|The view into the kitchen from the Chef's Table (Poppa sneaked this photo of me as I intently watched the chefs at work)|
|All dressed up and ready to eat. and eat ... and eat ... and eat|
Those of you who watch Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations may already be familiar with this place. Here, each night Chef Oldřich Sahajdak presents a seven-course gourmet tasting menu based on Czech recipes from an 1880s cookbook, proving wrong anyone who says that Czech food and gourmet are incompatible terms. In addition, an alternate chef's tasting menu, inspired by more modern international cuisine, is also on offer. Nearly every course comes with its own amuse bouche, making for a long, leisurely, and absolutely unforgettable experience. Did I mention the menu changes daily?
On the night Poppa and I visited, Chef Sahajdak was out of the country, purportedly working on opening another restaurant, Hospoda, in New York, leaving things in the eminently capable hands of his chef de cuisine. We sat at the chef's table overlooking the kitchen, where the brigade of chefs worked together with remarkable precision to craft the beautifully composed courses. It was compelling viewing - like watching a ballet:
|That's the chef de cuisine in the middle|
Poppa Trix and I wanted to taste absolutely everything, and so we ordered both the traditional (degustation boheme bourgeoise) and the modern (degustation du chef) menus and shared each course as it came out. (The amuse were the same for both.) We also had wine pairings with each course, chosen by the excellent sommelier, who enthusiastically came to our table and explained a bit about his choice of wine with each course. For the traditional Czech menu, all of the wines were local - as it turns out, the Moravian region of the Czech Republic shares many important soil and climate components with neighboring Austria, and produces some really lovely wines. So, while Bohemia is all about beer, Moravia is all about the vino. Just like me!
Because between the two of us we had nearly 20 dishes, and because I would like to save some food adjectives for future posts (hey, my thesauraus only comes with so many words, you know?) I have decided to give you a (more or less) pure food porn experience in this post. Apart from telling you what the dishes actually are, I'm going to let your imaginations do most of the work. I will tell you this: Everything is actually as lusciously good as it looks - in some cases, even better.
First up: A Melon Martini
The evening then began with not one, but four amuses bouches. It's a good thing they take the whole "bite size" thing seriously.
Amuse #1: Two tiny little bites of chocolate praline with nougat, peanuts, & sea salt:
Amuses # 2: Carrot & apple foam with lemon:
Amuse # 3: Bohemian rabbit belly with cauliflower puree and rucola (arugula) oil:
Amuses #4: Beef tartare with horseradish chips. Note the difference between this version and the one I had at the Golden Tiger!
And now, with our appetites well and truly whetted, it was time for the first course. From the modern menu, it was Mediterranean octopus and lamb's lettuce pesto with a sauce of Champagne Varnier-Fanniere and green pea sprouts, paired with a William Fevre 2007 Chablis 1er Cru Fourchamme:
From the traditional Bohemian menu came one of my very favorite things, Prague ham with an organic poached egg, pickled vegetables, apple horseradish and sumava bread, paired with a Vinselekt Michlovsky 2006 Cremant Blanc de Noir Brut:
For the soup course from the modern menu there was a salsify soup with red bell pepper, orange jelly, and parsley oil, which our server dotted into the bowl at service. He was very upset that those few dots were not perfectly symmetrical! But of course it didn't affect the creamy goodness of the soup one bit. This was paired with a Walter Skoff 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Hochsulz:
The Bohemian menu featured an earthy wild poultry soup with egg yolk, a marrow dumpling, and lovage, paired with a Bettina Lobkowicz 2006 Pinot Noir. The broth was poured table side:
Next up, beef cheeks in a Shiraz sauce with potato puree and spring onion from the modern menu, with a Yves Cuilleron 2009 Condrieu "la Petite Cote:"
It may surprise you to learn that the land of pork is also known for its freshwater fish. Here, Libechov pikeperch is presented with broccoli and almonds, and paired with a vinařství Tanzberg 2008 Ryzlink rýnský :
And now it's time for ... what else? Another amuse bouche. This is trout from Trebon, a town south of Prague, cooked in broth with vinaigrette, white cabbage foam, and poached vegetables:
Only four courses and two amuses to go!
Next on the modern menu was another one of my favorites (though really I could say that for nearly every course). This is a 12-hour baked pork belly with perigourdine sauce, beluga lentils, fava beans, and a perfect little poached quail egg:
|This course was perfectly paired with a Castello di Ama 1999 Chianti Classico ... How did the sommelier know that Chianti is my favorite wine?|
The Bohemian menu featured what the head manager told us is one of the few dishes that the chef has kept on the menu since opening, due to its popularity: Freshly smoked beef tongue, pickled shallot, white bean puree, and marjoram, paired with a Pavel Springer 2006 Cuvee Skale:
Next from the modern menu, a Wagyu Kobe-style beef entrecote with ponzu sauce, tapioca pearls, ginger chutney, shiitake mushrooms, and garden cress. Do I need to point out how perfectly cooked this was? I didn't think so:
|The wine was a 2006 Astrolabe Pinot Noir Voyage|
This came with offal in gravy, which, despite my best attempts, I just couldn't embrace. Poppa, however, gobbled it up:
For the pre-cheese-course amuses, we were presented with spherized mojitos. Poppa thought these didn't really go with the overall progression of the meal, but I found this to be quite refreshing after all the meat courses:
The next dishes were very interesting, and not like any other cheese course I've ever had. The modern offering featured a slightly salty Reblochon de Savoie with celery, paired with a Saumur Champigny Marginal 2005:
The Bohemian cheese was a pleasantly strong olomoucké tvarůžky from Olomouc in the Czech Republic, served with pear:
|This was paired with a 2006 Vinarstvi Sonberk Palava|
The modern menu's dessert course was a passion fruit panna cotta with caramel and plum bread croutons - not too sweet, the way I like it:
Meanwhile, the Bohemian dessert was a play on rum donuts with honey jelly, rowan berries, and cinnamon:
Even though the meal was incredibly well-paced and took over three hours, by this time our bellies were, as you can imagine, filled to capacity, so we ordered some tea to help digestion ... but they weren't through with us yet! Our tea came with these adorable treats. How could we say no? (Though at this point I couldn't help but think of Mr. Creosote, the grotesquely obese diner from Monty Python's Meaning of Life, who vomits into a bucket after having one too many bites of food ... doesn't that little treat on the far left look suspiciously "wafer thin" to you?)
No fear! We managed with aplomb. And now, our feast was really, truly over - seven courses and I-lost-track-of-how-many-amuses later. And would you believe it - we managed to eat breakfast the next day. Behold the two little piggies: