Friday, October 29, 2010

Mireille in Vinohrady - we were disappointed

This small article is not going to be very friendly towards Restaurant Mireille on Korunní street in Vinohrady. It is not because I bear a grudge against them for taking over the spot, where restaurant U Slaviku used to serve Prague's best Pork Knee (pecene Koleno) - because I guess U Slaviku went out of business by their own mistake.

The interior is very pleasant and stylish. I like it!
I've been at Mireille twice, and neither time I went out satisfied. The first time I had a lovely pasta dish (Pappadelle with lamb ragout, Czk. 185,-) - but the accompanying house wine, which was supposed to be 0,15 deciliters, didn't even come close to that measurement, thus bringing the bill to a too high amount for what we got.

The non smoking section is nice and cosy
I recently read Brewsta's review of Mireille, which was very positive, so when in my daily sleva hunt I stumbled over, what seemed to be a very fair offer from Mireille, I decided to go back - of course as usual with BF.
This was the offer: Experience the taste of the Mediterranean with a special menu of fish from the Adriatic, fennel and potatoes for two people. A 740kc value for just 260kc at Mirellie restaurant.
What's not to like?
We went there on a Monday night. Thank God I had booked a table, because the place was packed. I really like the stylish interior, the display of their fish on offer and the display of the desert selection. Nice. The chairs are comfortable as well. So a good start.

Desert on display
Desert on display

BF wasn't sure, if he wanted wine. I ordered a bottle of rosé: Syrah-Grenache, Vallée des Aigles, Languedoc (Czk. 350,-). The only rosé on offer. And my logic being that should BF change his mind, a rosé would be a fair compromise between his usual white and my usual red. Plus the fact that it would probably go well with the fish. I ordered a bottle of sparkling water - Bonaqua (Czk. 35,-).
As it turned out, BF chose a Gin/tonic (Czk. 115,-) and later 2 half litres of Stella Artois (Czk. 45,- each).
The wine was pleasant. The waiter made a big deal out of removing the plastic "cork", smelling it and of course having me taste the wine. It wasn't corked :-)

My pleasant rosé wine which went well with the food (well, the food I was able to eat)

I handed over our voucher and asked the waiter, which kind of fish, we should expect? He looked at me, very confused and answered "fish!". Then he said a lot to BF in Czech, which I found a little bit rude, as it was me, who had asked the question. But this happens quite often. I asked him to repeat in English, and he answered "some mixed Mediterranean fish, and definitely not tuna, as that wouldn't be Mediterranean". Then he disappeared.
The waiter went to several different tables doing his thing - and then he returned with a tray of uncooked fish and told me, we would get some of these. OK, point taken. We would have... Fish.

The tray of fish

We didn't have to wait too long before our food arrived. On each plate was a tiny portion of vegetables and potatoes (not a lot of fennel), some rather dried out, undressed salad and the fish: 2 small ones, a slightly larger one - and a piece of tuna (!). All of it had been grilled.

3 kinds of grilled fish

I started with the tuna - I was fearing the smaller variants as they were served on the bone, and I hadn't been given a fish knife. The tuna was very well seasoned and the taste was really good - but unfortunately it had been overcooked, so the texture was dry and unpleasant.
Then I had to continue to the smaller fish. I started with the middle one. It was a struggle to get the grilled fish meat off the bones. The texture was just too hard from the cooking, and I spent a long time struggling with fish bones between my teeth. There were no tooth picks on the table, so at one point I had to sneak out of the restaurant to discretely remove one bone stuck between my front teeth. I ate the fish, started on one of the smaller ones - and had to give up. I remembered reading in Brewsta's review that one of his friends had a small fish served de-boned before grilled. They should have done the same with ours. I had to give up, eat the rest of my vegetables and start planning, which burger from Butch's burgerbar around the corner, I would eat afterwards, because I was still quite hungry.

