Sunday, October 25, 2009

Luka Lu

"Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Mark Twain
I eat out all the time, and I'm always searching for something new and different. The list of places that I return to after more than a couple of visits is rather short.

When we're floating around Malá Strana and hunger strikes, we'll usually end up at one of three places: Little Whale for moderately priced international cuisine, Noi for some of the better Thai food in the city, or Luka Lu for Croatian comfort food.We were at Luka Lu, which means "Harbor Lu," twice in the last few months.

The first time, it was still warm, so we sat in their green, leafy garden in the back.It's rather unique in that they keep a variety of colorful birds there. They provide entertainment by jumping, flying, and squawking around.I suppose someone might find them annoying or distracting. But most kids, like me, love 'em.

The waiter started us out with good, chewy, crusty bread.With it came two types of cottage cheese-like spread. One was plain, the other was mixed with garlic and paprika.The cheeses had a smooth, clean flavor. It was a much nicer alternative to butter. Just be aware, this nice start had a price. There was a 35 CZK per head cover.

V got a mixed salad, which was mostly tomatoes and cucumbers (65 CZK).It needed dressing. I had to hunt down some oil and vinegar. It was very simple, and V thought it was a little too expensive for what it was.

I've had a number of great starters here in the past, including the prosciutto and melon (175 CZK) and the roasted pepper stuffed with cheese (145 CZK). I first posted about this restaurant more than two years ago and wrote about some of these dishes.

For a main course during our garden visit, I had calamari cooked on a lava grill (245 CZK). This is one of my favorites.The little squid were tender and smoky, not overcooked. There was a generous portion. And on the side was a lovely olive oil mixed with chopped fresh basil. A simpler but enjoyable version of pesto.

On the side, I had the American-style potatoes (55 CZK).This is a common feature on Czech menus, but the uninitiated should know that they are American only in the sense that French fries are French. They were a bit greasy, and a little bland. They're not the kind of potatoes you'd eat with ketchup. But I often order the condiment, ajvar, with them.

V loves a lot of the seafood dishes at Luka Lu, especially the octopus (385 CZK). It is baked and comes with what V describes as a "Balkan ratatouille." She also loves the "Spaghetti al'Gambari" (215 CZK). That's made with shrimp, basil, Parmesan, and cherry tomatoes.

But at this meal, she ordered the grilled dorade (355 CZK). The fresh, sweet meat was grilled to perfection.It was not fishy at all. There was some lemon and the olive oil with basil on the side. Again, simple but right.

On our second, more recent visit, we sat inside.The restaurant is full of brightly colored kitsch.The doll house decor is not my favorite, but some people love it. It does have its cheerful aspects. Even on the ceiling.V had a couple of glasses of white wine (85 CZK each).I was annoyed they don't serve Mattoni in .33 liter bottles.

Instead, they have those tiny .2 liter bottles of Bonaqua that do not quench my thirst, but parch my wallet. I boycott Bonaqua. So we ordered a .75 liter bottle of Valser sparkling mineral water (115 CZK).

V ordered the dorade again. I chastised her for not ordering something different so as to offer a greater variety of information for you, the reader.

However, the fish itself was as good as ever.She was not happy that the balsamic syrup that was under the fish on the first visit was now on top of it. She's a purist and didn't want uninvited flavors interfering with her fish.

I decided I wanted pljeskavice -- Balkan ground and grilled meat. But there was mix up. They have two kinds. There was the "Gourmet Pljeskavice" made with Eidam cheese and bacon (225 CZK). And there was just "Pljeskavice" stuffed with cream cheese (235 CZK).

When the waiter took my order, I had already closed my menu, so I said I wanted the "normal" one, meaning I didn't want "Gourmet." I should have been clearer, but "Gourmet" was what he brought me.A debate then ensued between V and the waiter about whether "Gourmet" meant "normal" and whether the waiter should have asked if he wasn't sure what I wanted. The discussion was rather odd and somewhat unpleasant as the waiter was defensive.

