Friday, September 24, 2010

Chasing Prague's best burger

It seems that expats have a thing with chasing the best burgers in Prague. And unfortunately it isn't that easy to find one which deserves honourable mentioning.
Brewsta had made a top 16 list of his favourite burgers in Prague. BF and I have tried several from this list (and several others), but we still haven't been blown away by any of them. A few comments:

Brewsta's no. 13, Mozaika: You'll find plenty of people on the internet praising this burger. I had one recently together with my Dutch friend, Mr. Citroën. But even though we both found it pretty and inviting on the plate and liked the fries which went with it, we were still disappointed with the beef patty, which didn't taste of anything. The meat wasn't meaty. We tried seasoning it a bit extra ourselves, but it didn't help. I liked the onions, though (Brewsta didn't).
Brewsta's no. 10: Burger King. Nowadays where you expect the best brugers to be served in cafés and restaurant, how can Burger King belong to such a "hit list"? But I agree with Brewsta, it DOES belong there. Compared to a lot of the overpriced burgers you get elsewhere, Burger King delivers good value for money. Back when the only Burger King in Prague was in Cerny Most (or was it Zlicin?) BF and I sometimes found ourselves driving there - just for that.
Brewsta's no. 8: TGI Friday's. Here I must disagree. This burger isn't as good as the ones served in Burger King, but they charge the double (or more). And last time (really, it will be the last time) we were there, the service wasn't even good at all, unless waiting for a beer for 20 minutes and almost waiting an hour for your burger is your favourite pastime.
Brewsta's no. 6: U Maleho Glena. This one I haven't tried yet, I must admit. But as I like U Maleho Glena just as much as I like a good burger, this combo needs to be tested as soon as possible. Maybe tonight?
Brewsta's no. 3: Hard Rock Café: This one is really up there with the best. Big, juicy, fresh. But I refuse to go back and pay close to Czk. 300,- for a burger when the same money will buy me a large and juicy 300 g. steak with a side dish, a desert and a couple of Pilsners in Highland Steak House (where I can even smoke).
Brewsta's no. 1: Bohemia Bagel in Holesovice. First time we went there, we both loved the burger a lot and agreed that this would be our number one as well - and a lot cheaper than the others (Czk. 155,-, all included). But the last time we were there I was disappointed by a bun so chewy that I didn't really want to eat it. I am willing to go back and give them an extra chance, though.

Not included in Brewsta's list, but worth mentioning: Legenda on Legerova 39. Legenda is a restaurant on the top floor, and 2 floors further down a music club. On the middle floor it is more or less a noisy café on top of a music club :-)
On all 3 floors they'll serve the burger for Czk. 159,- including fries and some b-b-q sauce on the side. This burger is actually on our top 3 - but sometimes they use too much mustard. The place is mostly crowded, and it can be hard to get a table without a reservation. It does help that we can see it from our living room windows, so if it is full, we didn't walk too far in vain.
Milsnej Kocour, Belgicka 42. This newly opened restaurant (where Cheers used to be) has tankové Pilsner at Czk. 35,- which of course for us is a major plus. And smokers as well as non-smokers will love the place which has 2 different entries, and the 2 sections are completely separated. But their interesting menu (try them for their cheap and good lunch specials) also features 2 varieties of hamburgers: A Cheeseburger and a Beefburger. The main difference is in the dressing and the fact that the beefburger is supposed to be served with jalapenos. Both of them have cheddar cheese, and they both cost Czk. 165,-. First time we tried the beefburgers, we both loved them and instantly decided that we had found our new no. 1 on the hit list. Lots of flavour, beef cooked exactly right and therefore juicy and full of taste. So we went back next week. Different cook? Maybe. Completely boring - and without the jalapenos. I asked for some and was presented with thin slices of a mild red chilli which didn't resemble jalapenos in any way. We were disappointed, and as BF can also be very stubborn he has refused to go back for a third try.

So where to turn in these times of burger crisis?