The waiter came to our table, looked at our plates and asked, if there was a problem with our fish. I told him "yes, the tuna was overcooked, and the smaller grilled fish we couldn't eat because it was impossible to get the meat off the bones - especially without a fish knife". He smiled, shrugged his shoulders, and walked away.
We finished our drinks, and I asked for the bill. I paid by credit card, so he asked me to follow him to the bar to enter my pin code. While we were walking there, he assured me that he hoped to see us again soon. Back at the table after we had put on our jackets he came back and said, he was looking forward to our next visit. All very polite - but it just didn't make any sense. BF hates, if I make a fuss, but as he had already left the restaurant, I couldn't resist, and I asked the waiter, why he believed we would be back, when we had complained about the food and nothing had been done? "Well, it might be better on the next visit", was his answer. I didn't get it, so I asked him why he hadn't even answered, when I had told him we didn't like the fish (I must admit, I had even used the word "horrible"). He answered that he wasn't the manager, just a waiter, so what could he do? Well, called the manager, I believe?
The bill was Czk. 850,- including the voucher. I probably won't be back. I realize that we didn't pay a lot for the food, but I would expect them to give us the sleva in order to seduce us with their food, so we would just have to come back?
They failed miserably to seduce neither of us.

Restaurant Mireille
Korunni 783/23, Praha 2
222 521 814 

Monday, October 25, 2010

U Emy Destinnove - perfection, nothing less

These days it is almost 3 years ago I first visited U Emy Destinnove in Kateřinská Street. I had been reading some interesting things on, so I invited my Moravian friend, Mr. K-Holz there for dinner one night in December 2007.

Steven Trumpfheller behind the bar, mixing our aperitifs. The lady in the background is Ema Destinn - the most famous opera singer of the Czech republic. She was born in this house (although not in the basement, I guess)
I still clearly remember that I had spring rolls as a starter and a rack of lamb with roasted rosemary potatoes as my main course. Mr. K-Holz had a fish soup and afterwards tenderloin of pork with a horseradish crust. We were both extremely excited by the food which was a lot better than anything we had had in a very long time. Mr. K-Holz recently revealed that he still dreams of that fish soup. And for me the lamb was actually the best I had ever had anywhere. And I eat a lot of lamb.

The comfortable sofas where you can also enjoy your dinner - or maybe retreat for your coffee and desert
We went to the sofas in the restaurant for deserts (which I unfortunately don't remember), coffee and cigars, and we had an interesting chat with the owners, Jiří Pešek and Steven Trumpfheller. As it turned out, it was Mr. Pešek's birthday, so suddenly they kept the shots of very nice Grappa flowing. I forget how long we stayed, but long - and definitely long enough to make me walk funnily after all that grappa.

The owners, Jiří Pešek and Steven Trumpfheller. Jirka takes care of the front of house and Steven is in charge of the kitchen.
After that both the owners kept in touch, and I've been going there plenty of times since. I couldn't imagine having close friends visit me and not taking them to what I consider to be The Temple Of Good Food. The ongoing contact through 3 years has of course also meant that I am now close friends with both Jirka and Steven. Being very fond of food it has is perks having the owners of a good restaurant as your friends. Every now and then I'll have to "volunteer" if there's a new dish on the menu, or if a wine needs "approval" for the wine list. And if Steven has a particularly interesting special in the kitchen, he'll let me know.
So when you read this you should know that I am friendly with this place. However, I'll try to be as impartial as possible.

In the spirit of Steven knowing my likes and dislikes, he recently let me know that the rack of lamb, which originally "seduced" me, was back on the menu for s short while. That was all I needed to decide to make a reservation for BF (who also loves the restaurant) and myself on a chilly Wednesday evening.

For aperitifs we had our usual: Johnny Walker/Coca Cola for BF and Gin/Tonic for myself (Czk. 120,-). And we easily made up our minds regarding the food. BF didn't want a starter, as he wanted to make sure there was room for desert. The portions can be generous at U Emy Destinnove. I decided for the giant shrimp (Czk 185,-) as a starter and the rack of lamb (of course) (Czk. 400,-) with boiled potatoes (Czk. 55,-) for my main dish. BF ordered a large steak of Argentinian beef tenderloin (Czk. 440,-) with tartufo mashed potatoes (Czk. 60,-). The deserts we would order later.

The bread basket. Unfortunately I missed the tasty butter spread in the picture
While waiting, we were being served some bread. 2 kinds of small warm rolls. Nice and tasty, bus I am not sure they are baked here. The baker has been picked carefully, because the bread was delicious. It was served with a soft butter spread infused with fresh garlic, parsley and maybe thyme?

