Thursday, August 5, 2010

Sokolovna - I really liked the lamb

Some of the articles on this blog are not going to be reviews in the proper meaning of the word. More likely they'll be mentioning of places, where we've eaten, and of course you'll know if we were satisfied or not. Usually not high-end eateries, but the everyday places we go to, because we enjoy it, and because we can afford it.
This article about Restaurant Sokolovna in Vinohrady is exactly that.

On a normal Tuesday night  Sokolovna was packed with people, who seemed to enjoy themselves. The friendly and efficient manager is the guy in the pink shirt in the background.

Yesterday I was walking back home through Vinohrady after having been with some clients at the SAPA market in Libus. And no, I wasn't walking all the way from Libus - but I had helped them park their car. We're very friendly at Prag Eksperten :-)
Walking on Slezská street my eye caught a restaurant which I believe wasn't there, when we lived in Blanicka street some 14 months ago. I stopped to have a look at the menu and found it interesting. And it passed the "Pilsner Urquell test", which meant, I could invite BF and already have the first goal scored when we would order our drinks.
So yesterday around 9 PM we arrived, only to find the place almost completely packed and the atmosphere lively. BF was about to suggest we went elsewhere, but I took a look in the non-smoking section further behind. There was one table free, but a rather large one which could seat up to 6 persons. Obviously it wasn't such a good idea, but we still chose to sit down. Then the manager arrived with a group of 6 (sic!) people, and very politely asked if we would maybe move to a smaller table, he would get for us. He apologized for the fact that it was in the smoking section, but I'll have to admit that we're both smokers, so we were completely satisfied with the change and would probably have gone for that table, had it been free, when we had our first look.

They have Pilsner, light Kozel, dark Kozel, and non-alcoholic Birell on tap. It was almost a full time job for one man to keep up with the demand for beer, and it wasn't even a hot evening.

So finally we were seated on barstools at a high table. The manager came by again and asked if we were comfortable or if we would rather be moved to a "normal" table as soon as one would become free, but we were completely satisfied and had already ordered our first Pilsner Urquell - Czk. 35,-. The waiters (I think I counted 4) were very busy, but they still managed to be friendly and attentive through the whole evening. When they brought the menus in Czech I asked for one in English, which I got. I can usually manage the Czech versions, but still, it is easier (if I am lazy) to read the English version. I don't know how they spread the word, but after that, every waiter suddenly was bilingual, speaking with BF in Czech and with me in English. It made me feel welcome. When I started to take photos of our food, one of the waiters immediately came to our table and offered to take a picture of us, which also goes to show that no matter how busy, they still care about their customers. As for the manager, he did a good job as well. He seemed to oversee the whole restaurant - sometimes lending a hand to the waiters, sometimes chatting friendly with the guests, sometimes clearing and cleaning a table. He didn't take orders or handle bills, but made sure that everything ran smoothly, and he surely contributed to the nice atmosphere.
The menu is fairly traditional, containing classics such as gulaš (Czk. 136,-), svíčková na smetanĕ (Czk. 136,-), and my all time favourite, baked pork's knee, koleno (Czk. 179,-). At that price, I'll definitely have to come back and try the latter. There are also some salads, of course some steaks and a couple of less interesting vegetarian options. Most of the main courses include a side dish, which actually makes the prices even fairer, as this will usually be Czk. 25-40,- extra. If you order 48 hours in advance, you can have whole ducks, lambs, geese, turkeys or suckling piglets.
But when there is lamb on the menu, I must admit I become quite predictable -  9 times out of 10 I must have the lamb, it's as simple as that! Sokolovna has 2 options: Rolled leg of lamb with rosemary (Czk. 179,-), and a lamb shank with crushed potatoes and a red wine sauce (Czk. 275,-). I went for the latter, because the first one also was with blue cheese which I have never learned how to love. BF ordered a "plate sized" schnitzel of pork with potato salad (Czk. 147,-).

My lamb shank with crushed potatoes. Somehow it looked more delicious in real life
The food arrived after 10-15 minutes, which was perfectly OK - and actually quite fast. considering the amount of people in the restaurant. My lamb shank was really, really good. It was larded with garlic cloves, but they weren't overpowering. The generous serving of red wine sauce (or should I call it gravy?) had celery, cherry tomatoes and small pieces of red bell pepper in it, and went very well with both the meat and with the crushed potatoes, which also had some leak and some bacon (or ham) in it. As for the bacon/ham, I am actually not very crazy about that. When served with meat it may compliment the dish or it may disturb it. In this case it clearly disturbed the balance of flavours in the dish, which I (apart for this detail) found to be really on the spot. The crushed potatoes were very chunky, which I like, when it is not supposed to be mashed potatoes (which I actually believe it was called in the English menu). The meat itself was cooked almost well done, but slightly pink, and it was juicy, perfectly seasoned and very tender. I liked it a lot. Apart from my before mentioned craving for pig's knees, this lamb dish may be my reason for returning to Sokolovna.

BF's schnitzel with potato salad

BF's pork schnitzel was supposed to be plate sized according to the menu, and I actually believe it was. I can see how it doesn't cover the plate, when you look at the photo - but that's because it was a very large plate. It was breaded and had been deep fried. I prefer it to be pan fried, but I rarely (if ever?) see this done anywhere in Czech restaurants. However, the meat was quite tasty and tender, and it got an approving smile from BF, who liked it without being over exited. But then again, how much can you do with a dish like this? I found the potato salad to be delicious with a good amount of onions to give it some edge, although it could do with a little more salt. BF approved it, but said that he can make better potato salad himself. Quite a funny comment, as potato salad is probably the only thing he has ever prepared for me. And his version is good, albeit a little heavy on the mayo.
Both of us were able to finish our dishes, but we didn't have room for desert even though we hadn't had any starters or soup. I would have liked to try the chocolate soufflé (Czk. 95,-), but that'll have to wait to some other time.
The bill was Czk. 597,- before the tip for the 2 main dishes and 5 beers (BF seems to always be able to "sneak" an extra beer down). Considering that I chose one of the more expensive items on the menu, I find that to be really fair, and I am quite sure, I'll be back. Maybe next time for lunch, as I find the daily lunch menus to often give a good feeling for, how seriously the kitchen wants to please their punters even when the prices are low.

Sokolovna Restaurant
Slezska 22
Prague 2 - Vinohrady
+420 222 524 525 (propably best to make a reservation, if our experience was typical)

Recently I became a dog owner for the first time in my life (not this dog), and that has made me realize how friendly mostst people are towards dogs in this country. It is actually very rare that the waiters don't bring water for the dog, and of course almost always in a proper bowl, which every restaurant seems to have 1-3 of ready for our visit.

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