just didn't work for me.

Still, I was enjoying it and was down to my last couple of bites when the waitress came to take my finished drink away. Unfortunately, she spilled the crushed ice from the glass all over the table and some into my lap.She apologized and cleaned up quickly as I cleared the ice from my chair and checked that my mobile phone survived. I didn't realize until she was gone that she had whisked away my unfinished bites of beef.

I didn't feel like complaining and asking for a replacement or discount over so little, but I wasn't terribly happy about losing some food, either.

For my second drink, I ordered the New Classic Margarita (250 CZK). The drink was made with 100% agave tequila, Cointreau, fresh lime juice, and agave syrup.The price was eye-popping, but I hoped it would buy me something special.

Thankfully, it was excellent. It suited my taste, not too sweet, just the right sourness level from the lime, and it clearly packed a smooth punch. I was only slightly disappointed it came in a fairly small martini glass.

To go with this drink, I ordered the tuna tartare (290 CZK). It looked small in the picture on the website, but I thought it was a reasonably generous portion.The tuna was sandwiched between very light crackers. I could taste wasabi and ginger mixed in. Really good. It said it came with avocado, and there was a dab of green stuff on each cracker. But I wouldn't have known it was avocado unless someone told me.

The menu mentioned tomato, but I didn't see or taste any. Perhaps it blended in too well with the red tuna. The wasabi cream on the side was pleasantly sharp and a little sweet, but I used it sparingly. The batter-fried onion strings on the side weren't bad, but very messy and awkward to eat.

While not perfect as a whole, the tuna itself was so nice, I thought it worth the money.

For my final cocktail, I ordered something called an Elise (160 CZK). As if it wasn't embarrassing enough, I had to repeat the name three times before the waitress understood what I was asking for. I'm still asking myself why I ordered this strange concoction.It is made with gin, limoncello, peach liqueur, mango, grapefruit juice, and orgeat syrup.

My initial thought was this cocktail would be too frou-frou. Then, I thought I shouldn't be so closed-minded. Essentially, I only ordered it because I love limoncello.

It was cloyingly sweet, but with the bitterness of grapefruit. I picked up a hint of mango, but I really couldn't taste the limoncello at all. The orgeat is supposed to give it an almond flavor, but I didn't notice it, either.

This drink might work for someone else, but I really didn't like it.

I ordered one more round of food and had the bruschetta with port-marinated duck foie gras and fig marmalade (290 CZK).The marmalade was extremely sweet, but it balanced out on top of the buttery, smooth, creamy liver. The bread was good quality, but could have been toasted (or better toasted).

It was simple, but a satisfying dessert of sorts. I know foie gras, even from ducks, isn't that cheap. True, it was a rich few bites. But the plate looked pretty empty, and it felt unsubstantial for the money.

I had a fairly favorable opinion of the bar during the first visit, but things got a little more hazy after the second.

On that one, they still had the nice almonds, but the chips had changed. These were all the same -- almost black in color and appeared overcooked.They didn't taste burnt, but didn't have the most pleasant flavor, either.

I decided another "signature" cocktail was in order. I got the Black Pearl (165 CZK).It was made with premium Vodka, Chambord, Grand Marnier, cranberry and fresh lime juice. It had a great color, with great blackberries and raspberries as garnish, but that's the best I could say about it.

It was just too sweet. I could taste the cranberry and chambord very clearly. But I missed any sense of tart balance from the lime or orange flavor from the Grand Marnier.

The food menu tempted me once again. The teriyaki duck in rice paper rolls were delivered to my table (240 CZK). These cool, tightly-wrapped rolls, had the right look and some heft to them.There was a chili sambal on the side that was very spicy, peppery, and slightly too salty.

What I found inside was disappointing. It was all very fresh, but sadly bland. I could barely detect any teriyaki flavor. The duck was so flavorless, it could have been chicken.

There was some crunch from the greens inside. The texture was right, but not the taste. There was no basil or cilantro (coriander), as far I could tell, which would have seriously helped.