To our own kitchen. I decided to do it myself and see, if I could hit no. 1 on BF's hit list. Below you'll see how I did it:

Make sure your burger buns are quite flat before you let them raise - you'll want to be able to actually eat the thing later.

Home made burger buns:

  • 3½ dl lukewarm water (best is 30-35 degrees)
  • 175 g of durum flour (if you can get it)
  • 450 g of plain flour
  • 1½ table spoon of oil
  • 25 g of fresh yeast
  • 1½ tea spoon of salt
  • 1 table spoon of sugar
Dissolve the yeast in the water together with salt, sugar and oil. Add the 2 kinds of flour and knead the dough thoroughly to make sure you have all the gluten working. If it is too sticky, add some more flour - but not too much.
I use my bread maker for this. It actually does a better job than I can do myself, and of course it is a lot easier. It'll also make a nice temperature for the dough to raise in. My bread maker is a "Tesco XXL", and I bought it for Czk. 999,- (they often make campaigns for it).
If you don't have the bread maker, simply let your dough rest in a warm place for 1½ hours, before you give it another work through (but not too much - just to be able to make the buns), divide it into 8 parts which you roll out to very flat buns, 13-15 cm in diameter. Let them rest on the baking plates for another 30 minutes before you brush them with water (or egg + sesame seeds) and bake them for 15 minutes in the middle of your oven at 225 degrees

I thought we'd have the excess buns for some time in the freezer. I was wrong. BF ate them all in 1½ days.

In theory you can easily freeze the excess buns. Make sure to put them in a plastic bag before they are completely cold - then they'll be nice and soft when you defrost them and carefully reheat them.

While the buns are in the oven, you can prepare the trimmings
I used: 
  • Pickled peppers
  • Mild pickled chillies
  • Lettuce
  • Sliced tomatoes (DON'T use "boats" of tomato)
  • Raw onion rings
  • Sliced cucumber
  • A good mayonnaise (I bought a jar of Hellmann's, being too lazy to make my own)
  • Ketchup
  • Pickled cucumbers (the home made Danish variant - you can use the jarred ones as well)

For the beef patties, use freshly minced beef. 200-250 g per person. Avoid the fatty ones from Albert and buy something with 12-15 % of fat. That'll still be juicy without being too fatty. I always mince my own beef, as it is fresher, faster, easier and often even cheaper.
First you shape the meat in the right size, and then you must brush it with oil (important - or it WILL stick to your grill pan) and season it with salt and pepper. Easy on the salt if you also plan to use the home made b-b-q sauce.

Heat your grill pan until it is very hot and grill the patties to your liking (of course even better if you can use a real barbecue - but we can't in our apartment). While you're grilling one side, apply plenty of the sauce to the other side.If you like cheese, put a couple of nice slices of your favourite melting cheese on top of the patties for the last 2 minutes of grilling them.
  • ½ dl of vegetable oil
  • 2 dl of ketchup
  • 2 table spoons of sugar
  • 2 table spoons of soy sauce
  • 1 table spoon of Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 cloves of crushed garlic
  • some good chilli sauce. I buy mine at the SAPA market, but I am sure your local Vietnamese green grocer will have the right stuff as well. I use SRIRACHA HOT CHILI SAUCE
  • Salt and pepper
Basically you just mix all the ingredients together. If you have a blender, use that. I use a hand blender. It needs to be hot, but not too hot, so careful with the chilli. Taste it and stop in time. It needs to go as a dip for the French fries as well.

While grilling the beef, crisp some bacon in another pan. I found a good quality of bacon in Tesco. It was a 200 g package, so I thought it would last for some time in the freezer. I was wrong. BF ate it.

While cooking the beef and the bacon I prepared some French fries in the oven. I don't like deep frying, so I bought the best I could find in Tesco. They were good.

And then all you need to do is assemble the burgers:

Split the buns with a sharp (bread) knife, cover the bottom part with mayonnaise. Ad some onions and then the beef. Decorate with tomatoes, cucumber, the pickled stuff and finally the lettuce. Serve with some of the veggies on the side as well. And of course a small bowl of your home made barbecue sauce.

