Friday, April 30, 2010


"Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose." Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr
I've been to plenty of Pilsner Urquell Original Restaurants around Prague.

Some, like U Vejvodů, have more of a unique style. But others, like Kolkovna, Celnice, Olympia, and Deminka, and the new Malostranská beseda appear to have been stamped out by the same franchise-sized cookie cutter.

So when friends told me another Pilsner pub called Kulaťák had opened at Vítězné náměstí, I wondered if it was worth the trip.One said he liked it, and the other told me it was always crowded and almost impossible to walk in without a reservation. So I had to go see for myself if it was anything special.

My first visit was a solo effort. The layout may have been different, but the interior had that very familiar PUOR look.There was lots of copper, including a copper hood over the bar, dark wood, uncomfortable chairs, and a green theme.

It took a long time before a waiter came over, acknowledged my existence, and delivered a menu. There was another long wait before he came back to take my order.

I was driving, so I couldn't sample the Pilsner on this visit. Instead, I ordered sparkling water. I was unhappy they serve Bonaqua, which is filtered tap water in tiny .25 liter bottles for a large price (39 CZK).I much prefer Mattoni in .33 liter bottles.

For my meal that evening, I ordered the 150 gram, chef-seasoned beef tartare (229 CZK).They also have a 300 gram version (450 CZK). They also serve it unseasoned with the condiments on the side, and you can do it yourself.

It took 25 minutes from the time I arrived until I received my meal. Those minutes go by slowly when you are by yourself and hungry. The meat came with four "topinky" -- Czech bread fried in oil with raw garlic cloves served on the side for rubbing on it.It came out hot and crunchy.

The flavor of the raw beef was pretty good. It was correctly salted, and the taste of mustard dominated. I also detected some ketchup, finely chopped onion, and perhaps a hint of Tabasco. A quail egg sat on top.

If I was going by flavor alone, I'd like it. But what really turned me off was the texture. Perhaps some like it this way, but the meat was puréed into a near liquid state that I really don't appreciate. I prefer some semblance of meatiness to my raw meat.

The check for this simple meal was 268 CZK.

I came back a week later with Jersey Girl. This time, we got a table in the no smoking area.She ordered a .5 liter glass of Kozel's dark beer (39 CZK).She said it was not cold enough for her taste, but otherwise OK. The Pilsner Urquell (39 CZK), which is unpasteurized and served from tanks, was as good as you'd expect.

We shared a starter of homemade pâté (149 CZK). This meat was also whipped into a fine cream. But in this case, the flavor and texture worked better.It comes with slices of toasted baguette. Perhaps because the pâté didn't taste strongly of liver, Jersey Girl enjoyed it as much as me. That's quite something because she is generally a fish-eating vegetarian, but she's not strict about it and has few qualms about tasting meat now and again.

I saw on the menu that they had homemade lemonade served in a .7 liter carafe, so I ordered that (60 CZK).It was not as good as I'd hoped. The flavor was rather watery. It only had a light amount of sugar, which was good, but the flavor of the lemon was rather weak as well.

Also, it had an odd, brownish color, which led me to think it had been sitting around for a long time.

For her main course, Jersey Girl ordered the Norwegian salmon steak marinated in lemon juice with potato, sautéed vegetables and herb butter (199 CZK).She described it as very well-prepared. The fish was fresh, juicy, and light. I'm not a big cooked salmon fan, but thought it was quite tasty. The vegetables were very plain peas, carrots, and potatoes.

For my main course, I was torn between the koleno -- pork knee/knuckle, the Moravský vrabec -- pork pieces with sauerkraut and dumplings, or grilovaná krkovice -- grilled pork shoulder/neck.

The first two options were tempting, but I just wasn't in the mood for that much food. So I got the 200 gram krkovice (179 CZK).There are also 300 gram and 400 gram versions. Mine came covered with whole peppercorns, and potatoes au gratin.

I don't know if this dish was representative of the rest of their Czech dishes, but it was just plain bad. The thin cut of pork was way overcooked. It was tough, dried out, and had an odd, overseasoned flavor. What that seasoning was, I could not say.

I've had some great krkovice recently -- the one at Neklid comes to mind. Kulaťák's didn't even come close in quality or preparation.