Then I got a mojito (160 CZK). I've had many great ones at a number of different bars around Prague. This was not one of them.It was too sweet, and there was still a lot of undissolved sugar at the bottom. It did have plenty of mint, which was good. But again, the sour notes were really lacking. Not enough lime.

Finally, I continued my quest for something sublime with lime. I got a Gimlet (140 CZK).This is one of my favorite cocktails, but it was not sublime. It was subprime. It was super-pucker sour, tasting like pure lime juice and gin.

A classic Gimlet is made with Rose's lime juice, which is sweet. There was nothing sweet about this drink. And to top it off, it was a very ungenerous pour. The small martini glass was more than half-empty.

Cloud 9 Sky Bar & Lounge is not the type of place I usually like to hang out. It was pretty stylish, but the clientele does give it something of a hotel feel, however upscale.

It did have a good view, comfortable chairs, some enjoyable dishes with not completely insane prices. That's relative, of course.

My total bill for the first visit came to 1410 CZK, not including tip. If V was with me, it probably would have been closer to 2500 CZK. The second trip cost me 705 CZK.

If you'd have asked me after my first visit, I'd probably recommend the bar for a date and a few little bites to eat. But after the second visit, my opinion changed.

There were just not enough shining moments and too many dark clouds raining on my cocktail parade.

Cloud 9 Sky Bar & Lounge
Prague Hilton Hotel
Pobřežní 1
Prague 8
Tel. (+420) 224 842 999

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Brewsta's Burgers

** I try to do a fresh burger list ever year. Click here for the 2011 edition.

"I want to keep fighting because it is the only thing that keeps me out of the hamburger joints. If I don't fight, I'll eat this planet." George Foreman
More than a year ago, I did my own survey of Prague's hamburgers.

I certainly wasn't the first to do so. This particularly American food has been a very popular topic here, and my burger post received big hits.

As I noted then, The Prague Post used to do an annual article on Prague's best burgers.

And I saw that Laura Baranik of Prague Spoon fame just published a review of several burgers in Lidove noviny.

For the past several months, I'd been collecting fresh burger data for an update. So, I thought now would be a good time to put out my own list.

This post will not tell you what is the best hamburger in Prague. But it will tell you what I like the most. And the least.

My survey is far from comprehensive -- burgers are becoming increasingly ubiquitous in the Czech capital. But it is a much longer list than any other I've seen out there. And I've got pictures.

I always ordered a bacon cheeseburger, if possible, which usually came with fries. I ate some of these burgers quite a while ago -- the price listed usually reflects what I paid. If the burger has changed since my visit, let me know.

Anyway, let's begin with my least favorites and work our way up to my most loved. And it is love.

16. Jet Set City Center (180 CZK)The most unpleasant piece of meat I have encountered. It was well done, to the point of being dry and rubbery. I actually got tired chewing. I lost the will to finish it.

The bacon was, let's say, un-American -- very ham-like. Also, I'm not a big fan of the more ball-like patty style. They must have fried the hell out of it to cook that thick meat all the way through.

15. Red Hot & BluesI did not like this big, bad burger. The best thing I could say about it was that it was large.

The ground beef was rubbery, and the bacon was a disaster. The slices of pork were so overcooked, they had the consistency of a Visa card. And this was not a one-time mistake. Their bacon at breakfast was bad, too.

And to top it off, they put some cheap ketchup in my Heinz ketchup bottle. Either that or they mixed the real stuff with water. I'm sure I'm not the only one who can tell the difference. I don't recall what the price was -- I lost the receipt, and I don't think their website is up to date.

14. Cafe Imperial (235 CZK)They called it the "Double fist" Hamburger." It was quite wide. But the patty was also surprisingly thin. And even stranger, given the lack of depth, was that the one served to me was practically raw. I'd rate it higher if it was cooked properly.

But I was also put off when I found cucumbers on top. That's just wrong. My favorite thing about this one was the perfect grilled onions on top.

13. Mozaika (199 CZK)I do not give extra points for creativity. In fact, on my list, I take them away. Mozaika's burger was too clever by half.

