Saturday, April 18, 2009

Prague Review #2: -- U Bílé Kråvy

Our first night in Prague we were unsurprisingly overwhelmed -- we'd been in Germany that morning, had a longish feeling train ride, and were now in a completely foreign city where we didn't speak the language, and no longer had native speaking hosts/guides. After a long day walking around the city site-seeing, we had returned briefly to our hotel to freshen up and consider our dining options. On the walk back we had made note of a couple restaurants as possibilities, but nothing grabbed us by the collar and shook us to get our attention.

Since we were tired and hungry in our hotel room, we didn't want anything too far away, so that limited our choices somewhat. Out came "La Guide du Routard", our French travel guide. After struggling through an inadequate index, I finally found a section listing a handful of restaurants nearby our hotel's address. Serendipitously, we decided to check out one restaurant called U Bílé Kråvy, based on its brief description in the city guide.

I unwittingly led us a block past where we needed to go, and thinking that perhaps the place was no longer open, we resigned ourselves to a second pick -- with the caveat that we would check the previous block just to make sure. Good thing we did. The restaurant was there, with a cartoonish cow head hanging (check out the websit) from a sign post over the door, and indeed even inlaid in the sidewalk with dark cobblestones. We briefly looked over the menu and then opened the door to go inside.

The entrance bought us down a few steps as the restaurant's location could be described as demi-sous-sol. We were greeted from behind the bar to our right by a fellow who turned out to be the head waiter (of two); a quick "nemluvete czechky" from me and we were being escorted to a table and presented with English menus.

Our table was nestled next to a wall length mural of cows grazing a field. The overall decor was... it hearkened to an old inn, and yet it didn't feel "rustic". The old timbers of the building were visible, and things looked hand-made without being kitschy. Some music played softly in the background -- some of it old French pop (think Edith Piaf), some of it sounding more like Czech folk (although I can't be certain of that). The restaurant was not noisy, but nor did it feel like a tomb. We could hear a party or two from the other dining room (the restaurant seemed divided in two).

Our waiters were both quite courteous and conscientious, and utterly un-French. It was so refreshing to be in a restaurant where one did not feel like a nuisance at best after our experiences in certain cafes 'round here. The gentlemen who initially welcomed us especially was amazingly friendly.

So, overall everything was great, but... what about the food.

Well, first let me say that our experience that night was SO pleasant, that we... decided to go back on our LAST night in Prague as well! So, we got to taste two parts of the menu each. While I think overall we enjoyed our first night just a little bit better (due no doubt to the novelty), I can say with certainty that both meals we had we amazing, and better than (with possibly two exceptions) any meal we've eaten out in France.

Our dinner began both evenings with bread and cheese. The cheese was soft and spicy -- it actually reminded me of the sort of spread one can find in Wisconsin. One night we had the onion soup which was really wonderful -- unlike many onion soups that can become too salty or too oily (or both), this was neither, just a pleasant soup. The only thing "bad" about the soup was the portion, which was so generous as to fill us up partially before our main course.

The main course was about meat -- beef in particular; that sign over the door was not merely decorative. Of four different cuts that we sampled (all medium), all were enjoyable. I can safely recommend both cuts on the menu that involve bacon... one might not expect to combine bacon with fine quality meat, but the chef managed to combine the two in a manner that allowed the beef to shine through, only complemented by the cured pork.

Side dishes are de rigeur. We tried the croquettes, which you must try if you go. I was frankly unimpressed by their appearance on the plate, but the taste was amazing -- soft creamy potato with a fried exterior and hints of spices that must have included cinnamon and others. The green beans were quite tasty as well. The onion cake was quite good, although a bit difficult to eat... we risked ridicule and embarrassment when we tried to break it with a for... the caramelized onions were quite tough -- tough but tasty.

We enjoyed two very fine Moravian wines with our dinner. They were both reds, and both had rather different bouquet and flavor. I was frankly surprised -- I wasn't previously aware of vineyards in Central Europe, but both bottles we had were quite enjoyable -- and given their provenance, were an order of magnitude cheaper than comparable French bottles. I'm going to be on the look out for any Moravian vintages when we get back to the states, although I'm not certain I'll find any.

Our desserts, while not the centerpiece of the evening were still quite pleasant.

It's a bit difficult to estimate cost, since our bill was in Czech crowns, but I think we spent about 70 euros one night and 50 the other night for an amazing three course meal for two with wine. And that was after a 25% tip (as I said, I was impressed with the service... and by the end of the first meal we were already discussing a possible return, so I wanted to leave a good impression). I cannot recommend U Bílé Kråvy emphatically enough as a wonderful place to dine should you ever visit Prague.