Friday, May 28, 2010

Céleste Bistro (Closed)

"If you have no critics, you'll likely have no success." Malcolm X
When it comes to restaurant talk, I don't just dish it out. I'm an insatiable consumer. I read everything I can about the Prague scene.

Unfortunately, there aren't many people writing regularly in English about the city's restaurants anymore. The Prague Spoon blog has ceased. The Czech Business Weekly is no more. On the bright side, there is a fun new food and drink blog that just started called Knedliky, etc.

I'm also a fan of one of the few others left out there, Claire Compton, a restaurant writer at The Prague Post. Her reviews have creative but brief opens, straightforward, unpretentious descriptions, and lots of useful information.

In last week's review, she gave the food at Céleste Bistro a rave for quality and value, so I bumped it up to the top of my to-do list.The Old Town restaurant is in the same space as the defunct, Asian-fusion spot, Angel, which I quite liked.The interior design and furniture have remained the same, as has the ownership. It has the same owners as Céleste, the restaurant at the top of the "Dancing House."

I still like Céleste Bistro's lighting and the coordinated beige/brown themes.The golden, branch-like chandelier is a favorite feature.But the wide-open space of the small room isn't conducive great atmosphere because the tables are just too close together.

In her article, Compton said that on her weeknight visits, the restaurant was almost empty. Perhaps because of the good review or because it was Saturday night, the restaurant was half-full was there with my Good Friend. We shared close quarters with two other diners.

Our waitress brought us bread and butter.There were baguette slices on the plate along with walnut bread. Both were cold, a little dry, and neither impressed me. The butter was cold and hard to spread.

I ordered a .75 liter bottle of Mattoni sparkling mineral water (75 CZK).I'm always glad when restaurants have this Czech product on the menu, especially when it is fairly priced.

We received an interesting little snack or amuse bouche from the kitchen: a plate of sliced radish coated in salt and olive oil.It was a refreshing and unconventional palate cleanser.

For my starter, I had the terrine of goose foie gras with black cherry marmalade and homemade toast (290 CZK).Compton's description of it as tasting like "a grown-up version of peanut butter and jelly" is pretty hard to beat. I had the same impression.

The foie gras was salty, but unlike peanut butter, it was silky smooth.

The cherries were intensely sweet. These exotic components did balance each other, but I daresay it was too simple for me.

I found myself wishing for another dimension -- perhaps a sour note, or a hint of wine with the cherries. I also wanted for more toast. The two small triangles I received were not enough.

Good Friend got the grilled king prawns with garlic butter and roasted peppers (245 CZK). I'm trying to use my flash less these days, so I'm sorry about the blur. The shrimp tasted like they had just been cooked in the shells and then removed just before serving. They had just the right texture. I thought they were great.

The crustaceans sat under a very butter sauce, but it did not taste strongly of garlic.

The peppers were roasted into a very soft state. They didn't offer much beside a hint of their natural flavor.

We decided to have red wine with dinner. Céleste Bistro has a nice list, with selections from France, Austria, New Zealand, and Moravia. They offer a wide range of prices.

Good Friend chose the 2007 Dominique Laurent Bourgogne Passetoutgrain (495 CZK).It was smooth, and light with a mild fruity note. A good wine for the price.

For the main course, I ordered the Moravian organic lamb with aubergine, chickpea and tarragon sauce (385 CZK).The one double and two single chops were meaty. The lamb was super tender and melted in the mouth. The sauce paired well with it.

On the other hand, I didn't think the chickpeas cooked in the shape of French fries worked well with this dish. The pureed aubergine underneath seemed like an afterthought and offered little excitement.

I'd rate the dish as good, but I'd put it in third place for my favorite lamb in Prague behind the chops at Resto Cafe Patio and Argument.

Good Friend had the beef entrecôte with strong red wine sauce and homemade French fries (395 CZK).The red wine sauce was pungent, savory, and terrific. The fries were piping hot, golden and crunchy.However, the steak itself was not the best-tasting or the tenderest piece of meat. In fact, it was a poor quality cut.

I don't mind fat on my beef, especially on an entrecôte or rib eye. But this one also had a fair amount of gristle. Several portions of the steak were inedible. Sure, you can cut around it, but it was disappointing.

I decided to go for dessert and deviated from my usual chocolate craving to try a different and intriguing offering: the French toast with pears poached in cinnamon syrup (135 CZK).It was beautiful-looking piece of egg-dipped, fried bread. But it didn't meat my expectations. It was too bready. I'd hoped it would be more on the eggy side. I also had trouble detecting much cinnamon flavor at all.