I said I'd eat the one that was served. In all honesty, I didn't like it so much. It had a pronounced bacon flavor, which I liked, but the meat patty was thick, tough, and chewy, and the cheese was on the rubbery side. I had grilled potatoes (45 CZK) on the side, which were a bit overcooked.Knowing Luka Lu as we do, we wouldn't let a few problems stand in the way of a return visit. We've had plenty more positive ones over the years.I will say V likes the restaurant more than I do.

She has had many meals there without me. As I said, she's a big fan of some of their seafood dishes.

It's not a cheap place -- our bills there average 1000 CZK for two. But we almost always feel we are getting value for money.

When navigating the treacherous, touristy restaurant scene of Prague, most people find a safe harbor at Luka Lu.

Luka Lu
Újezd 33
Malá Strana
Prague 1
Tel. (+420) 257 212 388

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Pescheria Adriatico

"Sell a man a fish, he eats for a day, teach a man how to fish, you ruin a wonderful business opportunity." Karl Marx
I have no manifesto, but I do have a mission: To eat, drink, and spread the wealth, so to speak, of my experiences.

I am determined to interpret this vague and self-assigned mandate as broadly as possible. In part, that is because I get bored easily. I don't like conventional limits.

So I write about food festivals, sausage stands, coffee houses, and yes, specialty food shops. In the past, I've done posts about Cheesy, Thai's Asian Food Shop, Aromi La Bottega, and a number of others.

Now, I'll tell you about Pescheria Adriatico, a new fish shop in Žižkov.I was tipped off by a trusted source, my neighbor, Pivobud.

He was pretty excited. Having a place that sells fresh fish in this part of town would save much traveling, if not money. One of the few other purveyors of good quality stuff, SeafoodShop, is down on Zborovská in Prague 5 -Malá Strana. There's another outlet in the Palladium shopping mall.

They are not cheap. They are not close.

I was very intrigued and went down for a look on a Saturday. The cases at Pescheria were not too full, but the stuff looked good.The place is still getting off the ground. Pivobud did some great intelligence work, interrogated one of the owners, and discovered the following:

The fish is currently delivered every Friday morning, so Friday's or Saturday morning (even though they have no posted hours for Saturday) is the best time to go. Avoid Thursdays unless they get more delivery days.There were two gentlemen who seem to be running the place. One is an Italian who apparently speaks French and some broken English, and a Czech guy who gave a lot of details about the shop.

It appears they are supplying some restaurants with their catch. Pivobud saw a leaflet for Pescheria Adriatico on the counter at Osteria da Clara.

Since they're connected with the Adriatic fishing community and bring their fish from an Italian coastal market, you can special order anything you want. You just have to let them know by Tuesdays and be willing to spend at least 500 CZK.

On my visit there, I picked up a dorade for V (400 CZK/kilo).This beautiful, clear-eyed fish cost 170 CZK.

V prepared it by slicing its sides, stuffing the cuts with cloves of garlic, then coating it with olive oil, salt and rosemary.

She cooked it under our oven's broiler.The flesh was pronounced delicate and delicious. Not fishy at all.

V told me that if I bought calamari, she'd clean and cook them (630 CZK/kilo). I jumped at the offer.I got all they had left in the shop, just a third of a kilo. The cost was 223 CZK.

I soaked them in milk. Then, after a dusting of flour, salt, and pepper, I flash fried them. They came out golden and delicious.They were not as buttery soft as calamari I've had in the USA. These were more firm and had a bit of snap to the flesh. But the taste was clean and light -- excellent along with some chili dipping sauce.

I didn't think the calamari would be enough for me, so I indulged and bought a slice of Pescheria's wonderful-looking tuna (1250 CZK/kilo).This filet cost me 253 CZK. I compared the price with the fish shop in Palladium, and they were almost the same. So, no great bargain here.

