Thursday, October 3, 2013

Ola Kala Bistro

"Virtue is more clearly shown in the performance of fine actions than in the non-performance of base ones." Aristotle
I used to play in an amateur rock band. From time to time, I'd play at big parties or small clubs. I was comfortable in front of an audience. Sometimes too comfortable. It was easy to fall into patterns and routines, to lose focus.

But if I knew there was a serious musician in the audience, I'd take it to another level.

I had a similar feeling when I struck up a friendship with Adam, an LA movie producer who lived in Prague for the past six months. He's a world traveler with a sophisticated and discerning palate. The man knows his food and drink.

When we started having regular dinners, I realized it's time to see how well Prague restaurants, based on my recommendations, played to a knowledgeable and discriminating audience. The set list of eateries was up to me.

I wanted to share the city's best and some gems off the beaten track. We hit Osteria da Clara, La Bottega di Finestra, SaSaZu, Chagall's Club, La Gastronomia, and even Letna beer garden.

Without me, Adam found Sansho, Ichnusa, La Finestra, La Degustation and many others. One day, as I was searching my mind for a place worthy of sharing, I walked up Korunni in Vinohrady and saw Ola Kala Bistro.
I'd passed by many times, but hadn't heard much buzz about it. The menu looked good, but it felt like a gamble, without much word of mouth to go on. It is connected to a cooking school of the same name, which I considered a positive. We decided to take a chance and give it a try.

The dining room is filled with light, cream-colored fabrics and wood, with brick walls adding some contrast.
It had a somewhat feminine feel to me, though the lighting was a little bright for romance.

Our waiter brought a bread basket with softened, salted butter.
The small white baguette slices were fairly ordinary, but the darker bread had more character and was quite enjoyable.

We ordered a bottle of red wine, the 2008 Côtes de Bourg from Château de Croûte (779 CZK).
On the first tasting, it was on the thin side and rather tannic. After 10 minutes catching some air, it opened up and was more enjoyable. The Aquila still water (80 CZK) we ordered with it was room temperature.

We both received an amuse bouche. The chef was thoughtful because Adam had informed the waiter that he did not eat pork, so his was different than mine.

I had a lightly cooked zucchini slice rolled up with bacon cream, which was salty but a decent way to wake up the taste buds.
Adam had a slice of duck breast filled with apple and horseradish puree. He said the duck was somewhat dry, but he still liked it.

For a starter, Adam had the duck parfait (168 CZK).
It came with ginger chutney, fruit coulis, a slice of fresh fig, and two small pieces of toast.

Underneath the cool layer of white fat, there was smooth, rich, fatty duck liver pâté.
We thought it was great, spreading it on the toast and, when that ran out, on the bread from the basket. The chutney tasted of sweet rhubarb, but it was harder to detect the ginger.

I had the monkfish starter (320 CZK), which was a special.
The small piece of fish tasted fresh, but it was slightly overcooked, toughening the texture. It sat on top of julienned carrots and coriander.

The dish came with mango-coconut sauce. It was sweet, but neither flavor in the sauce really stood out. The chili "gel," which I liked, tasted quite similar to the red pepper and garlic relish, ajvar. Overall, I thought the dish was overpriced and underflavored.

For a main course, Adam had the flap steak (397 CZK). The very tender cut (by Prague standards) was cooked rare and was one of the best steaks I've had in a while.
It was lightly salted on top, and if the meat would be unaccompanied, I'd have added a bit more.

However, it came with a delicious red wine "gravy," something of a demi-glace, that added a savory richness. Adam particularly enjoyed the lightly-cooked red onions. The potatoes were competently cooked, but also fairly flavorless. The little celery-Zucchini "salad" on the side had too much mayo.

I had the veal cheeks in a red wine sauce (357 CZK). This I loved.
It came with pearl onions, bacon, champignons, and the creamiest, silky parsnip purée. The meat was fork-tender and melted in the mouth, with the lightly sweet and tangy sauce. I'd go back just for this dish.

For dessert, I had the 64% Manjari chocolate "mousse" (165 CZK).
It sat on a warm, chewy almond cake and orange coulis. I was a fan of the smooth intensity of the chocolate, which was cut by the acidic sauce. Adam thought it was OK.

He was more impressed by his dessert, the chocolate fondant (165 CZK).
It came with sour cherry "ragout" which was a terrific contrast with the warm chocolate. Crème fraîche was also on the plate to add a cool balance.

The meal ended with even more chocolate -- creamy, intense handmade truffles.
Unfortunately, we ate three of the four before I remembered to take a picture. I did not mind the extra cocoa buzz at all.

The service was friendly and smiling, but not always well-informed. The bill came to 2551 CZK without tip. It would have been closer to 2000 CZK without the bottle of wine.

While not perfect, there were plenty of hits, and we both felt pleased with our choice of Ola Kala Bistro. I'd compare it favorably with restaurants I've enjoyed in Prague's historic center like Kalina and Chagall's Club.

I'd recommend you stop in for a performance.

Ola Kala Bistro
Korunni 48
Prague 2 - Vinohrady
Tel. (+420) 222 540 400

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