By itself, it was too dry. Fortunately, it came with some deliciously decadent whipped cream. The slice pear looked nice, but mostly provided another sweet angle and different texture. A lot of the natural flavor had been cooked and sugared out of them.

The bill came to 2065 CZK. Not too bad when you consider a bottle of wine in there, but maybe a just a little overpriced in my book for the overall quality of the experience.

Yes, I found flaws in the food at Céleste Bistro, but want to be clear: I don't mean this as a criticism of The Prague Post's review.

If I hear that a restaurant's food is near perfect, I think it's fair to give it extra scrutiny and look for imperfections.

The other point to consider is that a restaurant can be quite different depending on the day or the week or the dishes ordered.

That said, I think Prague needs more restaurants like Céleste Bistro. And if I'm critical, it's only because I'd like to see them find success.

Céleste Bistro
V kolkovně 7
Prague 1 - Old Town
Tel: (+420) 773 222 422

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Monday, May 24, 2010

Knedliky Etc...

There's a new food and drink blog on the Prague scene called "Knedliky Etc.."I think it's great.

I am a ravenous consumer of food info, and I am also pleased that it is a sort of a photo blog similar to mine. It's very hard for a written description to surpass a picture of unposed food in its natural setting.

The author, Knedlikova, has already written up a bunch of places I've never been before. Very useful.

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Friday, May 21, 2010


"Relativity teaches us the connection between the different descriptions of one and the same reality." Albert Einstein
Most of Holešovice is a desert for diners looking for quality. There are a few oases. I sometimes recommend SaSaZu or Bohemia Bagel (which might get a new name). But then I run dry.

I know people who live and work in the area, and they all say there's nothing special to go out of your way for.

One of them, Foodie Friend, suggested trying Baterka, which sits under a block of ugly flats facing Libeňský most.The interior has a modern-looking dining area with blond wood and clean lines.The seating was not the most comfortable, but it looked good. One annoying feature was the flat screen on the wall, blaring videos from Óčko, along with McDonald's and Pepsi commercials.

After sitting down, I was satisfied by a half-liter of cold and sharp Pilsner Urquell (35 CZK).FF had a .2 liter glass of 2007 Olaria from Portugal (42 CZK).That was also nicely cold and declared good, especially for the price.

Bread and butter were delivered.The cold slices were nothing special at all. Too dry and dense.

FF ordered a mixed salad (49 CZK).It was very basic and undressed -- just cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, and a few iceberg leaves. There was oil and vinegar on the table.

Of course, I had to try the Maxiburger (159 CZK) to add to my next Brewsta's Burgers list.It was served cut in half -- something I'd never seen before, at least as a standard practice.

The ground beef was pink in the middle.Most places cook their burgers to death. Of course, not everyone likes a rare of even medium-cooked patty. But I was pleased.

It was loaded with lettuce, tomato, red and white onion, and there were jalapenos on the side. The visuals were pretty good.

So imagine my let down, pickled peppers aside, by the blandness of this burger. The meat desperately needed salt, and it had no flavor at all from the grill. I didn't like it.

On the plus side, the thin-cut McDonald's-style fries were hot, crunchy, and good.

FF got the papardelle con parma (139 CZK). It came with Parma ham, sun-dried tomatoes, rucola, and Parmesan cheese.Again, it looked good, but the flavor was lacking. FF said it could have been nice but needed something more in the mix to pull it together.

The meal ended with a cappuccino (39 CZK) and a large espresso (35 CZK).Both were good.

The bill for two, including three drinks each, was 619 CZK without tip. I was disappointed with the first visit, but we agreed to try it again the next week.

With that meal, I started with the bruschetta bolognese (69 CZK). It was described as ground beef with tomato on homemade Italian-style bread with melted cheese.The toast bread slices were good. But there's not too much more to say. It was very basic. But I will add that it was quite filling -- almost a meal by itself.

FF had the Norwegian salmon tartare (119 CZK). Chopped red onion dominated the flavor. There were also shallots and capers.I thought there was something fishy about the salmon, and it could have been fresher. But FF liked it a lot. The 80 grams of fish came with the toasted Italian bread and half a lime.

For a main course, I got the pork steak (179 CZK). The Italian bread made its third appearance. On the side, they served grilled vegetables in a pesto.The white meat was mostly juicy and coated in a sweet marinade. It came with a dish of mustard on the side.

The pork was slightly overcooked, with a little dryness in the middle. The vegetables were a little too plain and could have used a shot of vinegar.

