Some people think a romantic Valentine's dinner is champange and cavier, maybe a mushy bowl of shared fondue or even a sushi-travaganza (copyright SZ). VI took the Condiment Queen, chowhounditas in tow, to something equally romantic, Operetta, one of two Czech places believed to still exist within city limits.
Proving the chevalier, I let Ms. VI drink the beer. Like nearly everyone else, she took a big stein of Redegast from the tap, one of three kegged Czech beers. (Pilser Urquel and something else were the other two.) In her usual descriptive powers, she said the beer was great. Then we went to work on the menu.
It had about ten or so dishes, not too many in the realm of what I expected. A lot of chicken breast things with tarter sauce, a bunch of noodle offerings and a few oddities like fried cheese. I had pre-supposed a while back that there was a newer Czech community in Chicago, not the old line bohunks of Pilsen-Berwyn-Westmont. Faced with this menu, I figured maybe this stuff was more authentic or at least more in line with what recent Czech immingrants actually eat. I knew Czech's former country mate Slovakia had a noodle-centric diet, so I was not surprised by that stuff on the menu. The tarter sauce, I got to say threw me.
Then, as we were working our way towards some ordering deals, the waitress, the waitress who populates nearly all Eastern European restaurants, the one with the micro mini skirt and over-bite, asked if I wanted to see the secret menu. Did she recognize me from all of Gary's pictures? OK, it was not considered the secret menu. It was just the specials for the day, but it was written strictly in Czech, with all those sguiggly lines around the letters.
About the only words I could recognize from the secret menu were salat and the word for dumpling which was similiar to kneidel (the Yiddish word for the same thing). Luckily, our waitress ran down the choices, although with her accent we did not necessarily take in each thing. Ms. VI and myself both settled in on things that peaked our ears.
She got the goulash, feathery chunks of beef in a dark rich sauce that reminded me of mole believe it or not. I got pork with sauerkraut. The sauerkraut was both sweet and heavily flavored with caraway, so be prepared for those things if you follow me on that dish. Both of our plates came with about ten slices of those famous Czech bread dumplings. To give you an idea of the amount of food on our plates, I have been eating Czech leftovers pretty much ever since.
The kids did not order from the secret menu. When Hannah who regularly eats slabs of blue cheese on buttered toast for school lunches heard that one of the chicken dishes came with a blue cheese sauce, she pleaded for that. She won out over Sophia who wanted something more fried. This dish may have been the kerry blue terrier of the evening.
We expected a grilled breast as described with some kind of blue cheese sauce on the side, maybe like a blue cheese salad dressing. No, it was more like a chicken gravy, yellow, with the blue cheese melted in. It also came drenched over the chicken (two breasts by the way, good deal). We thought blue cheese shying Sophia would demur hence, but she did not; it was too damn good. I especially liked the blue cheese sauce on the well cooked fries. I also liked the 3 small scoops of vinegared salads that accompanied, but I am a big vinegared salad kind of guy (Ms. VI warns that one of the salads was also sweet). And there was that little cup of tarter sauce, much better tarter sauce than Long John Silver's, maybe about as good as tarter sauce gets, with equal measures mayo and sour cream. It went well with the fries also (although in my book, nothing could have gone as well with those fries as that blue cheese gravy).
As common with these places, we started with superior soup. Being Valentine's day, we all got garlic soup, something not nearly as harsh as Spanish sopa de ajo. This was an oily chicken broth infused with a paw's full of garlic, but the garlic cloves also had to compete with some grated melted cheese, great toasted croutons (also rubbed with garlic) and a green-black herb we think was parsley
For our Valentine's dessert we got the crepes. Read the linked Cheap Eats review for a description of the crepes, it is dead on. I would, however rate the place much higher than one fork which it got in Cheap Eats. Maybe it was the love in the air that night, but Operetta hit a spot in my heart.
For a bit more insight into the kind of place that Operetta is, note that the tables in the non-smoking section contained ashtrays. Also, par for these kind of places, there was the requisite satelitte TV (make that TVs, the big screen and the corner TV), here a version of Animal Planet's Crocodile Hunter dubbed in Czech.
The link also has the address and phone.