I got the first cut from the middle of a long piece of tuna, so it was really pristine -- a beautiful ruby red. I marinated it in soy sauce mixed with wasabi and lightly seared it on my cast iron grill.It picked up a sweet, smoky flavor along with some black stripes.

Then, I sliced it up, and dipped the pieces in soy sauce mixed with wasabi.My presentation could use work, but the flavor, which is what really counts, was perfect.

I'm not a big expert on what fish markets charge, but Pivobud called it "the best value for money in town."

His bill for four medium-size sea bass, almost two kilos, along with half a kilo of peeled shrimp, and 10 fresh anchovies, cost slightly under 1300 CZK.

He thought his catch that day would've cost double somewhere else.

Since neither of us knows a good place to fish in this particular part of Prague, I think there will be plenty of people for Pescheria Adriatico to sell to. They just need to expand their offerings and get more regular deliveries.

A wonderful business opportunity, I'd say.

Pescheria Adriatico
Bořivojova 11
Prague 3 - Žižkov
Tel (+420) 603 447 632

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Mlýnec - Forum 2000 Gala Dinner

“There's always something suspect about an intellectual on the winning side.” Vaclav Havel
I'm not a VIP, but every once in a while I get to pretend. Like last night.

V and I had the pleasure of attending the Forum 2000 Gala Dinner at the restaurant Mlýnec.

We'd been to this restaurant several times before. I'd always found dinner there enjoyable. The food was always good, though not quite as spectacular as the prices. Perhaps the most impressive thing about the restaurant is its close up view of the Charles Bridge.Last night's meal was a fixed menu for the 100 or so dignitaries. Unfortunately, given the dictates of decorum, I didn't take any food photos.

There was an amuse bouche of a small mushroom tart (nice), a quail and mushroom risotto starter (very nice), a main course of salmon wrapped around a white fish with teriyaki sauce (not so nice, not a salmon fan), and a warm apple and cinnamon tart with walnut ice cream for dessert (V's favorite part).

There were quite a few actual VIPs at the dinner, including Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer, who made a speech, and many friends of Vaclav Havel, who started Forum 2000 when he was Czech president.

I figured I could get away with taking one picture during the evening -- so forgive me that it is not of my quail or salmon.Here's a shot of Vaclav Havel and Sir Bob Geldoff, who sat quite close to us, immersed in postprandial conversation.

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Kavala Greek Restaurant

"A good decision is based on knowledge and not on numbers." Plato
V had wanted to try Kavala, the Greek restaurant in the Dejvice neighborhood, for a long time.She first noticed it when we ate across the street at Da Emanuel.

We had some time on a warm and sunny weekend day, so we headed over and found a table outside.Unfortunately, the tables were in the shadow of the interesting-looking brick building. Da Emanuel is on the sunny side of the street.

Our friendly, young waiter brought us some tasty, crusty, chewy bread.It came with excellent green olives stuffed with almonds and pit black olives. We both preferred the green.

I ordered a large sparkling mineral water. We received a .75 liter blue bottle of Zagori, a Greek brand (95 CZK).It had a hint of salinity. Despite its Hellenistic provenance, I would have prefered Mattoni, but it was fine.

V generally likes to keep costs down and usually has decent luck ordering the house wine. So she got a .2 liter glass of the house red.Great color. I took a sniff and was pleased. I took a taste and was even more impressed. Wonderful stuff.

I didn't ask exactly what it was, but based on some text on the receipt, I believe it was the Nico Lazaridi Merlot. I'll get back to you about the price later.

We decided to split an appetizer, the Thalasinos Mezes, a mixed seafood plate (320 CZK).The presentation was very attractive. The portions of each item were quite small, and the plate looked sparse for the price. But almost every bite was delicious.

I particularly like the grilled octopus. Next, we savored the perfectly seared scallop. It rested on creamy, tangy taramosalata. We wished for more of both.