FF got Norwegian salmon again, but as a main course (205 CZK). It wrapped, maki-style, in nori and then cooked. The fish was served over wasabi mashed potatoes.The tender salmon was cooked to medium, with an orange center. We both liked it.

We differed on the potatoes. I thought it had a great wasabi flavor, but FF felt it didn't have enough and wished for that familiar nose burn you get from a heavy dose.

Surrounding the potatoes was a pool of honey mixed with lime. It was cloyingly sweet. Not good. Perhaps just a drizzling would have been OK.

I combine these two ingredients myself, along with soy sauce, to make a sauce for Asian chicken wings. It really needs the salty dimension and more lime juice for balance.

The tab for this trip, which included three wines and a beer, came to 733 CZK without tip.

In our postprandial discussion, I said I wasn't too impressed by Baterka.

"It's not the kind of place you'd make a special trip for," FF said. "It doesn't compare well to restaurants in the rest of Prague. But for Holešovice, it's one of the best. I'm glad it's here."

That sentiment was backed up by another friend who works down the road. She goes there regularly for their sub-100 CZK lunch specials and says that there isn't much else to choose from nearby.

So, there you have it. When hunger strikes in Holešovice, it's hard to do better than Baterka.

But just remember: the theory of relativity applies to everything in the universe, including restaurants.

Restaurant Baterka
Dělnická 71
Prague 7 - Holešovice
Tel: (+420) 266 711 185

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Friday, May 14, 2010

Dock House

"I am a great eater of beef, and I believe that does harm to my wit." William Shakespeare
So my friend tells me he's heard that the restaurant, Dock House, has some of the best steaks in Prague.
"Tell me more," I said. I listened carefully, even though he hadn't been there himself. He often gives me tips about restaurants Czech business people are buzzing about and that are usually off the beaten-track.

He said it has unique interior that looks like the inside of a ship.The story he heard was that it was built by the previous owners to look like Noah's Ark. I didn't confirm that, but it certainly does. I was skeptical about trying the place, but I found the description intriguing.

Then he said it was expensive. That didn't get inside my head as much as what he told me next.

"It's in Michle."

Prague 4 is one of the areas I've covered least. I've been feeling the need to fill in some of my geographical gaps. The only other place I wrote about in that district was essentially a cafeteria -- The Clubhouse in The Park in Chodov.

I looked on a map and the nearest tram stop, for the 11, is about 500 meters away from Dock House. I later figured out I could take the 139 bus from Vršovice. But that would still mean an uphill walk of about 250 meters from the stop.

Anyway, I was feeling lazy, so I drove over. That made the journey easy, but it meant I wasn't drinking.

At the front of the restaurant is a small bar and cafe space.
In the back was the more interesting space, with beautiful curving wooden beams, custom wooden furniture, and photos of cows on the walls.

One side of the room was taken up by a chef presiding over an open grill.A friendly waitress asked what I'd like to drink.

I asked for their homemade lemonade (48 CZK) and a bottle of Mattoni mineral water (42 CZK).They serve the lemonade in stylish curved glasses.

It was quite sweet and carbonated. I wished for more real lemon tartness. There was some pulp in there, but it didn't taste that different from a lemon soda you'd buy at the supermarket.

I received three kinds of sliced bread with herb butter.It wasn't warm, but the rustic bread in the middle was the best, with its crunchy crust and airy center.

On this day, I wasn't in the mood for a steak, so I ordered the Dock Burger with fries (193 CZK). I had high hopes for a hamburger served at a place that prides itself on minced Charolais tenderloin, cooked over an open flame.I was sorely disappointed.

This was the smallest burger patty I've ever seen in Prague, except for a regular hamburger at McDonald's. The picture doesn't really give good perspective on its size or the lack thereof.

No wonder the menu said the Double Dock Burger was a "chef's tip." The 100 gram single was expensive enough, but the Double Dock goes for 288 CZK -- a dizzying price for 200 grams of meat on a tiny bun.

The beef was cooked all the way through, despite my request for medium, giving it a toughness. I'm not sure how you'd cook such a thin burger to medium anyway. The flavor was not bad, but there was only the smallest hint of the grill. If this patty was made from a Charolais filet, I couldn't tell.

The bun was loaded with toppings - onion, pickle, lettuce, and tomato, along with rather indistinct bacon. I asked for extra cheddar (25 CZK), which was not included on the Dock Burger. It was actually the real stuff -- very good quality cheese. But the whole effect was that all those things drowned out the ground beef.

The plate came with good-quality steak fries, cooked golden and crispy, as I like them.

