Thursday, August 30, 2012

Katr Restaurant

"If you foolishly ignore beauty, you will soon find yourself without it. Your life will be impoverished. But if you invest in beauty, it will remain with you all the days of your life." Frank Lloyd Wright
Prague is filled with history and beautiful architecture at every turn. But there is also a place for modern and contemporary design. When it comes to restaurants, I wish there was more of it in this town.

Mistral Cafe is a place I consider a success in this area. The dining room achieves a clean, concrete simplicity that gives it the feeling of a gallery. That alone doesn't keep it filled. The cooking is also generally good and the prices are moderate.

The eye-catching design and somewhat unusual concept of another new eatery caught my eye and made me want to try.

I'm talking about the recently opened Katr Restaurant in Old Town.
One glance inside and you'll see what I'm talking about. It's light, white, shiny and bright.
Some walls double as blackboards, chalked up with various items from the menu.

But the most interesting aspect of the design is the tables with built-in gas grills, each with its own silver ventilation system descending from the ceiling.
There were ashtrays on the tables and people were smoking in different parts of the restaurant.

We sat down at a table without a grill for lunch one day. It was much too warm a day to be anywhere near hot metal. We'd come back and cook another time.

The waiter delivered a basket.
There was fresh Czech bread as well as one with peanuts mixed in. A dish of creamy blue cheese spread sat on the side. There is a 20 CZK cover per person.

I had a half-liter of Kozel (39 CZK).
It could have been colder. I later had a half-liter of Pilsner Urquell.
This one was cold enough, but also quite foamy. Miss P had a .33 bottle of Mattoni (45 CZK).

She started off with a Katr Salad (170 CZK). This included young asparagus, avocado, mushrooms and a variety of lettuce.
She dressed it herself with oil and vinegar and pronounced it very good. Everything was fresh, the avocado was ripe and it mixed together well.

There is a section of the menu where you can order raw meat or fish to grill yourself. But I ordered from their list of meals fully prepared in the kitchen. I had the Uruguayan rib eye steak with a veal and sage sauce and roasted sweet potatoes (400 CZK).
The beef was very flavorful and beautifully tender. Although rib eyes can be fatty, this one was on the lean side.

There was still plenty of pink at the center, as requested.
The terrific sauce tasted like a top quality demi-glace. I wished there was more of it. The sweet potatoes were cut thick and had a light char on the edges. I liked it all.

The waiter told Miss P that the kitchen could prepare something from the grilling menu if she wanted, so she ordered the sea bass. They charge by weight, so she got the minimum, 200 grams (280 CZK).
The fish arrived cut into small pieces, which is how it is also given to guests for grilling. The sea bass was cooked to the point that a crisp, brown crust formed.

These fish nuggets were on the dry side, especially around the edges, and had little seasoning. We both found it very dull.

The potato puree with feta was quite salty and had the strong taste of fennel. They charge 70 CZK for sides that go with the grilled items. So the total price for the plate was 350 CZK. I liked the potatoes more than Miss P did.

With the grilled meat and fish, you can choose two of the three sauces. We had to remind the waiter about this, so they arrived later. The sauces are hoisin, tomato salsa, or homemade tartar.
Putting any two of these together are like culinary non sequiturs. They just don't work together.

The tartar and hoisin tasted generic, while the salsa was basically a combination of stewed tomatoes and tomato paste. I'd say they need a rethink.

I was pretty full, but when I saw the dessert menu, there was something I absolutely had to try. Churros!

There are a number of variations of this extruded, fried dough. I've had the ridged, cinnamon sugar covered sticks served alone in paper in Los Angeles and Barcelona. I've dipped them in hot chocolate in Madrid. I've had them Brazilian style, filled with dulce de leche, at London's Camden Market. Damn, that was good.

These churros appeared to be a non-ridged variety with the thinner dough common to southeastern Spain (90 CZK).
The plate was piled with plenty of them. In the middle was a rich, thick hot chocolate sauce. This was excellent.

However, the dough was over-fried to hardness. A bigger issue was the cinnamon sugar. Large granules deeply caked the surface of the churros. I have a big sweet tooth, but I was trying to shake off sugar onto the plate. That didn't work too well.

These were the first churros I had ever seen in Prague, and I was disappointed. If they get better, I'd come regularly just for those.

There was a long wait for the bill. The meal, which included some of their more expensive dishes, added up to 1257 CZK.

I returned the following week to try their burger (199 CZK).
It is served on a dense, toasted, ciabatta-like roll. It comes with mustard, chive mayo, lettuce, tomato, pickle and red onion. Fries are included.

As for the meat, it was terribly dry, dense, and difficult to chew. The texture was unpleasant.
I asked for it to be prepared medium but it was cooked all the way through. This was the worst burger patty I've had since I began keeping records. I could only eat half of it and gave up due to fatigue.

To wash down the bungled burger, I asked for their homemade lemonade. The waitress told me they only had the elderberry version, so I said I'd take that. What I got looked and tasted like lime and nothing else.
It was sour, with a light sweetness. I liked it. It came in a small pitcher with no glass. When I mentioned this, I received a straw.

On the third visit, Miss P started with a vegetable salad with feta cheese, grilled artichokes, tomatoes, peppers, cucumber, and onion.
We had high hopes for the artichokes, but the whole thing was a rather dull affair.

After the salad, we were ready to do some cooking.
The waitress pulled down the exhaust vent, fired up the gas grill and set the flame to high. I got 200 grams of pork neck (200 CZK) with a side of potato puree with truffle oil (70 CZK).
I could taste the oil in the potatoes, but they were lukewarm and needed salt.

Miss P got the chicken (200 CZK) with a side of mixed vegetables for grilling (70 CZK).
The meat comes with almost no seasoning, so they give you some basics: salt, pepper, Tabasco, and olive oil.

The grill radiates a lot of heat, so perhaps it would be nice on a cold evening. It's something I'd avoid during hot weather.

With that high heat, the meat cooks the food super fast.
On the one hand, this is good because it puts a nice crust on the meat's exterior and saves you from spending too much time tending the grill. On the other hand, it's hard to keep up a conversation because if you don't pay attention and flip the little pieces at the right time, something will burn.

How was it?

It tasted like meat cooked on a hot pan with salt and pepper and perhaps some oil. In other words, it was fine, but nothing special. Sure, there was a novelty to it, but it's not something I'd do more than once. Maybe people with a deep love for grilling for friends and family will feel differently.

The service was average to poor. Although very friendly, sauces that come with grilled dishes were forgotten on both visits. The waiters would disappear for long stretches, and it was always hard to get the check at the end.

A lot was invested in this restaurant's design and concept, but most of the food just didn't do it for me. After three visits, I didn't feel the love.

There were too many disappointing dishes and the grilling just wasn't so thrilling.

Katr Restaurant
Vězeňská 9
Prague 1 - Old Town
tel. (+420 222 315 148)


Anonymous said...

There is regularly a churros stand at the Old Town square as part of the seasonal "markets" (christmas, easter and whatnot). They call the churros "pikle".

Anonymous said...

Yo brewsta i just wanted to say i enjoy your blog both for the food reviews and the writing. Succint and succulent.