There was calamari in a white wine and fish roe sauce. The squid was fresh, but just a tiny bit rubbery. I prefer the texture when it is lightly grilled. The sauce was very nice.

Our least favorite, but still OK, were the grilled shrimp on top of a little bowl of orzo. The shrimp were just too insubstantial, both in size and flavor.

On the side was a terrific olive oil. There was also a tomato sauce in a spoon, which looked like ketchup but was less sweet and had spices that tasted like cinnamon.

For my main course, I went for the pork souvlaki (210 CZK). It was creatively served on a skewer, suspended between two metal posts.In between the meat were grilled red onions and green peppers. Underneath, there was a great tzaziki-like yogurt mixed with fresh, chopped mint.

It was great and combined perfectly with the juicy, smoky meat. Again, I wished there was more of the condiment. The pork was tender, and I enjoyed it more than the souvlaki at Taverna Olympos, which can be tasty but dry.

V ordered the lamb in a spicy tomato sauce with baked potatoes (350 CZK). She loved this dish.The sauce was not very spicy, but had some interesting seasoning. The potatoes were buttery goodness. On the other hand, I found the dish too salty, and thought the meat was a little stringy. She didn't let my negativity get her down and savored every bite.

I felt the need for dessert and desired something cocoa related. I got the Chocolate Passion (110 CZK).The menu said it was made with Swiss chocolate, and I believe it. It was a mini-binge for a serious chocoholic.

The dessert was smooth and rich, with a single cherry, syrup, and Greek candies on the side. There was only one small issue -- the chocolate bars were slightly dry and crumbly.

I knew this restaurant was more upscale than your average Greek joint, so I was expecting a higher bill than I'd get at one of those places. But I was still surprised when I saw the damage: 1493 CZK.

I looked at the various items on the receipt. There was a 20 CZK cover charge per person. Not a heavy hit, but I hate when restaurants have covers. However, it was easier to stomach than the 45 CZK per person cover at Al Dente.

But my eyes popped when I saw the charge for V's two glasses of red wine. They were 184 CZK each. Sure, it was great. I'd even say it was worth the money. But the issue was that we didn't want to spend that much. V called over the waiter.

"Yes, is there a problem?" He asked.

"I said I wanted the house red."

"That's what I served you," the waiter replied.

"Yes, but I wanted an inexpensive wine."

"That's the cheapest wine we have by the glass."

"Really? Well, if that's the case, you really should have mentioned the price. House wines in other restaurants are almost always quite cheap by the glass."

She did all this with a smile. Then, she teasingly said to the naughty waiter, "You, you, you."

It was pretty cute in Czech. She has this charming way of telling people they screwed up without turning it into an unpleasant scene. For us, anyway.

"His ears turned bright red, she said as he walked away.

We really enjoyed almost everything about our meal at Kavala.

I don't regret our decision to try it, and we'd go again.

But know this: V related the wine incident to a colleague. It so happened that the colleague had also eaten there. And he had the exact same experience of surprise when he saw the price for a glass of "house" wine. He wasn't happy about it.

So, I can only partially agree with Plato. A good decision is, indeed, based on knowledge. But that includes a knowledge of the numbers.

Kavala Greek Restaurant
Charlese de Gaulla 5
Prague 6 - Dejvice
Tel. (+420) 224 325 181

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Sunday, October 4, 2009

Millème Boulangerie Pâtisserie Café

"I went to a cafe that advertised breakfast anytime, so I ordered French toast during the Renaissance." Stephen Wright
When I first saw Millème, my reaction was "Qu'est-ce que c'est?"I didn't expect to see such a pretty place on this busy street. The eye-catching French café is close to the Jiřího z Poděbrad metro station, just across from The Church of the Most Sacred Heart of Our Lord. So you'll always know what time it is.

I went through the doors and saw that Millème was pretty on the inside, too. There was simple, colorful furniture, dark wood flooring, and plenty of light.The walls did look bare, though.