The potatoes were bland and unremarkable. And the sauces on the side also bored me.There was a tartar sauce, an oddly seasoned ketchup, and a creamy mustard sauce which was the best of the three, but that's not saying much.

To go with my meal, I got the fried onion rings (99 CZK).These were very much in the Burger King style, which is not necessarily a bad thing, in my opinion. Perhaps they were not prepared in-house, and they didn't taste too oniony, but they were a step above BK's quality-wise. They came with a very mild blue cheese sauce that tasted more like mayo.

After two visits, I wasn't very happy with Kulaťák. The service was generally poor, some food was OK, some was bad, but nothing I tried was above average.If you've had better dishes or think this place does something better than the other Pilsner Urquell Original Restaurants, feel free to let me know.

For me, even though Kulaťák is pretty new and appears to be a welcome addition near Dejvicka, it was really just more of the same.

Vítězném náměstí 12
Prague 6 - Dejvice
Tel: (+420) 773 973 037

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Friday, April 23, 2010

Kogo Duplex

NOTE: Kogo name has been removed from the signs on this restaurant. It is now just called Duplex (April 2011)

"I don't want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member." Groucho Marx
Nine years ago, Kogo in Slovanský dům was one of my favorite restaurants in Prague.I took some heat for it, but I loved the open kitchen, their seafood risotto, the leafy courtyard in summer, and even the prices back then. I was a regular.

But that all changed years ago.

The prices went up, the quality was inconsistent, and the regular clientele of tourists, business people, and nouveau riche Czechs got on my nerves. I haven't been there in a long time.

But when Kogo opened a new location in the Duplex night club at the top of a building on Wenceslas Square, I was curious.I had my doubts, but I wanted to see if I could taste a little of that old Kogo style.

The entrance to the restaurant, which also leads to Duplex, might not be obvious to those not in the know.Mr. Big and I entered one of the two elevators at street level.

It let us out near the coat check for the club. It's an area done up in black and white, with some funky decorative touches.The whole place had a theme of ghostly faces, either on the wall paper or projected on the walls.There were about four or five tables filled in the dining room.Hardwood floors, painted black, were annoyingly noise and creaky to walk across.

What I liked most was the terraces. One looked out over Wenceslas Square.The other had a view down Jindřišská street to the 15th century tower on the other end.It was still too cold to sit out there, but it looked like a cool place to hang out in the summer.

I felt like starting out with a beer. I was surprised that they only had .33 liter Pilsner Urquell bottles for a rather steep price of 69 CZK.The odd thing is the menu said they also offered a .33 liter glass of Pilsner Urquell on draft for 59 CZK. The waiter said it was unavailable.

It's beyond me why they'd offer just those two options of the same beer. Who would order a more expensive bottle instead of a draft if was available? I can only speculate that it's often not available.

We received some bread.It was on the edge of dryness and nothing special. The olive oil on the table was good, though.

For starters, I had the rucola salad with Gorgonzola and pear (210 CZK).The leaves were nicely and lightly dressed in balsamic vinegar and olive oil. The small chunks of cheese were creamy and smooth. And they were a nice contrast to the sweet, stewed pear slices, which had a vanilla-like flavor.

It was good, but small for the price. For this type of salad, I much prefer Osteria da Clara's scamorza, Parma ham, fresh pear, walnuts, rucola, and radicchio. And what a contrasting bargain at just 115 CZK.

Mr. Big had the mix of Italian meats and cheeses (180 CZK).This included Parma ham, mortadella, copa, Parmesan, and Taleggio. It was a simple but satisfying appetizer. He was happy with it.

We decided to switch to wine and got a bottle of Vranac from Plantaže in Montenegro (545 CZK).We'd had this wine before, and it was as good as I remembered. A great wine for the price. Speaking of which, I only noticed while writing this that it did not turn up on the bill.

For a main course, I wanted the ravioli filled with seafood (230 CZK). But it was not available. Instead, I got the ravioli with spinach and ricotta (210 CZK).It's listed on the menu with a butter-sage sauce, but I had them make it with the tomato-basil sauce instead.

I thought it was great. Inside the al dente pasta pouches was fresh, still leafy spinach with just a light amount of cheese. On top, the sauce was rich with the flavor of fresh tomato and basil. There was fresh mozzarella on top. It was one of the best raviolis I've had in a long time.