Serve with a couple of chilled Pilsners.

How did it go? Well BF found the local burger to be no. 1 on his hit list - and that was basically what I was aiming for.

Dobrou chut!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Palatino 3 - hits and misses at half price

Usually I am not the kind of person who finds ads on facebook interesting at all. But on the other hand, I always like to save money, so recently I clicked on an ad for a website called "Slevomat" - sleva being one of my favourite words in Czech. The idea of the website is that they have daily offers where you can buy a voucher for for instance a meal, some massage, fligts with hot air balloons and several other things. Usually the discount is 50% or more. Slevomat also has an English version. Another website using the same concept, probably run by the same people, is BonyBony, but only in Czech. My Czech is poor, but having Google toolbar installed, I just use Google translate, which is a great help.
Being curious I decided to try an offer by BonyBony: a 4 course tasting menu in Restaurant Palatino 3 in Pankrac for only Czk. 599,- for 2 persons, including a bottle of wine. Normal price would be Czk. 1.300,-. Not a lot to lose, was my logic.
So a couple of days ago I invited BF, we booked a table and went by the metro to Prazskeho Povstani, right next to the restaurant. The building is modern and not too charming, but the designers have done their best to give the interior a cosy and almost rural feeling. Fake, you could say - but I still believe they did a good job, and we can't bring Italy to Prague, can we?

I like the way they have used lots of fresh green plants in the decoration. No plastic flowers in Palatino 3

When we arrived, the restaurant wasn't very full, and we got a table in the middle of room. The restaurant doesn't have a non-smoking section, but I didn't find it to be smoky at all. But being a smoker myself, maybe I am not the best judge. The tables are quite small, but we were able to manage. 


I handed over my voucher, and everything was ok - we would get the tasting menu. I was given the wine list and could choose which wine I wanted. There were no restrictions, price range or other things to consider. Well, there also weren't any expensive wines. They were between Czk. 250,- and 440,- as far as I remember, the most expensive being a Pinot Grigio. However, BF was more into drinking beer, so he ordered a Stella Artois (Czk. 37,-), not being a big Staropramen fan, and thus leaving me with the option of only picking a wine for my own taste. I chose a bottle of 2008 Primitivo from Di Marco. I usually like the deep colour and taste of an Italian Primitivo, and this bottle was pleasant. As far as I remember it was priced at Czk. 340,- which is very reasonable for this wine.

We didn't have to choose our food - that was already taken care of as the voucher was for a set menu. After approximately 10 minutes the starters arrived: Carpaccio di manzo - thin slices of beef marinated in basil, garlic and olive oil, fresh parmesan, arugula, and toasted bread with some gratinated cheese on top.

We both liked the carpaccio a lot. The texture was nice, and the balance between olive oil, basil and garlic was spot on. It got several "very good" comments from BF. I liked the toast as well. I am not sure which kind of cheese it had been gratinated with, but it wasn't overpowered by the cheese and went very well with the tender slices of beef. An excellent start!

We had a short break before the next course, which would be 2 different kinds of pasta. The waiter brought a hot plate for both of us and my favourite: a bowl of grated parmesan (and enough parmesan). I am a big fan of this, and in our local pizzerias (in the I. P. Pavlova - Namesti Miru area) we usually only get it at Grosseto on Namesti Miru. But then again, Grosseto is by far the best Italian restaurant in our area, if we only look at the affordable ones.

Shortly after one of the cooks came to our table and served the first pasta dish from a sizzling hot pan: spaghetti with pork, fresh baby spinach, cherry tomatoes and extra virgin olive oil.

I liked the detail with the hot plate. I also liked that the cook came to our table, and we could choose exactly how much food we wanted. But more importantly, I liked the perfectly cooked spaghetti. Spot on al dente, not too oily and with fresh ingredients. The pork was spicy and also perfectly cooked, tender and juicy. BF added a bit of oil to his dish, and again several "very good" comments from his smiling face. 2 out of 2 for Palatino so far.

