Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas Dinner 2009

"There is never enough time to do or say all the things that we would wish. The thing is to try to do as much as you can in the time that you have. Remember Scrooge, time is short, and suddenly, you're not here any more." The Ghost of Christmas Present in "Scrooge" (1970 musical version)
I'm not a big carp fan. I avoided it during our trip to Brno, though V likes it and had some.

To compensate, we made our own fish dinner when we got back to Prague on December 26th.

This is our very fresh Monkfish, cut into small pieces and marinated in soy sauce, garlic, and ginger. It was then lightly fried in cornstarch, egg, and rice noodles.On the side is sweet potato with brown sugar, salted butter, and fresh lemon juice.

For dipping, we had a mixture of soy sauce, rice vinegar, and sugar that was boiled with chopped green onion and a few slices of potent bird chilies.We enjoyed it very much.

Then, we opened some wine and watched the 1970 musical version of "Scrooge" with Albert Finney, which we both have a soft spot for. A little ritual of ours.

Happy Holidays everyone!

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Prague Christmas Market Food - 2009

‘Twas the month before Christmas
And all throughout Prague
The tourists were swarming
Their eyes all agog

Their noses shone red
And sniffed at the air
Sweet smells drifted to them
From a packed Old Town SquareNo kitschy beer steins
No gloves for this dude
I didn’t need candles
I, too, wanted food

I walked the whole square
I looked high and low
The most popular item
Was the simple TrdloThis rolled sugar bread
Looked ever so nice
But at 50 Czech crowns
It ain’t worth the price

Some people just love it
I do not know why
It’s fire-cooked dough
That’s boring and dryNext was klobasa
Served on a baguette
The cost was the same
And a much better betIt could have been hotter
It could have been leaner
I still liked the taste
Of this smoky wienerPotato pancakes?
I’ll eat ‘em, just watch me
But I’ve often had better
Than these BramboráčkyDon’t bother with them
They’ll do you no favors
Just oil and garlic
And not enough flavorsI then saw my love
Under Týn Church’s spires
Slow turning meat
Riding spits over firesYou’ll sure pay a lot
For tasty Prague hams
It’s 89 crowns
For each hundred gramsI think it's worth it
There’s no better meat
So tender and juicy
A real winter treat

To wash down a meal
There’s plenty of beer
For 35 crowns
It adds to your cheerI paid a bit more
For something more fine
Czech’s call it “Svařák”
I call it mulled wineIt’s sweet and it’s sour
With spices like clove
It warmed me right up
Right down to my toesThe square grew quite cold
Which I took as a sign
It was time to head home
On the metro ‘A’ LineI was heard to exclaim
As I rolled out of sight
"Munich’s markets are better
if you’re out for a bite!"

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Saturday, December 5, 2009

Il Primo

"If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There's no point in being a damn fool about it." W. C. Fields
A very successful American businessman passed along the recommendation for Il Primo.The long-time Prague resident told V that the Old Town Mediterranean restaurant was "simple, but good." So she suggested we give it a try on Saturday.

It was fortunate I booked ahead. The small dining room has only eight tables or so, and we saw many people turned away over the course of the evening.From our spot, V enjoyed the view of the Spanish Synagogue across the street.

To start things off, our very friendly and helpful waiter brought us a basket of decent bread.Unfortunately, he also removed our plates, so we had nowhere to pour olive oil for dipping.

V and I felt like some wine. The house red was smooth, dry and pretty good for the price (80 CZK/glass).There were a few Italian and Spanish bottles on the wine list in the 400-500 crown range, but then prices went up quickly from there. We also got a 1 liter bottle of sparkling San Benedetto mineral water (110 CZK).

V began with the escargots à la bourguignonne (145 CZK). She enjoyed the six, plump, clean-tasting snails.On occasion, we've had escargots in the Czech Republic that tasted a little too much like a garden, but that was not the case here.

I only wished for a little more garlic flavor on these. I still used the bread to soak up what remained of the butter and parsley after the snails were gone.

I went for the grilled calamari (145 CZK). The flavor, with plenty of lemon and pesto, was excellent.However, the texture left much to be desired. They were overcooked and dried out. Flesh that should have been delicate and tender was bordering on tough. The larger but pricier grilled calamari at Luka Lu is much better.

For a main course, V stuck to the simple side of the menu and ordered the Beirut Kofta (240 CZK). She received a very generous portion of the minced lamb and beef.She liked it very much.

The overall flavor was quite good, but almost overwhelmed by cumin. In my opinion, it was too salty. The grilled eggplant, peppers, and potatoes were all excellent. V especially liked the raw red onions dusted with spices.

I decided to get a special the waiter recommended -- T-bone steak served off the bone with Béarnaise sauce (440 CZK).It took considerable time for our mains to arrive, and as soon as my fork hit the hardened meat, I knew there was a problem. I had asked that it be cooked medium-rare. A slice of the knife confirmed it was cooked well-done all the way through.

Fearing that I'd have a long wait for a replacement, I considered eating the tough steak. But V encouraged me to send it back. The waiter was very apologetic and promised a new plate would be out shortly.

A fresh plate arrived back at the table in about 10 minutes. This one was cooked perfectly. And it tasted absolutely wonderful.The steak was tender in a way that steaks in Prague rarely are. There was a perfect balance of salt, and it picked up some nice flavor from the grill. It also came with those nice grilled veggies.

To top it all off, the Béarnaise sauce was eye-rollingly good. It was so rich and creamy, V compared it to a crème brûlée, but with a balanced tartness with taragon instead of sweetness.

She was even dipping her kofta into the generous portion they put on my plate.

I'd love to have this again and enjoyed it as much or more than my more expensive rib eye at La Finestra in Cucina.

I was full, but needed a chocolate fix. I ordered the profiteroles (130 CZK).The dark chocolate sauce was satisfying, but would have been better if it was heated. The small pastry balls filled with frozen cream were not bad, but had obviously been frozen for a while.

We finished the meal with a couple of very average cafe lattes (60 CZK each).The meal came to 1710 CZK without gratuity.

We felt like an after dinner drink, so we then walked about 100 meters over to Zapa Bar on Dušní. Consider this a small bonus tip in this post.

The reason I go to Zapa Bar is because it's not a bad looking spot, but more importantly, it has no scene, as far as I can tell. Few people seem to know about it and not many seek it out. What that means is I can almost always find a table and then have an audible conversation and a drink, even on a Saturday night.

So V had a pina colada (120 CZK). She liked it because it had very little cream and was more pineapple and coconut oriented.I had a Benedictine and Brandy (115 CZK). I was somewhat taken aback that it was served on the rocks. I've always had it straight up and never had to specify. I drank it with the ice, but I'll make sure they leave the ice out next time.

As we sat listening to Zapa Bar's DJ play "Riders on the Storm" we talked about our meal at Il Primo.

Certainly, the restaurant did not succeed at a few things. But given a chance to try again on the steak, they provided one of the best and most memorable dishes I've had in a while. One great plate can really make or break a place sometimes.

So we're not ready to quit yet on Il Primo. We both said we'd try it again if we were in the neighborhood. Maybe we'd go for some of their cheaper mezze if a table is available.

I just hope it's more consistently good and the chef has a lighter hand on the stove. Otherwise, I'll feel like a damn fool.

Il Primo
Elišky Krásnohorské 1
Prague 1 - Old Town
Tel. (+420) 222 320 734

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