Friday, August 27, 2010

Villa Richter Brunch

"What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value." Thomas Paine
You want to have Sunday brunch at a beautiful spot in Prague? You don't want to spend a lot?


Dining in fancy digs like the InterContinental's Zlata Praha or the Radisson Blu's La Rotonde will cost you more than 1000 CZK per person on any given Sunday. Depending on what you drink, it could cost a lot more.

But there's a cheaper way to go. Recently, a bunch of my friends decided to meet for brunch at Villa Richter, near Prague Castle. The cost per person: 400 CZK.

On the appointed day, I went to Malostranská metro station and walked the short distance to bottom of the Old Castle Steps. That's one of the entrances to Villa Richter.You can also get there by walking out of the Prague Castle exit near the Golden Lane.

From the steps, there are quite a few stairs to climb up through a small, working vineyard.There's a great view of Mala Strana and the St. Nicholas church.

Villa Richter has a number of different dining and drinking options.There's the Panorama Pergola were you can get Czech wines and light snacks.There's also the Piano Nobile restaurant, which is the upscale option.I've never eaten there, but I've heard both positive and negative reports about it.

Below that is Piano Terra. That restaurant has a terrace where they have the brunch. It has a roof over it and clear plastic walls that can be opened in good weather.Most of the food was served buffet style. Don't expect anything too gourmet at this price point. There's quantity if not always quality. It's all you can eat.

There were salads, including rucola, pickles, and sausages.There was a nice spread of Caprese.One of my favorite options there were the cheeses.They offered a wide variety and some were excellent.

The best warm option was the ham, which a chef carved off a rotisserie.I had this tender, smoky meat, along with the cheeses.On the side, there was balsamic syrup and a very spicy, sweet fig sauce. Everyone who could stand the serious sharpness of this sauce really loved it.

There were several other hot dishes served from heating trays. These were less successful. The chicken and pork ragout had great flavor, but the meat was tough and overcooked.I had it with mushy gnocchi that tasted like balls of mashed potato. Meh.

There was roast duck with red cabbage.It had a soggy skin and the meat was overcooked. The cabbage and green beans on the side were good.

I wasn't drinking that day so I ordered a bottle of water.The price of that tiny bottle of Bonaqua really surprised me at the end. It was 59 CZK.

Friends said the wine they had was good. I didn't catch what kind it was. But .15 liter glasses of Czech wine can run from 81 CZK to 115 CZK.

I also didn't get the price of the Bloody Mary my friend had, but I can say it was not worth the money, whatever it cost. It was bloody awful.It tasted like it was just tomato juice, a little Tabasco, vodka, and a few ice cubes. Totally boring and bland.

The desserts were a mixed bag, with a few bright spots. The blueberry cake was dried out.I didn't try the circles of strawberry cream cake.

The Medovnik (honey cake) was standard, but fresh. The cheesecake was not American-style, but it was sweet, gooey, and still tasty. The squares of chocolate mousse-like cream on top of chocolate cake were intense, rich, and my favorite.I had a couple of those chocolate devils.

But the apple strudel was seriously dried out. Nobody liked it.So I'd disagree with Mr. Paine. It is not only dearness that gives value.

If you don't drink too much at Villa Richter, you get a filling brunch at a restaurant with one of the best views of Prague.

The food is certainly not anything special. But I'd recommend this brunch, especially for visitors, because it is relatively cheap. And to me, that's what gives it value.

Villa Richter
Staré zámecké schody 6/251
Prague 1
Tel. (+420) 257 219 079

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Friday, August 20, 2010

Na Kopci

"Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where other people see nothing." Camille Pissarro
I almost didn't write about Na Kopci (On the Hill).The reason I came around to doing it is an interesting one. But I will save that for a little later.

It started with The Czanadian raving about it to me. He passes me tips about what Czech business people and foodies are buzzing about. Every time I'd see him, he'd insist I had to try it, and that it is one of his personal favorites.

