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Praga in Lombard--long

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Praga in Lombard--long

Mike M | May 14, 2003 02:41 PM

This restaurant is owned by Pavel Nykvart, formerly a waiter at Bistro Marbuzet. Praga opened in late December 02. It's probably best described as "Continental", with major hints of Eastern Europe. That said, the menu is very eclectic, e.g. from Tilapia & catfish w/ "sauce veracruz" to "Veal Praga, w/ mushrooms, spatzle & red cabbage." Prices: first courses $5-8, main courses tightly grouped at $15-19. Wine prices, except for some expensive (and interesting) bubblies, mostly in the $20-$50 range. The wine list is combination of California, Australia, Germany, Austria, a few from Oregon and Italy (northeast)and very few from France.

First courses: 1) Spinach salad w/ bacon, shallots, mushrooms, very interesting vinaigrette--suggesting good quality wine vinegar intensified by reduction (vinaigrette, mushrooms, shallots cooked before adding to salad). 2) Perfectly cooked, very tender grilled calamari salad. Could have done without the pond of olive oil in which it swam, but the timbale of finely chopped green olive, red pepper, celery, shallots, unidentified herbs was a great accompaniment.

Main courses: My wife picked a chicken breast; although usually the menu item for someone who doesn't like anything else, this turned out to be remarkable. In this case, the description "pan seared" was serious--it had an almost smoky, open-fire grilled flavor. Spinach and goat cheese stuffed, in a bordelaise sauce, of all things. Anyway, it worked--very well. Mine was a duck breast in port sauce w/ butternut squash & red cabbage. Not sure what to make of the duck. It was extremely tender, cooked medium-rare. Although I think it was probably done in the oven, it had an almost poached quality---little evidence of high heat in the texture or flavor. I liked it, but it lacked pizzazz. Too little sauce (good, though), and the duck was perched on top of the squash & cabbage, so you had to make a determined effort to hook up the duck & the sauce. Squash and cabbage, by contrast, both had intense flavors, overshadowing the duck.

Dessert: We split strawberries and ice cream in a "gran marnier" sabayon. My impression was galliano rather than gran marnier, and the sabayon had an uneven texture, but whatever--the overall effect was good and the strawberries tasted like strawberries. Decent espresso.

Wine: glass of terrific Piesporter Goldtropfchen riesling for starter, bottle of Definitive Carneros Pinot Noir (unknown to me, but recommended by the owner); good fruit and acid, tannin a little brutal.

Place is very pretty, with outside tables that should be great in better weather than this weekend. Sevice is attentive and intelligent.

Altogether, this isn't a knock-your-socks-off place--partly I'd say that's because it's new-- but I was impressed by the extremely reasonable pricing and the quality of cooking. The rest of the menu also looks intriguing; I'm going back in a month, will let you know what else is good (or not).

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