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Prague: notable reopening - Cerny kohout

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Prague: notable reopening - Cerny kohout

Sir Gawain | Jan 21, 2005 06:31 PM

The Cerny kohout restaurant, reviewed here enthusiastically two years ago by Mark, has finally (after more than a year's hiatus) found a new location in the center of Prague and is again open for business: www.cernykohout.cz

Disclosure: I have eaten at the previous location several times and have gotten to know the owners somewhat - but am in no way obligated to them or "need to" keep them afloat. I just think their restaurant deserves attention, though it's by no means perfect.

Since this subject is dear to my heart, allow me to elaborate on why I think Cerny kohout is such a big deal.

The chef/owner, Vojtech Petrik, is trained in classic French technique but firmly dedicated to bringing the flavors of Czech cooking to new levels, and he is, sadly, almost alone in this effort in Prague. In a place like Vienna or Berlin he wouldn't be so exceptional, but Prague restaurants (and their patrons) have a problem with "fancy Czech" food. Either they cook its basic, classic version - which is fine but tastes basically the same everywhere; these are the same few recipes every Czech cookbook has - or they try to "upgrade" the recipes in the same few predictable ways: using a grilled steak for svickova (kills the dish, wastes the steak), using red wine reductions for venison, putting red wine and chestnuts in the cabbage (good if not authentic), fancifying the strudel with armagnac... you get the drift. But nobody has the guts to do anything a bit more daring or creative than that, and I am bored to TEARS with the same-old, same-old dishes in all the upscale spots.

But it's tough: Locals don't go for fancy Czech food ("I can have that at home") and visitors are mostly content with the same four or five fancified Czech dishes every upscale restaurant offers, or with the more everyday renditions thereof before they move on to more cosmopolitan options. (There's a gazillion Italian, Mediterranean, Asian-fusion, seafood, quasi-Tex-Mex (bizarrelly a huge hit with Czechs), and every other type of non-Czech restaurant in Prague. Most of the high-end restaurants are French, Italian or "international")

Cerny kohout, plus the newly-opened, unfortunately-named Czechouse (eek) at the Hilton hotel, are the only Prague restaurants I know of that consciously rise to the challenge of CAN YOU DO SOMETHING CREATIVE WITH CZECH FOOD? Can it be more than roast duck, dumplings, cabbage, goulash, schnitzel, roast pork and beer?????

Chef Petrik is so restless he can't bear to keep the same menu for more than a month (although he'll have to; in the old place he changed it every month). He digs through old cookbooks and constantly develops new recipes and sources unique local and seasonal ingredients; he also bakes, makes sausages, liqueurs...

I didn't have time to eat at the restaurant during my visit a week ago but will in February. My best-ever meal in Prague (and I've had many) was his 2003 Easter tasting menu, which I have kept and will reproduce here, just to give you and idea of what you might expect:

Lightly roasted zander [a type of freshwaters fish similar to pike] fillet with carrot gallantine filled with trout tartare and spring vegetables, served on celeriac-pumpkin sauté

Spring cream of herbs soup with yolk quenelles, young nettle leaves and croutons

Boneless kid roasted with garlic and wild carraway, combined with a fried lamb chop in a herb crust, served with Easter pudding and sautéed spinach

Sweet Easter bread with walnuts and chocolate baked in a timbale, served with dandelion-honey sauce and a quenelle of walnut ice cream.

My memory is that everything was delicious, the flavors were familiarly Central European but unlike anything that ever came out of my grandmother's or mother's kitchen. I also recall that even though I am a total dessert fiend, the kid with the lamb chop were the best thing.

LOCATION AND DECOR: The new Cerny kohout is on a quiet street near the National Theatre, in the New Town. Easy access from center but not in the touristy area. The restaurant has two levels. The ground floor is used mostly for breakfast and lunch. Nice old tiled floor but decor otherwise unremarkable. The lower floor is the restaurant itself: red walls with Old Naster-style still life paintings, brocade drapes, white tablecloths. Well-stocked bar. The atmosphere is classy and intimate, but it won't win any design awards. I think both rooms seat a maximum of about 20 people each.

I can't comment on service since I didn't eat in the new location.

I definitely plan on eating there in February and will post. Let me know what you think if you eat there. I have linked a current review from the Prague Post.

Link: http://www.praguepost.com/P03/2005/Ar...

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