The meat was too peppery. The grilled onions, combined with bacon, cheese, lettuce, and tomato did not combine well. It was chaos under the bun. The thing was certainly large, but felt like a rock in my stomach.

Overall, I like Mozaika, though it seemed to have lowered its standards on our last visit.

12. Ultramarin (220 CZK)This burger has gotten some positive press, but I didn't like it much. The menu said it was cooked on a "lava grill," but I could not taste it. The flavor was undistinguished. The beef was cooked well-done, and it was slightly rubbery.

It had onion jam on it, which was unconventional, a little too sweet, but not terrible. However, I was disappointed by the single mushroom cap on top. That didn't work. They should have cut up a few more and fried 'em.

The bacon was too hammy, which I don't like. There was no tomato on the side, just red peppers and cucumbers. On the plus side, it was huge. And it had a great bun.

11. Cafe Bar Wigwam (115 CZK)This is the burger I love to hate and hate to love. It's always a train wreck. Being a regular at the restaurant, I've probably had more of these than from any other place. And it seems like every week, it comes out differently.

But in general, the meat is almost always overcooked and too salty. The crumbly, low-quality bun is a repeat criminal offender. Construction is usually haphazard. The bacon is smoky, but rarely crispy. It's often drowning in mayo.

I wouldn't recommend this burger to anyone. It shouldn't rank this high. And yet... I have a place in my slowly clogging heart for this thing. Don't ask me why, it's not rational.

10.Burger King (109 CZK includes fries and Coke)That's right. I liked the Whopper more than all the burgers listed above. Harsh and somewhat twisted, I know. But that's how I feel.

9. Fraktal (170 CZK)They have a flame grill. I saw the burgers flaring up on it. But I could hardly taste it. Very disappointing.

The beef had a seasoning that I didn't mind so much. But the meat also had a slightly rubbery consistency. The melted cheese was excellent, and the bun was good and strong. If they hadn't murdered the bacon, I'd have rated it higher. And the fries weren't hot.

8. TGI Friday's (270 CZK)This burger's flame-broiled patty reminded me a lot of Burger King. The meat is thicker and juicier than a Whopper, but still thinner than many other burgers on the list. There was great American-style bacon. To me, it's a gourmet version of a Whopper. Except they put the toppings on the bottom. Not good for them.

I don't love the restaurant, but I liked this pricy burger. One important thing you should know: at the Anděl location, it was 40 CZK cheaper than at the Na Příkopě TGI Friday's. I did have a bad service experience at Anděl. But their great chocolate shake put me in a forgiving mood.

7. Jama (205 CZK)The menu offers a bacon burger (175 CZK) and a cheddar burger (175 CZK), but 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).

On the hefty burger I had, the bacon had the tell-tale signs of being deep fried rather than pan fried. Also, the onions were cut so thick, they wouldn't fit under the bun. The owner later wrote me and said those things would be fixed. But I returned and the onions were the same. I didn't recheck the bacon.

The meat was good quality and juicy, but pan-fried. Good toasted bun and plenty of cheese.

6. U Maleho Glena (155 CZK)This one was pretty good and hit a lot of the right classic notes. The meat was juicy and flavorful. But I believe it was pan-fried.

The bacon was plentiful and smoky, giving it almost a grilled taste, but it was soft and not really crispy. The tomatoes were sliced in annoying, awkward wedges. Red lettuce is not my favorite for burgers. The toasted, buttered bun was a real winner. It was among the sturdiest, holding everything together very well, and yet not too heavy.

I didn't subtract a point because the cook disappeared and didn't start cooking for 15 minutes after I ordered when I was super hungry.

5. Golf & Country Club Hodkovičky (235 CZK)Good burgers at a golf club? Even I was shocked. This burger probably would win the contest for best looks. Everything was well-balanced and proportioned.

I really loved the flavor of the ground beef. Just the right fat content. I didn't like the lettuce, tomato, and onion sitting under the meat. I'd downgrade them for only giving a tiny dish of ketchup and forcing me to ask for another one.