I was intrigued to see what he was all hot and bothered about. I refused to be daunted by the long trek to the hilltop restaurant overlooking Prague 5's Smichov neighborhood.I was, however daunted by the 300 CZK cab fare it cost me to get there from Prague 10. It's also possible to take bus 231 from Na Knížecí stop.

My Good Friend drove to meet me and got a little lost on the winding, one-way residential streets.

There were no tables available outside on the terrace, so I was waiting inside.The dining areas had a nice, warm feeling. The walls are covered with montages of family photographs.It's not a big place, and all the tables are often reserved. Booking is recommended.

They serve 12-degree Staropramen beer, which is not my favorite, but I ordered a half-liter (32 CZK).My Good friend had a .2 liter glass of merlot.It should have cost 80 CZK, but I just noticed it was left off the bill.

The waitress brought us an amuse bouche of chopped beets sandwiched between two pieces of hard salami.I hadn't seen this combination before, but it was a good mix of sweet, salty, and sour.

My Good Friend ordered the beef consommé with a Tyrolian dumpling (50 CZK).She really loved the broth and the bready, meaty dumpling. Even though it's not my favorite kind of soup, I thought it was very well-prepared.

I decided to try the chef's selection of starters (145 CZK). It was a mixed bag.My favorite was the beef tartare with shaved Parmesan sandwiched between two tiny pieces of toast. Then, there was the cured ham rolled around sun-dried tomato. The mini Caprese on a toothpick was a simple tasting, ordinary bite. The baked mussel was tasty, but overcooked.

I was less enthralled with the salmon and dill on a small blini. The fish was slightly dried out and tasted like the smoked stuff that comes from a plastic supermarket package.

More disappointing was the cheddar-stuffed and fried jalapeno. It doesn't taste bad. It's fine. It's just that I've seen the same Makro-sourced freezer bag product all over town. I was hoping for something more creative. It was served with the ubiquitous Thai chili sauce that almost every restaurant considers the universal condiment.

I was hungry so, as a second course, I ordered the goat cheese salad (125 CZK).Little cirles of the gooey, baked chevre were serve on top sweet gingerbread. Mixed in with the lightly dressed frisee and other green and red leaves were strawberry and pomegranate. The sweet-tart fruits contrasted well with the cheese.

My Good Friend decided to try the Caesar salad with grilled chicken (125 CZK). This was a dismal affair.The romaine lettuce was limp, the dressing almost flavorless, and the chicken overcooked and dry. I think the generous portion of shaved Parmesan was meant to cover up the crime. Neither of us wanted to finish it.

Finally, I had the beef "striploin" steak with almond croquettes, fava beans, and cognac sauce (285 CZK).It wasn't bad, but I wasn't terribly happy with it, either.

The meat was not tender and of very average flavor. The sauce was nice, but there wasn't enough of it to make the meat more appealing.

That's because I used a lot of the sauce to made the almond croquettes more edible. They tasted like potato, but they were dried out and stale. The best thing on the plate were the fresh, crunchy snow peas mixed in with the fava beans.

At the end of this meal, I didn't feel like writing about Na Kopci. I liked the atmosphere and the prices, but I had too many disappointing dishes. And I couldn't see recommending the complicated journey.

Instead, I decided to summarize my findings on the Czech Please Facebook page. I said it "was highly recommended by a friend, but I found it unimpressive."

And then all hell broke loose. Well, not really.

But there was a rather unprecedented response by readers in defense of the restaurant.

Five people, all Czech I believe, used superlatives to describe Na Kopci. They said it was "outstanding" and "the best restaurant in the price/value category." A well-known Czech restaurant critic, Martin Kuciel, also known as Pan Cuketka posted a link to a rave review in the new Czech website,

Given the reaction, which didn't match up well with my experience, I felt I had to go back.I got some tips from readers on what to order. For the second trip, I went alone and drove myself there. I only took one wrong turn.

Since I had my car, I got something called a "Bazén" or swimming pool (50 CZK).This was just a .2 liter bottle of orange juice mixed with a .33 liter bottle of Mattoni and nothing else. It wasn't cold, so I asked the waitress for a cup of ice.