A disappointing hamburger can make me all kinds of unhappy. But I've found a good chocolate fondant is the best cure. Dock House calls theirs a "chocolate souffle." (144 CZK)It took a while, which is normal because it was cooked to order.

I am happy to report that it was great. Not only was it filled with a generous portion of rich, molten chocolate, but there were even small chocolate chunks in there.So often in Prague, the ice cream that comes with these desserts is low quality and tastes totally artificial. Not in this case. Despite its too yellow color, the vanilla scoop had a smooth, clean and natural flavor that complemented the chocolate well.

I should relate that the diner next to me ordered a steak medium rare. It was delivered medium-well. He pointed it out to the waiter and the improperly cooked meat was taken away. The chef watched apprehensively from across the room. The diner eventually received a properly cooked cut, but had to watch as his female dining companion ate without him.

As for me, I found the service was good. I enjoyed the lemonade, the dessert, and the fries, but I wasn't satisfied. Especially after I paid 500 CZK, tip included.

Of course, I had to come back for the steak. This time I tried to order the mint lemonade, but that wasn't available. So I got the limeade (48 CZK).
This wasn't carbonated. I liked it better than the lemonade, but did wish for more real juice in there.

I decided to check on how they do seafood, so I ordered the "roasted" calamari (189 CZ).
This time, my low expectations were greatly exceeded by the excellent squid, which were sauteed in olive oil.

I savored their fresh flavor and tender texture. They came simply seasoned with cherry tomatoes, black olives, and sliced garlic. It was enough. This was one of the better calamari dishes I've had.

The steaks come in three cuts, Charolais entrecôte, South American hanger steak, and Charolais filet mignon. The sizes range from 200 grams to 600 grams.

I chose 300 grams of the cheapest cut, the entrecôte (393 CZK). I chose the demi-glace sauce to go with it.
Other sauces were chili, mushroom, green pepper, herb butter, cranberry, or bacon and fresh tomato.

Despite the big price, it didn't include a side item. I got the green beans with bacon (65 CZK).The steak was very tender, and there was no question about its quality. It was not very thick, but was cooked as requested to medium-rare.The only issue was the lack of salt. There were some rock crystals on the top, but it needed a strong shot of salt from me to bring up the flavor. It should have been properly salted just before cooking, not after.

The demi-glace, a reduction of veal stock, vegetables, browned bones, also needed salt. However, it was excellent after the saline levels were brought up. It's one of my favorite sauces, and I'm still pining for the amazing version they used to serve at Cafe Savoy.

The green beans were heavily coated in bacon fat. They were not overcooked, but they were rubbery rather than snappy and not as fresh as they should be.

I'd had good luck with the dessert on the first visit, so I went for another one, the panna cotta with milk chocolate (144 CZK).I'd had a really bad, rubbery panna cotta when I had it at Pepe Nero. They should come to Dock House to see how to do it right. It was so smooth and creamy. The waiter poured real, hot milk chocolate over the top. Quality stuff. The chocolate overwhelmed the flavor of the cream underneath, but I still enjoyed every bite.

My tab for this second solo trip was 900 CZK with tip. And there's the biggest problem with Dock House. The prices are up there with or even higher than some of the other top steakhouses in Prague like El Barrio de Ángel, La Casa Argentina, La Bodeguita del Medio, or Crazy Cow.

But given a choice, I'd take the 300 gram rib eye at El Barrio over the Dock House entrecôte, any day.

El Barrio's steak is about 40 CZK cheaper, it's a thicker (entrecôte and rib eye are somewhat similar cuts), and it also gets a better smoky char from their grill.

I really wouldn't mind trying more of the beef at Dock House. And maybe it's the best place in Michle. But I think it was the cost that hurt my wit.

When I looked at the bill, I was not amused.

Dock House
Michelská 59
Prague 4
Tel. (+420) 261 211 590

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Friday, May 7, 2010

Lokal Blok

"One who never fell, never climbed." Unknown
Back in the day, my friends and I used to scale the beautiful, sheer cliffs near New Paltz, New York.

I have fond memories moving up the Shawangunk Conglomerate, warmed by the summer morning sun, looking out upon the forest canopy below.

So when a reader recommended Lokal Blok on the Czech Please Facebook page, it got my attention.This place in Anděl-Smíchov is unusual. Not only is it a restaurant, but it also has rock climbing walls in the basement.If you want to work on your lean back, overhang moves before you eat, this is the place to go. I don't do that anymore, but I knew I had to check it out.

The restaurant upstairs is quite large.There are three different dining sections, plus a big garden deck in back. On one early evening, the place was jam-packed with an exclusively young crowd.

