Saturday, February 27, 2010

Resto Cafe Patio

**NOTE: In 2012, this restaurant changed its culinary concept to Asian fusion.

"RECONSIDER, v. To seek a justification for a decision already made." Ambrose Bierce
It had to be five years ago that I last ate at Resto Cafe Patio, the restaurant fronting the Le Patio furniture shop on Národní třída.Back then, the food was unimpressive, I didn't find it a good value for money, and I wrote it off.

Recently, I started hearing reports from a highly respected source of very good food there. In fact, it was V telling me about some great lunches there. She suggested we go back for a meal.

The place was much the same as the last time I saw it.It does have a kitschy warmth, with a lot of wood, vaulted brick ceilings, a variety of chairs, and eclectic electric light fixtures. There are several different dining areas.

There are also two levels of Le Patio's furniture store in the basement.I liked sitting in the front of the restaurant, by the window.Busy, gritty Národní, with its clattering trams, does detract from the atmosphere a bit, though. I admit that I like one of the room's dominating conceits -- the prow of a ship with a table perched on top.I never had the courage to sit there.

For a starter, we shared the tiger prawns (175.5 CZK). They were very fresh and cooked just right.The hot crustaceans were bathed in olive oil mixed with ginger and herbs. Rucola leaves and roasted cherry tomatoes sat on top. The prawns were on the small side, but there were 11 of them in the bowl. They did need a shot of salt.

I had a Pilsner Urquell, which was only available from a .33 liter bottle. The price was a rather steep 54 CZK.V had a couple of .15 liter glasses of white wine -- Veltlínské zelené (49.5 CZK). She liked it.

For a main course, I went for the Argentinean entrecote (355.5 CZK). It came with au gratin potatoes and green beans with bacon. There were streaks of a rich, salty gravy across the plate.The beef was excellent and the knife went through it easily, though it was not the most tender I've sampled in town. It was correctly, simply seasoned with salt and had light charring from the grill.

The steak came as ordered, medium-rare.It didn't pick up as smoky a flavor as I like, so I wouldn't rank it ahead of the rib eye at El Barrio de Ángel. But I would put in my top 5 for Prague steaks.

The side items deserve special mention. While this combination is not particularly creative or innovative, the attention to detail was apparent. The fresh beans were lightly cooked and still had their snap. Bacon added a smoked flavor that was decadent but welcome.

The creamy potatoes looked and tasted like they had been freshly prepared just for me. They just needed salt. Their caring preparation was in sharp contrast to the tired and dried out potatoes au gratin I had at Cafe Imperial, overseen by celebrity chef, Zdeněk Pohlreich.

V got the dish she's gotten on almost every visit and which caused her to suggest I try to restaurant -- the seared tuna salad with avocado (216 CZK). I hereby declare this to be my favorite salad in town.First, it is a rare thing indeed that a restaurant will serve fresh tuna in a very rare state without being begged and cajoled. In this case, we said nothing, and yet it came out perfectly red, framed with the lightly seared edges.

The clean-tasting fish picked up some flavor from sesame oil. As good as it was, V said the pieces of tuna had looked better on previous visits.

The sliced avocado half that fanned out on the plate was soft and creamy. I can't tell you how many unripe avocados I've had in Prague. But this one was as they all should be.

There was a variety of lettuce leaves like frisee, radicchio, and rucola, tossed in a sweet and sour honey-mustard type dressing that I liked very much. And on top of that, I really liked the price. Considering the price of fresh fish around these parts, I thought it a great bargain.

I couldn't resist ordering the chocolate fondant for dessert (108 CZK).I liked that it was a little larger than average, and the candied orange zest on top was amazing. On the downside, it was slightly overcooked, and the ice cream was not the best.

During my first visit, I restrained myself from ordering the hamburger, thinking that would be too boring. But I saw one going by to another table, and it looked so good, I decided to come back the next day to try it.

So I went by myself on a Sunday night. And as luck would have it, they were out of burgers. I considered leaving.

Then, I remembered they serve lamb chops, and I'm a big lamb fan, so I ordered them (365 CZK).I have to apologize for the low-quality picture from my little Nokia phone. The battery on my regular camera was dead, and I thought you should have at least some idea of how they looked.

And know this: the quality of these chops was inversely proportional to the quality of the photo. Meaning they were terrific.

Yes, these four babies were small, but I savored every morsel of tender meat and fat on the delicate bones. There was a rich gravy on the plate.

Behind the lamb were chunky mashed garlic potatoes studded with smoked pork and topped with braised Romaine lettuce. I also enjoyed the sweet pearl onions soaked in honey, something I hadn't encountered before.