4. El Barrio de Ángel (159 CZK)Cooked on a flame grill, this ground beef came all the way from South America. The patty was well-seasoned, with a perfect amount of salt. The low fat content made it very dense and even a bit dry in the middle. Still, juices dripped on the plate -- the chef brushes the burger a lot on the grill.

It came with lettuce, tomato, onion, and mayo already on it. It was well-constructed. But I'm not a big fan of having mayo already on the burger, except at Burger King, where I have been conditioned to expect it.

3. Hard Rock Cafe (280 CZK)This one wins the prize for best flame-grill flavor. They put a char on that baby without ruining the meat inside.

The bacon was top quality stuff, but overcooked at the edges. For me, there was just a little too much melted cheddar cloaking the good quality meat. The bun was strong and nicely toasted, but a little large and out of proportion to the size of the patty.

The lettuce, tomato, and raw onion rings were good and correctly sized. I was happy to see some pickle slices. Despite my small criticisms here, this was a great burger, and I had a real hard time ranking the top three. I love them all.

2. Potrefena Husa on Vinohradska (248 CZK)I eat lots of these Husa burgers because I live nearby. They are truly great. They are cooked on flame, and you can always taste it.

The meat is high quality, but perhaps a little too lean, leading to some dryness if it is cooked too long. The patty was small for the bun, but still very filling. The bun is one of the weaker ones. The bacon isn't exactly American-style, but it is usually cooked more crispy than usual for English style.

The lettuce, tomato, and red onion are cut and sized just right, so it all fits together well. They give you different types of Heinz ketchup to go with it. I wish it wasn't so costly, but I should note that it used to be much more -- around 300 CZK. They dropped the price. Smart move. But still an expensive habit.

1. Bohemia Bagel in Holešovice (155 CZK) I wish I could get to this restaurant more often. Only because I love this burger. It strongly appeals to my fire-cooked bias.

The ground beef is lightly salty and juicy. The bacon occupies that place in the American-English divide, not as crispy as I'd like, but there's usually plenty of it. There's red onion, lettuce and tomato already on there. But I'd take a point off for them putting it under the patty, where the juices run into them. They should be on top.

Then, there is the great, toasted, buttered bun, which is like the one used at U Malého Glena (both started by Glenn Spicker). It's the perfect size and helps make this burger great. And I confess, the great price does help it taste a little better to me.

But like I said, the top three are almost interchangeable in my book -- all delicious.

I'll just add at the end that, putting aside individual components, I just ranked these hamburgers according to my level of eagerness to have another one. Maybe you have a different list. Or you don't like hamburgers at all.

That's fine. I don't want waste time fighting about it.

I still have a lot more hamburger eating to do.

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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Goran Bregović Plays in Prague

Not my usual thing, but I saw Goran Bregović's free concert on Prague's Old Town Square with many thousands of others and really enjoyed it. So I thought I'd share.

I found a nice spot to watch the show -- here's bunch of different songs

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Frank Bruni Spills the Beans

"I love the beef blend and the flavor, but I was always bummed out by the ratio of beef-to-bun-to-condiments. But then I realized I was being the biggest bonehead in the world. Just get a double!" Frank Bruni

I was a fan of Frank Bruni's no-nonsense, witty restaurant reviews in The New York Times and was sorry to see him go.

But in the last month, I have greatly enjoyed his articles describing some of his secrets, favorites, and insights into the life of a critic.

I read with relish today this nice, long excerpt from his book that was republished in The Guardian. The book is called "Born Round: The Secret History of a Full-Time Eater."

It's full of juicy, behind-the-scenes details. I loved this bit about dining at the Penthouse (Magazine) Executive Club:

Foxy," I began, then stopped myself, wondering if I was being too familiar. "Are you and I on a first-name basis, or should I address you as Ms Foxy?"

"You can call me Dr Foxy," she said.

"Is that an MD or a PhD?"

"Yes," she answered, as if that settled it.