After a while we got another fresh hot plate, and once again the cook came to our table. This time with penne tagliata with fine slices of beef, arugula and cherry tomatoes.

The penne - I forgot to take a picture before covering the dish with loads of fresh parmesan
Unfortunately the penne had been cooked a couple of minutes too long. Not eaxctly al dente. And when the restaurant wanted to give us a degustation menu, I think they should have chosen two pasta dishes which were a lot more different. Only the arugula and the meat was different, and I think they could have chosen a seafood dish or something more "saucy" to give us more variation. At this point BF was already full, so I can't give you any more of his comments. But after the perfectly cooked spaghetti, this penne dish was a bit disappointing.

Next thing on the menu was steak from Argentinian beef (200g) - served with baked stuffed peppers and caramelized onions. The waiter - who was friendly, correct and attentive without disturbing us all the time - had forgotten to ask me how I would like my steak. Had he asked, I would have said rare to medium rare.

It was medium - which was OK with me, and it was actually nicely cooked. The plate was decorated with a rather sweet but quite nice reduction of balsamico. The caramelized onions were crunchy, tasty and - well, perfect. The stuffed pepper was a bit confusing. Basically it was a bit like gratinated, creamy potatoes with a bit of cheese, but there were also some chunks in it of some sort of meat - maybe ham, I wasn't sure. It didn't go very well with the sweet red bell pepper, and I really don't like the idea of including any kind of meat in a side dish which is supposed to be served with a steak. It had the potential of being good, but wasn't. But also not a disaster, just OK.
The steak was nicely cooked and looked delicious. But it was boring. Even though the seasoning was ok, the meat didn't taste a lot of - meat. I can't put my finger on it, but it just lacked some taste. I tried with a bit of extra salt, but it didn't help. I was already almost full, so I didn't finish the steak. It takes more than this kind of steak before I am willing to overeat. It wasn't a dish I would complain about or send back to the kitchen, but it was still a bit disappointing.

Finally we were ready for desert: cheese cake with fresh strawberry sauce. 

Size wise there was absolutely nothing to complain about. It was a large serving, and it looked nice on the plate. But just like the steak, it lacked taste. The base was dry and too thick, and the cheese part just didn't give me a lot of flavours. The strawberry sauce was nice, but not nice enough to make me want to finish the dish. I let half of it go back to the kitchen, but without any comments, because it wasn't horrible - just uninteresting.

I had a cappuchino after the desert (Czk. 40,-). I also had a large bottle of Mattoni (Czk. 64,-) with my wine. BF had 3 beers. So our bill was Czk. 215,- (before tips) on top of the Czk. 599,- I had paid for the voucher. For that amount we had 4 (actually 5) courses and a bottle of wine + the water, beer and coffee.  Very, very cheap, I'd say.

Would I be back?
If the prices were always like this, i would for sure!
If I lived in the area, I would definitely come back every once in a while for the carpaccio and for their perfectly cooked pasta (well, at least the spaghetti was perfect).

I liked half of the food a lot, the other half not so much. I liked the service. The atmosphere was nice. And they really wanted to give us value for money for our cheap voucher. But next time I have a craving for pasta, I'll probably go to Grosseto instead of taking a metro to the not so charming Pankrac. So I don't recommend Palatino that warmly, but I definitely also don't say you shouldn't go there. Because it IS a nice and cheap Italian restaurant, just not in our neighbourhood. 

But what I will recommend is trying these new discount services, BonyBony and Slevomat. Not just for food, but also for several other interesting offers. No matter if you live in Prague or visit the beautiful city as a tourist, you can keep an eye on the websites and buy some vouchers - they are usually valid for several months.

I already bought vouchers for 2 more meals - one in the new branch of Pizza Coloseum on Legerova, and one for a couple of monster sized steaks in Crazy Cow Steak house. Maybe you'll hear more about that :-)

Palatino 3 Ristorante
Lomnického 1705
Praha 4 - Pankrác
+420 241 401 985