Since I was in the restaurant during happy hour (4 p.m to 7 p.m.), I ordered a mojito.
It was only 85 CZK, down from the regular price of 140 CZK. A very good one.

A week later I was back with V for the burger. She had a starter of Escargot de Bourgogne (195 CZK).She said the snails were quite hard to get out of their shells, and that they had an earthy, garden flavor, and that they were OK.

I decided to try a frozen margarita, even at the full price (140 CZK).This was a disappointment. The slushy ice was perfect, but it had a cloying, one-dimensional sweetness to it. I could taste the tequila, but barely any lime at all.

V had two bottles of Mattoni mineral water, and I wasn't happy to see that they cost 55 CZK each.

Then, I finally got my hamburger (220 CZK).It was big. The patty was both wide and thick, with a medium, pink center.

It came with lettuce, tomato, red onion, ketchup and mustard pre-installed. It was an above-average burger, but does not quite crack the top 5 of Brewsta's Burgers.

The fries were not so crunchy and a bit chewy, and so they were not as good as I had hoped and expected.

The service was generally good, but it was extra fine when we had what appeared to be the manager taking care of us. He was friendly, efficient, and looked after us well.

But above all, my compliments go to the chef. The menu is not ground-breaking by any means. But you can feel the attention to detail and quality that went into most of the dishes we tried. In an uncaring city, you can tell when someone in the back cares about each dish that goes out.

It's pretty unusual that I'll go to a restaurant three times for a review. But I was happy to do it because I enjoyed it every time.

I used to think Resto Cafe Patio was mediocre. But I've changed my mind.

During my visits, the food was almost consistently excellent. And that's the only justification for reconsideration that I need.

Resto Cafe Patio
Národní 22
Prague 1
Tel: (+420) 224 934 375

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Friday, February 26, 2010

Oberschleissheim, Germany

"All good things to those who wait" Hannibal Lector, "Silence of the Lambs"
Here are some quick, obscure little tips for the Munich area.

Recently, we stopped outside the Bavarian capital while going to and coming back from skiing in Italy.We think the Dolomites are the best. But that's not the tip.

Anyway, to break up the road trip, we usually spend the night at a decent little hotel in Oberschleissheim called the Hotel at the Schlosspark - "Zum Kurfürst." It is notable for its great breakfast.

But also because it is just outside the gates of the giant park containing Schleissheim Palace.It's a great place for a walk on a sunny winter's day.Someday, we'll have to take a tour of the palaces on the grounds.But what I really care about is food, and we stumbled on a great, if ordinary-looking Greek restaurant called Poseidon, just down the road at Dachaur Strasse 1.For those who care more about tourism, the Dachau concentration camp is not far away, either.

The restaurant is filled with statues and bad paintings.But that's not the attraction.

For us, it is their wonderful grilled lamb. V got the mixed lamb plate €13.40).It was tender, smoky, lamby goodness. She even loved how they did their potatoes. The beans had spices that she remembered from her childhood when visiting Yugoslavia.

I had the lamb filet in lemon sauce (€13.40). It came with artichoke hearts and buttery rice.

We first tried this dish several years ago at this restaurant (yes, we keep coming back). We didn't expect the lemon sauce to be creamy and thought it was some kind of mistake. But after one bite, we decided it was no mistake. It was just so right.

The sauce was incredibly delicious, smooth and tart. We asked the waiter how it was made, but he had no idea. And the flavor of the charred lamb asserted itself above the sauce.

But drivers be warmed -- every diner gets a chilled shot of ouzo with every meal.

Bottom line: whenever we are driving past Munich, we will stopping at Poseidon for grilled lamb.

Greek Restaurant Posseidon
Dachaur Strasse 1
85764 Oberschleissheim, Germany
Tel (+49) 89 315 5986

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Artisan Restaurant & Cafe (Closed)

** This restaurant closed in 2012

“A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing.” Oscar Wilde
Artisan Restaurant & Cafe is not the kind of place you find accidentally. Hidden on a dead end Smichov street below Kinsky Garden, you have to know what you are looking for.

I knew about it because of the ads in the Prague Daily Monitor, and the relentlessly positive review on Prague.TV.

I'd heard a lot had been invested to build a good-looking dining room. When we arrived on a Saturday evening, that information proved true.

To match its green surroundings, there was a leaf motive on the beige chairs and walls, along with metal leaf sconces. The lighting was kept low, and the place had a romantic feel. Flash photography doesn't give a true feeling for the room.With some of the tables looking out over a back garden, it would be a good spot for a date. It also would be a nice place to sit outside in warm weather.

