Friday, July 29, 2011

Bilkova 13

"We love to expect, and when expectation is either disappointed or gratified, we want to be again expecting." Samuel Johnson
As much as I love getting tips and recommendations about restaurants, there is a downside.

If praise is too effusive, it raises expectations. Unmet expectations lead to disappointment.

I heard and read good things about Bilkova 13, but for some reason, I was still uninspired, and my expectations were still in check. Finally, a friend talked me into going down to Old Town, near the Intercontinental Hotel, to check it out.The name of the restaurant is also the address.

With few expectations as to what the place actually looked like, I was impressed. The restaurant is huge. There's a usually bustling bar area in front.There's a room with tables for people who want to sit down and drink.Once you pass through that part, there's a big, multi-level dining room in the back.There are glassed-in wine racks, faux-hardwood floors, exposed duct work, brick walls and steel beams.I thought the modern-industrial look worked fairly well. Some dining areas can be made private with the use of curtains on tracks in the ceiling.There's space for just a few outside tables.There's a play area for kids.And there's a play area for adults -- a special "Cognac Point" with fine liquors and a cigar room.A paid membership is required for that part.

We sat down and were greeted by a very friendly waiter. The music had to be some eclectic playlist on shuffle. It went from "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" by Pink Floyd (which I loved) to "I Need Somebody" by Bryan Adams (not so much).

We started with crystal flutes of Pizzolato extra dry prosecco (75 CZK each). We had a big bottle of Mattoni sparkling mineral water (95 CZK). The house wine I had, a Pinot Grigio from Veneto, was dry and light (.2 liter/90 CZK). The Alsatian Pinot Gris was sweeter and less to my taste (.2 liter/130 CZK).The bread basket had good slices of Italian bread with salt crystals.With that, the waiter gave us something we'd never seen before: olive oil with an island of tart, grated Parmesan in the middle.We both liked the combination a lot.

One starter was the tuna tartare (230 CZK).On the menu, it says in English that it is salmon tartare. In Czech, it correctly says it is tuna.

It is definitely one of the most creative and tasty iterations I've had. The decent-sized, squared-off portion was mixed with tomato, caper, olive, and lemon. I thought olives might overwhelm the flavor, but the mild black ones worked well.

The other starter was the tortellini with fresh black truffle, butter and Parmesan (210 CZK). Even before I took a bite, I inhaled the intoxicating aroma of truffle (though I wondered if any of that was truffle oil).The tortellini were very plump and well-stuffed with snowy-white ricotta.The rich, mushroomy sauce was delicious. It was a generous portion and I enjoyed it very much. The only issue I had was it was not very hot and too al dente for me. But my friend thought it was just right.

Note that the menu says they also have gluten-free pasta available for those with celiac issues.

For a main course, my friend had the sea bass (360 CZK). The kitchen removed the bones on request. The fish was moist and had a clean, fresh flavor.It came with buttered new potatoes, a small rucola salad, and a roasted tomato on the side.

I had the Brazilian filet steak with refried beans and grilled shiitake mushrooms (450 CZK).It was confusing because the menu said in English that it came with "green bean purée." In Czech, it just said "bean purée." I was strangely curious to find out what it was.

The large lump of brown frijoles refritos that came were a little dry and perhaps not the best complement. I ate about half of it. The four little mushrooms were oddly flavorless.

But the beef itself was great. I've had a few better tasting steaks in Prague, but I don't think I've ever had one that was more tender. It was a pleasure just to cut it. Eating it was quite enjoyable, too.

We wanted coffee and dessert. It took forever. Our once efficient waiter began fading as the meal went on. He was AWOL by the end.

Eventually, I got my homemade tiramisu, (135 CZK). It was a large portion.The mascarpone that made up most of it was very light. Overall, I thought it was lackluster. I wished for more coffee-soaked savoiardi and prefer thicker, creamier versions. My friend just had fresh pineapple (90 CZK).

The good caffee macchiato (45 CZK) and latte macchiato (65 CZK) came after the desserts.

The total bill for the meal was 2050 CZK. That seems like a lot, but I thought it was reasonable when you consider three courses for two people along with Prosecco, wines, and coffees. I thought the prices were quite fair.

I like the look of the place, and it feels like you are eating in a more expensive place than it is.

We appreciated the starters more than the main courses, but nothing was bad. The service was both good and terrible. My friend said our waiter was one of the better ones, so watch out.

I'm looking forward to going back and tasting some other dishes. I'm also telling my friends to try Bilkova 13.

Unless something unexpected happens, they probably won't be disappointed.

Bilkova 13
Bilkova 13
Prague 1 - Old Town
Tel. (+420) 224 829 254

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Friday, July 15, 2011

Restaurace Peperoncino

"Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work." Stephen King
The all-too-small window for outdoor dining in Prague opens too late and slams shut all too soon.