Mr. Big had the tagliatelle with shrimp, zucchini, and fresh tomato (230 CZK).The flavors here were more restrained, but the properly cooked pasta did have the essence of the crustaceans mixed throughout. We liked it, but it didn't evoke nearly as much enjoyment as my ravioli.

I'm a chocoholic, so I ordered what the waiter called a "chocolate fondant." (80 CZK).These are most often a cake that is baked to order, with a liquid center. However, this dessert came out startlingly fast.

It had a very uniform shape that looked a lot like the frozen kind I buy at Marks & Spencer. Which are reasonably good, but not what I'd expect at a restaurant like this. And unlike the M&S cakes, this one, though warm, had no chocolate melting out of it. The fresh cream on top was a nice touch, though.

I went back for a second visit by myself, arriving at 7:15pm on a Saturday. I was the only customer for the entire meal. For 30 minutes, three waiters circulated around me, wiping the spots off wine glasses with cloth napkins. I wondered why that couldn't be done earlier, but it did make me feel less alone.

I felt like sampling a cocktail, so I ordered a mojito (119 CZK).For a club, a lot of the drinks seemed reasonably priced. I thought the drink was quite good.

It was well-mixed with no sugar at the bottom. It was not too sweet and had a good amount of lime. I'd only say there could have been more mint, and it was a little too jam-packed with ice. The second round had more mint and less lime, so they could work on consistency.

I wanted to order a grilled octopus starter, but it wasn't available. Instead, I got the tuna tartare (210 CZK).There was a generous amount of chopped fish, mixed with a few capers and olive oil.

My initial impression was that it smelled a little too fishy. It was also too salty, perhaps to cover its less than pristine character. I drenched it in lemon juice, and that rendered it much more acceptable.

For my main course, I got my old Kogo favorite, the risotto frutti di mare (250 CZK).It was a little confusing because the menu called it "seafood risotto with white wine sauce." But the waiter assured me it was done in the tomato-based style I was familiar with.

There was a good haul of seafood in there. Some of the many mussels were excellent, but a couple were slightly off. The whole, baby calamari were very fresh. There were some microscopic shrimp, but they did taste fine. The big tiger shrimp on top was the best -- cooked just right, with great flavor.

The rice itself had fresh parsley, but I wished for more. I also thought it could use a heavier shot of wine. The over all flavor was flatter and less complex than the best versions I've had of this dish. Still, I'd get it again.

Interestingly, I was served fresh, grated Parmesan cheese with the risotto.Cheese with seafood is considered by many to be a big no-no in Italian cooking. But I'm not dogmatic. It needed something so I threw some in. More lemon would have helped, too.

The bill for this visit was 708 CZK, with the cocktails accounting for 238 CZK of that.

As I was leaving, three customers entered. There was a man with hair gel, white pants, tinted glasses, and a light, white cotton hoodie. With him were two women in heavy make-up, spandex, and clunky high-heels that made Chinese foot-binding look like a walk in the park.

And it got me thinking about the interplay of food and ambience. The cooking at Kogo Duplex was pretty close to the other Kogos, and at least 20 percent cheaper in some cases.

On that level, I generally liked it. But the atmosphere was a different matter.

It felt cold and empty, even when dining at 10:30 p.m. And while the terrace looked inviting while empty, I had to consider the possibility of sharing it with the interesting assortment of humanity that night clubs tend to attract.

That's all well and good if you feel comfortable in that type of crowd. Just speaking for myself, I don't think it's my kind of club.

Kogo Duplex
Wenceslas Square 21
Prague 1
Tel: (+420) 732 221 111

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Friday, April 16, 2010

Modrý Zub Restaurant

"It's déjà vu all over again." Yogi Berra

When I first went to the original Modrý zub Noodle Bar on Jindřišská near Wenceslas Square, I didn't think their Thai cooking was very good.

Over time, it got better and better. Now, I consider it my second favorite Thai spot after Noi.

When I heard a new, larger Modrý zub Restaurant opened on Spálená, near TESCO on Národní třída, I was quite pleased.The nearby stop for tram 22 is one I spend a lot of time at.

However, the restaurant location, just up the road from the stop, was not auspicious for its previous tenants.

As Claire Compton noted in her concise review of Modrý zub Restaurant in The Prague Post, Gott Gallery Restaurant and City Café Cosmopolit couldn't make it work there.