We started by ordering .15 liter glass of Dom ICI 2008 - Vignobles Dom Brial (80 CZK), Mattoni mineral water (35 CZK) and a half-liter of Pilsner Urquell (45 CZK). V liked the light, slightly sweet white.

Warm cheese bread with butter was delivered to our table.V thought it was tasty, though I felt it was too heavy for noshing on before the meal.

Among the starters that caught my eye were: spinach salad with duck crackling with bacon/lime dressing (195 CZK), goat cheese and roasted pepper bruschetta (155 CZK), and Lobster Rangoon (225 CZK).

In the end, I went for the salmon ceviche with mango and jalapenos served on fried bread (185 CZK).I was very happy with my choice. The salty, marinated fish was a great counterpoint to the lightly sweet fruit. And the jalapenos' heat was cooled by a drizzling of crème fraiche. It was my favorite dish of the evening.

V got the Caribbean salad with salad greens, mango, jicama, toasted coconut, red onions, and spiced pecans with raspberry-poppy seed vinaigrette (185 CZK).Always a fan of the exotic, she gave it a thumbs up. She said she detected cinnamon in the mix as well, and appreciated the flavor of the poppy seeds.

I thought it would have been better if the lettuce was not so overdressed. With the candied pecans, the salad was close to cloying. I didn't taste much coconut, but that might have sent it over the edge.

I registered my observations with V, who rejected them and told me it was a good salad.

We decided to switch to red wine, and I have to say, Artisan's wine list is the kind I like to see. About half the bottles were in the 400-600 CZK range, and all were either French or Italian, with no Czech wines.

We settled on a bottle of Cabernet Franc from Domaine de la Garnière (475 CZK).The Loire Valley wine was medium-bodied and light on tannins. It may not win gold medals, but it stood head and shoulders above Czech reds I've had lately.

I was pretty enthusiastic about it, but V said the nose wasn't so great. Still, it grew on her through the meal.

Despite the choice of red wine, we ordered chicken and fish as our main courses. I had the jerked chicken with spicy tomato salsa and fried plantains (315 CZK).The flavor of the meat, with its Jamaican rub, was excellent. I'd give it a rave, but I must hold back because it was dangerously close to being dry.

The crispy, savory skin, the sweet sauce underneath, and beautifully fried plantains saved the day. The plantains were sweet enough that I wondered if they were actually bananas. Either way, it tasted good.

The tomato salsa was really a mini-cherry tomato and onion salad. It was tart and refreshing for the palate, but I wouldn't call it spicy.

V got the grilled sea bass with white bean ragout, and an orange-carrot butter sauce (385 CZK).At first, she registered disappointment, expecting to see a whole fish on her plate.

But after the first bites, disappointment disappeared and was replaced by satisfaction. The fish was light, fresh, and clean-tasting. The white beans were a fine pairing. The ethereal sauce, with a hint of carrot, was a buttery heaven. It was rich, yet light. Delicious.

For dessert, I had to try to chocolate lava cake (165 CZK).Of all the hot, liquid-chocolate centered cakes I've had in Prague, and I've had many, I wouldn't rank this one so highly.

It was very small, the exterior was rubbery rather than cake-like, and I wished for some addition to the plate besides the intense berry coulis.

V had a bite of my cake and a cafe latte (45 CZK).I don't want to end on a down-note, so I've saved one of the best things about Artisan for last: the service.

We had two servers, a young man and woman. They were masters of something I've had trouble finding in even the best and most expensive Czech restaurants -- the ability to be observant, but unobtrusive. They kept an eye on us and were there when we needed them, but they never intruded when we didn't. I can't tell you how rare that is.

Unfortunately, I can't also tell you if it will always be like that. On our Saturday evening visit, we were the only customers in the restaurant. Which is a shame. The restaurant deserves better.

Perhaps the portions could be bigger or the prices could be lower. Not every dish was exactingly executed.

But more importantly, some dishes were great, we were well-cared for, there was a nice atmosphere with good music, and there were several items on the innovative menu I want to go back for.

I wouldn't go as far as saying Artisan Restaurant & Cafe is a fine dining Utopia. Those are few and far between.

But we liked our dinner enough to recommend it to friends, and I think it deserves a place on the city's culinary map.

Artisan Restaurant & Cafe
Rošických 4
Prague 5 - Malá Strana
Tel. (+420) 257 218 277

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Friday, February 12, 2010

Czech Please Anniversary

Last week marked the third annivesary of Czech Please -- three years of non-stop blogging about Prague's food and drink scene. In that time, I've covered about 200 restaurants, bars, and dining events. More to come.