Throbbing rock music blasted over the sound system. I sat with a friend in the front smoking section near the bar.It was very smoky. Another Facebook reader told me the restaurant will be all non-smoking starting June 1st.

I started off drinking sparkling water. It was my least favorite, Bonaqua (28 CZK).One reason I don't like it is the small .25 liter bottle it comes in. I prefer quenching more of my thirst with a .33 liter bottle of Mattoni.

During the meal, I had a half-liter glass of Pilsner Urquell (36 CZK). At the end, I had a Jack Daniel's with a little ice (75 CZK).

I was having a hard day.

My friend wasn't too hungry and ordered the cheddar and jalapeno quesadilla (125 CZK).This was a decent snack, but it didn't reach any great heights. The salsa, with freshly chopped tomato, was bland. I also thought that plain white rice didn't partner well with a quesadilla.

I wanted to order a standard hamburger, but the menu caused me some confusion. On the first page under "Big Sandwiches," one came with grilled hamburger meat. So I ordered that one (105 CZK).It turned out to be an actual sandwich, with sausage-shaped ground meat served on a long, chewy roll.

Fancy lettuce, tomatoes, and a sweet mustard sauce were spilling out of the bread. The bigger, regular burger, served on a proper bun, was listed a couple of pages later in the "Meat" section (135 CZK).

The seasoned meat tasted a lot like meat loaf. I was told that this is because the ground beef is mixed with buckwheat. It wasn't bad, but you really have to get yourself in a meat loaf sandwich mood to enjoy it.

It tasted nothing like a classic burger patty. I didn't like the cold, chewy roll that was too small, or that it was slathered with such an intensely sweet mustard.

However, I was still in the mood for something sweet at the end of the meal. I ordered the ice cappuccino (48 CZK).It was the kind made with ice cream, which I usually like. But this version was mostly froth and was lacking in flavor. It wasn't even very cold. It needed much more ice cream.

To go with it, I got the Apple Crumble (45 CZK). This lifted me up a bit.The finely chopped apple, served warm, was topped with cake crumbs, and powdered sugar. It was very sweet, but here, I minded less. There was a barely detectable amount of rum. It was something like an apple strudel without all the dough.

I came back alone for another visit on a beautiful spring afternoon and headed straight for the garden in back. I was very lucky and got one of the last tables.It wasn't a forest, but I was surrounded by a lot of green. Several diners were turned away after I got there.

I sat near a window looking into their clean, large, well-organized kitchen.While checking out the drinks menu, I saw something I hadn't noticed before. Lokal Blok was serving unpasteurized Gambrinus from a tank. I've seen Pilsner Urquell served this way all over town, but never its weaker, 10 degree SABMiller brewery mate.

I ordered a half-liter (28 CZK).It was very good, maybe the best version of Gambrinus you'll find. But this beer just doesn't taste as good as Pilsner, which they also have on regular draft.

For a starter, I decided to try the roasted eggplant and pepper tartare (75 CZK).It was attractively, yet awkwardly presented, with bread stacked up on the plate. But the taste counts the most.

I liked it a lot. It was more salty than tart, but the flavors of the cooked red, yellow, and green peppers, mixed with the eggplant, balanced it out well. The bread also soaked up the good pesto and balsamic vinegar that swirled on the plate.

It was advertised as mildly spicy, but it was barely so. My only criticism was that the thick, cold bread could have been better or perhaps toasted.

For my main, I was in the mood for pork. I recently had a rather disastrous pork neck/shoulder at Kulaťák, and I thought it would be good to see how they compare. So I ordered the Krkovice (155 CZK).Lokal Blok's was better in every way. This pork steak was bigger (two pieces!), looked great, the seasonings were on the mark, the porcine flavor was just right, and it was 24 crowns cheaper than Kulaťák's.

It got dryer toward the less fatty parts in the middle, but that's about it. There was a big dollop of ajvar on top to help moisten it up.

Even better, the thinly sliced new potatoes underneath were plentiful and delicious. They were cooked with whole-grain mustard, and it was slightly sweet.

I still liked the pesto and balsamic on the plate, even though it was rather repetitive after having it with the starter.

I have to say, my first visit to this restaurant left me feeling disappointed. I thought it fell flat.But my second visit was so much better in almost every way. In fact, on a warm summer day, Lokal Blok has climbed to the top of my list of places to go in Smíchov.

Especially if I can get a spot in the garden.

Lokal Blok
Náměstí 14. října 10,
Prague 5 - Smíchov
Tel. (+420) 251 511 490

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