So I grab every chance I can get for eating al fresco. When my friends started buzzing about the food and the back garden at Peperoncino, I checked my weather app and reserved a table.

The Italian spot is in a residential area not far from Letenský zámeček beer garden, a favorite outdoor hang out of mine on warm evenings.We passed through the small dining room on the way to the garden.The brick arch and the black and white verses on wall are a nice touch. The poem is "Longing for the South" by Konstantin Miladinov.

On the downside, the white walls were bare and boring, the simple chairs were not to my taste, and the room was cacophonous and cramped when full. I never did eat inside there, though.

The unkempt back garden is huge, with tables sprinkled around the vast expanse. On sunny days, it's good to get a table in the shadow of a tree as there were no umbrellas.It is child friendly, with some toys including a net-enclosed trampoline in the back.I was given a table right next to it with four shrieking children bouncing inside. The waitress kindly helped me carry the table to the other side of the garden.

We started with some crisp, dry Pinot Grigio (55 CZK/.1 liter).

Then we had the bruschetta pomodoro (85 CZK). This was not the typical version you'd find at many other places around town.On the good bread were cherry tomato halves, rucola, shaved Parmesan, and olive oil. I was hoping for some basil. It was more like a simple little salad on toast.

I got what I usually get at Mediterranean-style places, the risotto frutti di mare (150 CZK). It was stocked with mussels, clams, and calamari.It wasn't bad and the price was a bargain. I did think it was on the bland side, especially compared with other versions around town.

Then we had the grilled calamari, shrimp, and octopus (190 CZK). This was good.The seafood was very fresh and had great smoky flavor from the grill. The calamari was even slightly charred. We ordered spinach with ricotta on the side (55 CZK). It was a nice complement.

For dessert on the first visit, I avoided my usual tendency toward chocolate. I ordered the cake with mascarpone and strawberries (66 CZK). It was pure heaven.The light, springy homemade cake was a great platform for the sweet strawberries and cream. I've been dreaming regularly about this dessert.

The bill for this visit was a very reasonable 740 CZK.

On the next visit, we started with the grilled octopus alla Peperoncino (165 CZK).The tentacle came in a tomato sauce with green beans and potato. The octopus was very tender, but had a fishy flavor.

Of course, I had to try a pasta. I got something I've never had before: Spaghetti Caprino (99 CZK). It had tomato sauce, fresh basil and goat cheese.My Italian friend pronounced the pasta properly cooked. The cool cheese melted and mixed in with the sauce, making it nice and tart and creamy. I liked it, but my only gripe was that I wanted more than two basil leaves.

Then, I had the 200 gram filet steak with green pepper sauce (345 CZK). The meat was excellent. It was very tender and had just a little smoke flavor from the grill.However, the sauce was not good. It was thin, with the cream separating, and it was too salty. The grilled vegetables were fine (55 CZK). There were peppers, eggplant, and zucchini.

On another visit, I had the same steak but with the balsamic vinegar sauce.The steak was tender but had no grill flavor this time. The sour sauce was also too salty. I didn't like it. The caponata siciliana was mostly tomato sauce (60 CZK).

My friend got the veal with porcini mushrooms (245 CZK).Again, the meat was very good. But the sauce on top was way too salty.

For my final dessert, I could not resist the chocolate cake (66 CZK).It is homemade and simple, but good stuff. I liked it, but the confection could not displace my highest affection for the strawberry cake. I must have more of that.

In the end, I have very mixed feelings about Peperoncino. The prices for many offerings were great, though you have to consider that side dishes cost extra.

I'll be more than happy to return while the weather stays good and sit and the garden, drinking wine with grilled seafood and pasta.

I just think the kitchen needs a little more talent. Or a little less salt.

Restaurace Peperoncino
Letohradská 34
Prague 7 - Letna
Tel. (+420) 233 312 438

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Friday, July 1, 2011

Bohe(my)a Lounge & Grill Bar

On the roof, it's peaceful as can be
And there the world below can't bother me
Right smack dab in the middle of town, there's a new chill out spot far from the madding crowds, eat tapas and grilled meats, and soak up some sun.

Sounds cool, no?

It's on top of building that houses Tesco and the My Narodni department store (cue sound of a stylus skipping across record).Wait, what? Tesco tapas?

I doubted Bohe(my)a Lounge & Grill Bar would be worth checking out when I first heard about it. Then I read the menu on Facebook and I was enticed. The breakfasts, sandwiches, salads, and tapas were not the same old, same old.

There's an elevator, but I took the series of escalators up to the top floor. Then I made my way through the kitchen equipment department.Outside, there's a giant wooden deck surrounded by glass. In the middle, there's a bar, and on a far side, there's a grill.For seating, there were comfortable wicker chairs and three sets of outdoor lounge couches. Those were very popular.I never got to kick back on those, they were always taken.