I send my thanks to Richard for pointing out this great article in his comment on a post. That post also just happens to mentions my latest post -- Brewsta's Burgers on

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Monday, September 7, 2009

The Club House in The Park

I rose politely in the club
And said, 'I feel a little bored;
Will someone take me to a pub?'
G.K. Chesterton
If you work in The Park in Chodov, you're familiar with The Club House.It's a small, modern cafeteria-style restaurant in The Plaza in the middle of that modern, glass-clad office park.

But it's not just for desk drones, managers of middles, the IT crowd or masters the universe.

Take me, for example.

I don't work in The Park, but I've eaten there several times when visiting some of its many business establishments. There are plenty of reasons to be there besides work. The complex has a fitness center, a hair salon, the Canadian Medical Center, and it is walking distance to the massive Chodov mall.

Then, there's the pedigree: The Club House is run by Zátiší Catering, which is related to the Zátiší Group's gourmet restaurants.

Other points of interest: The Zátiší people do the food at a number of other venues like Žofín Garden on the river, and they are now running the cafeteria at the International School of Prague.

Seeing as how one of these Zátiší operations might soon be coming to a location near you, I thought it worth taking a closer look at what they do and how they do it.

In addition to the nice deck, fountains, and reflecting pool, the restaurant has an unusual landscaping addition: a putting green.You can rent a club and balls from the restaurant and work on your game. You can, but I wouldn't. It is hard for me to imagine standing up there perfecting putts in front of office workers during lunch.

The restaurant itself has a simple shoebox design with glass walls that fit in well with the rest of the office park.Lines form at peak times, but they move along quickly. The eatery is only open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on workdays.With summer rapidly slipping away, I'll start with the best offering there: Their outdoor grill.I've enjoyed their barbecue on many occasions.For around 130 CZK, you get meat, potatoes, and a salad, usually coleslaw.I really enjoyed the beef.But they also have had delicious pork and chicken.The meats always have great charred edges or grill marks and the smoky flavor I love so much.

I'm not a big fan of their coleslaw. I don't like how the mayo runs off into the meat and potatoes. And I don't like seeing it sit out in the sun for so long on a hot day.

The pizza looked like a popular choice. It was 34 CZK for a quarter of a small, thin-crusted pie.I didn't like it. The slices usually sat under a heat lamp and lost almost all crispness. They were too salty and not well-sauced. The cheese tasted too much like parmesan and not enough like mozzarella.

One time, I tried one of their hot lunch specials. This time, it was baked penne pasta with a cheese sauce, chicken, mushrooms, and peas (125 CZK).It was pretty disastrous. The cheese cooled quickly, and turned it into one giant blob with the penne.

On top of that, it was very bland. Luckily, there was a bottle of Tabasco sauce available. I used a lot.

There were very simple, boring-looking sandwiches that were pre-made in a display. They didn't look worth trying to me.

However, I did go to a Zátiší-catered event once at the Congress Center, and they had a much more interesting sandwich selection. I recall a Mexican-style sandwich with actual guacamole. Not fantastic, but better than what they offered at The Park.

The Club House also had pre-made Caesar and Caprese salads (49 CZK).

Another hot lunch special was meatballs with tomato cream sauce and macaroni.This was better than the chicken pasta, but not by much.

The meatballs were very dense and salty, but edible. The sauce, which had some cranberry on top, was understandably on the sweet side. The macaroni should have been salted, but was not overcooked.

For a drink, I usually had a half-liter bottle of Nestea (30 CZK).I'm a big dessert guy, so I tried their chocolate brownie.It was chocolaty enough, with a dusting of cocoa powder. But that powder also made it a mess to eat. And unfortunately, it was fairly dried out.

I also had their muffin with the chocolate center (24 CZK). This was moister, and I liked the fudgy middle.It was better than most muffins you'll find around town, but it still had something of a mass-produced style to it.

I'd say the Club House is a pretty average cafeteria in a pretty building in a pretty, manicured landscape. The food has a fancy look and presentation, but all too often, it's a bore.

The bottom line at this spot in Chodov is if you see the grill fired up outside, The Club House is the place to be.

If not, you might be better off rising politely and taking a friend to the pub for a liquid lunch.

The Club House
V Parku
Prague - Chodov
Office delivery: 604 966 965

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