As I walked up to the restaurant, I could see part of the problem.

That area is almost out of sight of the tram stop, it is surrounded by derelict, shuttered stores, and it doesn't get much foot traffic. What a difference 100 meters can make.

The bright red chairs and walls on the lower level certainly do catch the eye.But I did not find it very inviting, especially because the manager and some of the staff were lounging in the otherwise empty space. Also, the tables are way too close together.

So I went upstairs to the much more attractive dining room.The hardwood floors, couches, and comfortable chairs were much more welcoming. But I found the abundance of gray in the room rather unfortunate.

I started off with homemade, fresh ginger and mint lemonade (65 CZK). I liked it very much.It was tart, and not too sweet. There were bits of fresh ginger floating in there, giving it a pleasant sharpness. The drink also had plenty of mint leaves.

Calling it lemonade, though, is a misnomer. It was made with lime. In fact, it tasted very much like a ginger mojito, which is also listed on the menu (120 CZK).

I decided to have a bowl of my favorite soup, Tom Kha Kai (85 CZK). I thought it was excellent.The soup was quite spicy and had just the right amount of sweetness for my taste. I could taste the galangal, plenty of cilantro (coriander), and fish sauce. There were also some tomato chunks in there with decent shredded chicken.

For my main course, I had the dish I give a lot of weight to in judging a Thai restaurant. And that is the Phad Thai. I got it with chicken (185 CZK), but it is also available with shrimp (295 CZK) or tofu (165 CZK).My verdict? Not good.

I found this Phad Thai to be bland and boring. There were occasional bursts of salty-sweet flavor from the fried tofu, but the noodles were just lightly salty. The earthy flavor of the sprouts stood far above them. The peanut and egg disappeared into the background. The chicken was overcooked and tough.

Fortunately, the waitress had put a dish of condiments on the table.I added fish sauce to increase the savory factor, and yes, I also mixed in some sugar. I should have asked for fresh lime, as well, but I didn't think of it at the time.

I doctored it up to the point that it was reasonably acceptable. But I was still not happy with it. I've had way better versions at the Modrý zub Noodle Bar and at Noi.

The bill for this trip was 335 CZK. But since I was flying solo, I knew I had to return again.

I showed up at noon on a Saturday, and made my way straight up the stairs.I was rather surprised to find the staff mopping the floors at this time of day. They told me I could eat downstairs or come back later. I walked around for 15 minutes, returned, and the floors were still wet, but they told me I could have a seat anyway.

This time, I ordered the Mu Yang or grilled pork neck served with "dried chilli sauce" (145 CZK).The tender chunks of warm pork were lightly marinated. They weren't dry, but not exactly juicy, either. The sauce was quite basic -- a sweet, vinegary base, filled with dry chili flakes that gave it some serious heat.

The whole thing was simple, but I liked it. However, I also thought the price was way out of line. There was a paltry amount of pork on the puny plate. For that money, there should have been much more.

Service was really dragging on the second visit. Maybe they were still mopping up in the kitchen.My starter took 25 minutes to arrive after my order. Also, I found the weird electronica music they played rather annoying. My main course came 45 minutes after my arrival. That's far too long, considering I was the only one in the restaurant.

My main course was the Panang Curry with Beef (210 CZK). It is served in a big, clay hotpot, and white rice is included on the side.I spooned the curry over the rice and saw that it was very watery. The sauce did not sit on top of the rice. It mostly drained to the bottom of the plate.It looked remarkably like the Tom Kha Gai soup, and tasted similar.

The main difference was the abundance of lime leave slivers, which I love. They dominated the flavor. The beef was on the tough and chewy side, but that seems to be the standard for almost any Thai beef dish in Prague.

If they had added some coconut cream to thicken up the sauce, I'd have raved about this dish. I still liked the flavor, but it could have been so much better.

The cost of this visit was 420 CZK. Overall, I found the food to be very average, with the exception of the Phad Thai, which was substandard.

I didn't feel either meal was a great value.

But I had similar negative views about the Modrý zub Noodle bar when it opened. And then it got better.

So if I return, I'm hoping for some better déjà vu.

Modrý Zub Restaurant
Spálená 29
Prague 1
Tel: (+420) 222 540 064

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