The menu at Na Kopci changes from time to time. It was still the same for my next visit, but there was a new amuse bouche. It was canned tuna with mayo and red pepper.Nothing special.

I wanted to try as much as possible, so I had four courses altogether. The first was the foie gras (205 CZK).The cold liver was silky smooth, with a clean finish. It was quite sweet, owing to the dusting of brown sugar around the outside.

The caramelized, chopped apple, mixed with a little walnut, according to the waitress, was nice. But it added more sweetness and was a little one-dimensional.

It was very awkward to get the foie gras and apple to stay on the thin narrow toast without tumbling off before a bite. Also, there wasn't enough of it, so I also used sliced baguette from the basket.

Next, I ordered the homemade ravioli stuffed with oxtail meat (115 CZK). This was fantastic.The al dente pasta sat under a rich, beefy, slightly sweet and creamy shallot sauce. I tasted a hint of wine. I couldn't get enough of it.

Inside, there was tender, braised oxtail that added to the richness of the dish.Even the sage on top was a perfect addition. I wouldn't have minded two more little leaves.

This dish gave me some understanding of the strong devotion some have for Na Kopci. The ravioli was the highlight of my week and for an absolute bargain, at that. The next time I find myself at Na Kopci, I will get two orders of this dish, maybe even three.

Finally, I had the reader-recommended pork tenderloin with creamed spinach and pommes boulangére (205 CZK).I found the pork rather bland by itself. But the salty, meaty gravy, bursting with the essence of thyme, really came to the rescue.

The potatoes were buttery, but I didn't get a lot of flavor from them, either. The spinach was perfect. The leaves were freshly wilted and had just the right amount cream that didn't overwhelm.

After all this, I still had room for dessert. Or more specifically, I had room for their selection of Valrhona chocolate (125 CZK). And I was very, very glad I did.I first became acquainted with this high-grade French chocolate in 1993, and I've never missed an opportunity to order it when I see it.

There were five different presentations of the chocolate varied in thickness and shape. There was a mousse-like dollop, a thicker slab, a paper-thin but not insubtantial piece, and two cocoa-dusted balls. The small bursts of sour pomegranate contrasted well with all of them.

Each had a different, intense, almost mind-altering chocolate flavor. I loved them all, but I definitely enjoyed the balls the most. They had an incredibly, nutty, tangy flavor that I don't think I'd experienced before. Highly recommended.

The bill for the two visits were 794 CZK and 700 CZK before tip. There is no question: there is value for money at Na Kopci. There is a nice atmosphere. The service wasn't perfect, but not bad. I'd be very happy to have it in my neighborhood.

Is it worth the trip? For me, the ravioli and chocolate might be enough to get me to return. But too many dishes were just average or disappointments. My feeling is that you need manage your ordering and expectations carefully.

The Na Kopci experience was an interesting one, and not just because of the food. Where I initially saw nothing, some saw beauty in a humble building at the top of the hill.

I did like it much more on my second visit, but that only underlined for me the mercurial nature of restaurant perceptions. I still wouldn't rank Na Kopci as highly as some readers or my good friend.

But bless them for taking the time to kindly suggest I missed out on something good. I'm glad I went back.

Na Kopci
K Závěrce 20
Prague 5
Tel: (+420) 251 553 102

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Friday, August 13, 2010


** Esse has closed and has turned into a Potrefená Husa restaurant. The phone number remains the same.

"There shall be wings! If the accomplishment be not for me, 'tis for some other." Leonardo Da Vinci
A few months back, while writing about Baterka, I lamented the dearth of decent restaurants in Prague's Holešovice neighborhood.

More recently, I noticed a similarly styled place called Esse, a cafe, restaurant, and club.It's across the street from the National Gallery at Veletržní Palace.It has a modern look that makes artistic use of blond and dark woods mixed with creative, integrated lighting.That extends to the eye-catching bar area as well.I met G-Man for dinner and drinks to catch up on the many and varied happenings of life.