There was a beautiful spread of fruit and vegetables under a water mister.They make regular fruit or veggie smoothies for 80 CZK. The ones made with "exotic" fruit cost 120 CZK.

On my first visit, I got a bunch of stuff to take away. The first treat that caught my eye was the raspberry tart (95 CZK). This was rather exotic. The receipt called it a "Shogun."The berries sat on a green tea cream, held by a chocolate nut crust.

The glazed fruit was, fresh, tart, and sweet, and I really liked the cookie-like base. I was amazed how assertive the green tea flavor was. I appreciated how unusual it was. However, it might not appeal to everyone.

For a second sweet, I went for the straight-up chocolate tart (66 CZK).The rich, intense chocolate filled the same tasty crust as the raspberry version. But it was not quite as good as the chocolate tart at Millème's closest competition, Paul at Palác Flóra.

I also got a pain au chocolat (28 CZK). Very buttery and nice chocolate.I'd say this was as good or better than the one at Paul. However, that one was only 19 CZK. The ones at the pâtisserie, Café St. Tropez, can also be great. They use high-grade Valrhona chocolate, but I don't recall the price.

I went back another time and sat outside on a weekened morning to enjoy the last of the warm summer weather.For my breakfast, I ordered a ham and cheese omelet (75 CZK). It was mostly unremarkable.I liked that omelet was on the runny side. Neither the ham nor the cheese had too much flavor.Uncouth savage that I am, I asked if they had some ketchup. I wasn't surprised that this very French place only had mustard. It needed salt and pepper. It did look lonely on the plate, without any bread or other side items.

A French breakfast was also available (120 CZK). That comes with coffee, tea, or hot chocolate, orange juice, a croissant or pain au chocolat, half a baguette, butter, and jam.

There were also several types of quiche available (89 CZK). They also had salads: Caprese(129 CZK), Niçoise (159 CZK), grilled chicken (179 CZK) and goat cheese (189 CZK).

Simple sandwiches were available (69-99 CZK).

I was intrigued when I saw the menu mentioned fresh iced tea (39 CZK). It came in a frosted glass that formed some slush in the tea, but there were no actual ice cubes. There was tea foam at the top, something I'd never seen before.It was OK with some sugar, but I should have asked for a lemon slice. It wasn't bad, but given it's small size, I didn't think it was worth the money.

I sat and read a book for a while in the sun. Then, I decided that a dessert to go with my breakfast would not be inappropriate.

I ordered the Moelleux chocolat with vanilla ice cream (98 CZK). The warm, perfectly formed cake also came with a dish of chocolate sauce.The cake, with its liquid chocolate center was good, though not the best I've had. I didn't particularly like the vanilla ice cream, but the sauce helped.

The cake's shape was so perfect, the interior so consistent, I wondered if it was baked fresh on the premises. But given the beauty of some of their other offerings, I though it very possible it was.

To go with my cake, I got a decaf cafe latte (49 CZK).It was nice to look at, great foam, and tasted just fine, but the latte was only warm, not hot, on arrival. Perhaps the milk was not heated properly.

I'm glad to see the continuing renaissance of food and drink options in this part of Prague.

I'd like to try a few other things at Millème, but it is hard to imagine anything will outshine their cakes, pastries, and other desserts.

I do wish they'd expand their breakfast menu. My humble suggestion would be to offer that simple, lovely creation the French call pain perdu.

That's a breakfast I'd have anytime. But I'd still call it French toast.

Millème Boulangerie Pâtisserie Café
Náměstí Jiřího z Poděbrad 4
Prague 2 - Vinohrady
Tel. (+420) 223 002 274

I have to add something to this post. After I published it, V went to Millème and had a very bad service experience. The waiter got first her juice order and then her omelet order wrong, kept her waiting more than 20 minutes for it to be fixed, even though the cafe was empty, and was unapologetic and rude when she complained. I hope this is not an ongoing problem.

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