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Saturday, February 6, 2010

Jack Rabbit Slim's (Closed)

** This place has closed and there is another restaurant club in the location

"If my answers frighten you then you should cease asking scary questions." Jules in "Pulp Fiction"

I'm not a big Quentin Tarantino fan, but I do love "Pulp Fiction." The iconic film is filled with style, humor, and some unforgettable scenes. Certainly, John Travolta's Vincent Vega, and Uma Thurman's Mia Wallace twisting away at Jack Rabbit Slim's is one of them.

So, when my friend Flash told me that a restaurant by the same name had opened in Prague, we headed right over, along with Mr. Big.The place also goes by the name Mazaný Králíček, which could be translated as "Shrewd Bunny Rabbit." That name appeared on their receipt and on the sign out front, along with the hook line, "The next best thing to a time machine!"

I wandered up Hybernská, by Masaryk train station, and entered the lower level. There were pictures of Vincent and Mia, along with a real motorcycle hanging over the bar.It didn't look much like the movie version of the restaurant, though they did have a Cadillac that had been converted into a couch.Above the stairs, there were more "Pulp Fiction" photos on the ceiling.On the second level, another Cadillac, sitting under the harsh, purple-pink lighting, dominated the room.I was disappointed there was no seating inside the car. It was just for show.

After sitting down, it took quite a while to get the attention of our waitress. Unlike the film, there were no servers dressed as Buddy Holly, Marilyn Monroe, or any other dead celebrity.

The first thing I noticed on the menu was that there were only two beers available: a .25 liter glass of Heineken or a .3 liter glass of Lobkowicz (35 CZK). We had those, and it's good beer.
But since the beers were so small and the service was so slow (the waitress blamed the bartender), we ordered two at a time. No vanilla cokes or $5 Martin and Lewis milkshakes for us.

We decided to share a few appetizers. One was the grilled goat cheese with fresh spinach (106 CZK). This was rather good.The cheese was warm, tangy, and relatively standard. Grilled vegetables underneath were very tasty. The red, green, and yellow peppers, along with olives, were mixed with a generous amount of smoked pork. Vegetarians beware.

Another starter was the fried jalapenos filled with cheddar (101 CZK).These five poppers tasted better, but not by much, than the bland ones at Crazy Cow Steakhouse. There, I only got four and they charged 20 CZK more.

Jack Rabbit Slim's menu said the dish came with a tomato salsa, but it was really more like a tomato paste or puree. Kinda strange. There was also sour cream. It all sat on top of tired, boring iceberg lettuce.

For the next round, Mr. Big ordered a Big Kahuna Burger (199 CZK). In the movie, this was deemed by Jules to be "the cornerstone of any nutritious breakfast."Unfortunately, the ground beef was overcooked and dry. It came with jalapenos and bacon, along with lettuce, tomato and a non-descript white cheese. But those additions didn't help the poorly prepared patty, which should be the cornerstone of any good burger.

There was no "Douglas Sirk" steak on the menu as there is in the movie. I ordered the closest thing, which was the rib eye with peppercorn sauce and green beans (229 CZK).I wish I had thought to order it "bloody as hell" like Vincent did. It didn't come out "burnt to a crisp," the other option Buddy Holly offers in the movie. But sadly, the meat was well-done and cooked into a leathery state.

The toughness made me think it was Czech beef. The steak was quite large, but that just meant there a lot of chewing to do. The flavor wasn't so special, but the sauce was nice. And the beans were fresh and crunchy.

I decided to get a side of fries (39 CZK).
These were just terrible. They were barely warm when they got to the table. They proceeded quickly to cold and nasty.

Flash got the salmon steak (159 CZK).While I love salmon sushi, I am not a big fan of the fish when it is cooked. I was pleasantly surprised when I took a bite.

It was fresh, not fishy at all. All too often, salmon dries out when cooked, but this one was moist and tender. I actually enjoyed it. Flash did, too.

He also got a side of grilled vegetables (59 CZK).He said they were very good.

I got tired of drinking beers, so I decided to try a mojito (125 CZK).It was a respectable size for a decent price. The cocktail was well-mixed, though on the sweet side.

What to make of this place? On the plus side, the prices were relatively low, and there were a couple of decent dishes.

But I think eating is not or, perhaps, should not be the main point of a visit to Jack Rabbit Slim's.The tables around us filled up with groups of very young women and muscular men who looked familiar with the club scene.

Flash, who is a Prague nightlife veteran, said the place "looks like Infinity with Cadillacs."

I suppose it could be an OK place to drink and, if you are lucky, meet a member of the opposite sex.

But if you ask me, point blank, whether you should try it yourself, I will only say this.

That's a scary question.

Jack Rabbit Slim's
Hybernská 32
Prague 1
Tel. (+420) 728 200 961

Coming next week: Finally, a restaurant I actually liked. A lot.

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