Esse is a Staropramen branded pub, but neither of us like their regular lager. I had a half-liter of Hoegaarden (63 CZK), which was very good. G-Man had the .4 liter glass of Staropramen Granat (35 CZK), an 11-degree amber lager.His was fine on the first visit, but on a return trip, it was flat and G-Man thought it had gone bad. He was not happy.

We received some bread.It was very ordinary Czech bread and some baguette slices.

I started with the grilled goat cheese salad (110 CZK). It wasn't bad, but a very simple affair.The wheel of cheese was warmed all the way through, and there was a slice of bacon across the top. There was a small amount of frisee and other nice leaves underneath with a basic oil and vinegar dressing.

G-Man ordered one of his stand-by dishes: Fettuccine aglio olio Tagliáta (155 CZK).Versions of this pasta at other restaurants are often bland, but this one was not.

We both remarked on how tasty it was. The fresh Parmesan, the marinated beef, the roasted garlic, cherry tomato, and rucola all worked together well. The pasta was not overcooked. We started with low expectations that were more than surpassed.

I had the ESSE Wings (135 CZK). I loved them.They were fried, but not greasy, with dark, crunchy, crispy seasoning clinging to the outside. They were meaty, tender, and juicy on the inside.

Lovers of American-style hot wing sauce will be disappointed, but they are only served with a sweet mango-chili sauce. It is exactly the same as that served by Ambiente on Manesova. In fact, these wings are every bit as good as those, for a much cheaper price.

The main disappointment on this visit was the cocktail I tried. I ordered a Mojito (92 CZK).
The price was good, but that was about it. The drink was watery and I never thought I'd say this, but it needed more ice.

With some other beers and water on the bill, it came to 789 CZK.

I was interested in seeing how far the quality extended through the menu, so I returned the following week.I met G-Man along with his girlfriend, Miss Soprano, and their colleague, Mini Driver.

G-Man knew I was going to write about the place, but he ordered the wings again. He knew this wouldn't help me get a broader understanding of the restaurant, but it made a useful statement. He liked the wings too much to order anything else.

Mini got the salmon on a baguette (70 CZK).The menu (in Czech only on the Internet) was confusing because it called it "smoked salmon" and then went on to describe it as marinated in the "grave-lax" style. It was indeed marinated, which I much prefer.

The fish was buttery and fresh. There was also balsamic syrup, garlic butter, and salty feta cheese spread. Frankly, there was too much going on with these other flavors. They overwhelmed the excellent salmon.

They have a tapas menu, but a few things were unavailable, including the fried jalapenos with cheddar. I did want to see if they were the same Makro stuff at every other restaurant.

Instead, I got the little beef tartare tapas (35 CZK).It was a cute little portion of meat with mini fried bread. It was simply seasoned with salt and ketchup. It was a nice, small snack.

Then, I went for the appetizer of fish tartare (115 CZK). It was fresh salmon and pike-perch formed into a cylinder.The waitress told me there was tuna in there, but I didn't see it.

I squeezed a lot of lemon over it. The salmon tasted a bit fresher and had a better texture than the pike-perch. It was very basic, with just some olive oil and pepper.

For a main course, I decided to check one of their Czech specialities: the svíčková na smetaně or beef in cream sauce (155 CZK).Where to begin?

The sauce was watery and was more like a salty broth. There was no lemon. The beef was tender, but cooked into desiccated hunks. The dumplings were dried out, crumbly, and tasted old. I called it the worst svíčková na smetaně I'd ever had. Everyone had a taste and agreed. It was awful.

I'll end on a positive note and say that the service on both visits to Esse was excellent. The waiters and waitresses were friendly, efficient, and cheerfully switched between English and Czech with me.

Though there was that bad cocktail and beer, a lot of the food was above average for this type of place. There was better value and quality than I expected.

I do like the Burgers at the Bohemia Bagel down the street, so if I'm in the area, I might still head over there. But as G-Man said, Esse's wings are better. And it's always good to have more than one option.

So if there shall be wings, for me, Esse is the way to go.

Dukelských hrdinů 43
Prague 7 - Holešovice
Tel: (+420) 233 931 003

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