It is important to note that the restaurant is only open during warm weather months. It closes when it rains, and last orders are at 9 p.m.I started off with a beer. They only have Stella Artois and Staropramen, neither of which I like very much. For some strange reason, I received the Staro in a Stella glass.I was assured that this was, indeed, Staro. The beer was so flat that I walked it over to the bar and said I would not drink it.

I ordered a Staropramen Granat instead. This was not cold enough for my taste, but at least drinkable.The manager came over shortly after and told me that he was sorry about the problem and the beer would be on the house.

I then ordered the most interesting-sounding item on the menu: the watermelon and feta cheese salad (118 CZK). It was mostly watermelon, with just a few rucola leaves and some raisins at the bottom.The feta was creamy rather than the usual blocky, crumbly stuff. Perhaps it was my expectations, but I wish there were more greens and cheese and less melon.

Next, I tried the goat cheese, jamon, and fig jam sandwich (88 CZK). This I liked very much.The high-quality crunchy roll was toasted. The few slices of ham looked like they came from a package at Tesco, but tasted OK. There were some rucola leaves. The round of goat cheese was smooth underneath. Nice sandwich.

I decided to be ambitious and order something from the grill. The salmon was unavailable, so I went for the pork neck or krkovice (148 CZK).On the upside, it was thick and juicy and had some flavor from the grill. Some might like how lean it was, but it was tough and there was a lot of chewing. It's not so healthy, but I like my krkovice very fatty and tender.

It needed salt and pepper. I wouldn't have minded having a sauce on the side. Instead, it sat on a pile of rucola with plenty of balsamic vinegar. The leaves wilted a bit under the heat.

I've been pretty cavalier lately about taking pictures, thinking I fly below the radar. But it is starting to get noticed, especially if the manager is an international guy like Ozgur Maden, who is very familiar with Facebook and other media. At the end of the meal, I received a free lemonade.I asked the waitress why, and she just shrugged and walked away. Anyway, it was lightly sweet with a bitter finish.

I paid 354 CZK for all of the above.

I made my next visit during evening hours when the tapas menu is available. I started with sangria (98 CZK).It was lightly sweet and needed more tartness. This was remedied by squeezing some of the oranges in the glass. It also had apple slices.

I liked it a lot in the end -- very refreshing. On another visit, it was served in a different, larger-looking glass.

I liked the baba ghanoush (48 CZK). It was very fresh, almost chunky, with pine nuts, lemon, parsley, tahini, and olive oil.However, I didn't detect any smoky flavor. On another visit, it was smoother, not quite as good, with less fresh parsley. However, I did not order it.

"The chef would like you to try it," the waitress said as she delivered it. Unless anyone else has been getting free stuff sent to the table, I'd say that my cover was blown.

Then I had the kofte (78 CZK).The meatballs had good lamb flavor but were a bit overcooked. The minted yogurt on the side helped.

The zucchini pancakes were excellent (48 CZK).I don't know if I was just lucky, but they were clearly just cooked -- hot, light, and fluffy. It comes with garlicky yogurt on the side. They were small, but a great snack.

Finally, I had the gambas (88 CZK). The small prawns were cooked just right. But the best part was the sauce.It had a great tang to it and a light heat from red chilies. I was mopping it all up with my extra bread.

However, on another visit, the spice level from the chilies was much higher and it was too much for a tender-tongued friend.

The tab for this visit was 360 CZK.

Of course, I returned one more time to try the cheeseburger (148 CZK). It's quite large for the price, but is not really a classic American-style version.The ground beef was mixed with onion, herbs, and spices. It had what looked like parsley in there. The bun had lots of mayo. I liked the caramelized onion. There was too much red lettuce. The burger was a mess to eat, but tasty. The steak fries were nice and crispy.

I hate to end on a sour note, but I had a problem with the ketchup that was brought to my table.The bottle said "Heinz." However, the watery red sauce that poured so freely out of it said "cheap Czech stuff."

I know Heinz ketchup. Heinz ketchup is a friend of mine. This didn't taste like no Heinz ketchup. Even the label on the bottle was starting to fade from being handled too many times. This was a big sin and should cease immediately.

This new concept has been open more than a month. There were certainly problems with quality, consistency, and occasionally, the service at Bohe(my)a Lounge & Grill Bar.

Yet, there was enough that I liked, especially the location, that would bring me back. You are in the center of the city, and yet it is easy to forget that and go into outdoor lounge mode.

So, yeah, I'll probably climb way up to the top of the stairs again before the summer is over.

Bohe(my)a Lounge & Grill Bar
Národní 26
Prague 1

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