While waiting for our food we could  watch Jiří Pešek mixing the beef tartare for another table. A bestseller at U Emy Destinnove. I am not a fan of beef tartare myself, but I have been told it is excellent here.
Soon my giant shrimp arrived and it was - well, giant. It had been wrapped in prosciutto before grilled and was resting on a fresh salad with a not too overpowering vinaigrette. The plate was decorated with a balsamic reduction and a fresh green pesto. These things went very well together, and it was a delicious and vibrant tasting dish - although I must admit that I preferred to peel the layer of prosciutto off the shrimp and eat these two components separately. I don't know what is is with chefs lately - but everybody seems to want to mix my meet or seafood with bacon? I am not a fan of this in general, but of course there can be exceptions (like for instance the bacon I always use when cooking Coq Au Vin, one of my favourites).

Mr. Pešek wanted me to taste a red wine, which he was considering for the wine list, but also hadn't yet tasted himself - a Moldavian "Rosu Du Purcavi", 2003. I don't know the price, because of course I wouldn't be "allowed" to pay for sampling it. It was OK, but not as full bodied as I prefer it, and Jirka (Mr. Pešek) and I agreed that it was nothing special, so it won't find it's way to the wine list. But I hate throwing out wine, it was absolutely acceptable, and of course I had it with my meal. Next time I'll probably order my usual Cotes du Rhone rouge Reserve Grand Veneur (Czk. 750,-). BF went for an Italian Chardonnay Castelnuovo Garda (Czk. 95,- per 2 dl. glass). Light and crisp and not too heavy in neither bouquet nor taste - exactly as he likes it.

Moldavian "Rosu Du Purcavi", 2003. Honest opinion: nothing special
The mains arrived. I immediately put my nose almost directly into the food (BF was not amused) and my mouth started salivating. Just as good as I remembered. The generous portion of lamb had been crusted in pistachios and horse radish before cooked to perfection. Pan seared and finished in the oven, I believe. It was served with a demi glace sauce, the depth of which I can only dream of replicating at home. Full of flavours, and a hint of sweetness which accompanied the meat perfectly. I Denmark we have a joke about sauce: What's the difference between a sauce and a gravy? If there's enough, it must be a gravy. In this case there was enough, also to be soaked up by my boiled Grenaille potatoes - but I would definitely still rate it a sauce. When eating this dish I clearly remembered why I loved it in the first place. The meat was tender, the crust perfect - and I was back in the Seventh Heaven.

My rack of lamb. Sex on a plate!
BF tasted his steak (served with the same demi glace as the lamb), and his face looked like the sun, when he burst out the first of several "Excellent s". BF has his own food rating scales. When we're just eating regular restaurant (pub) food, the scales aren't being used. When we have something extra, it is being rated firstly against his mother's excellent cooking and then secondly - if it has a chance - it will be rated on his "U Emy Destinnove scale". Neither scale has ever been topped by anybody except his mother and Steven Trumpfheller. BTW, the tartufo mashed potatoes were very good as well.

We both cleaned our plates completely, although the portions had been large. So we needed a small brake before deciding on deserts. In the meantime I took some pictures of the rooms. The front room is the largest one. Here you'll find the bar, 5-7 tables and the sofa area with an additional 2-4 tables. There is also a working fireplace, which brings a nice ambiance to the room during the cold seasons. There are always fresh flowers on the tables. The back room has 3 tables and is good, if you don't want to be disturbed. Most Wednesdays and Thursdays there is live music on the piano.

On the little cart you can have Steven cook your food table side
For my desert I would have liked the daily trio creme brulée (3 different variants of the small desert), but on this particular night they were out of it. So instead I chose the chocolate seduction rum cake (Czk. 120,-).
Incredibly rich and filling chocolate cake with an equally rich chocolate cream with a hint of rum. Great for lovers of dark chocolate (as myself) - and probably a nightmare for the squeamish who can only eat milk chocolate. So if you're the latter, be warned. I personally liked the cake a lot, and filling as it was, I still managed to eat every bite of it.

The chocolate seduction rum cake
BF went (once again) for his favourite desert in U Emy Destinnove, the Philadelphia Cheesecake (Czk. 105,-). Somehow Steven (who lived in Philadelphiafor several years himself) manages to make it rich, sweet and full of flavour without overdoing it, and I've had several friends come back to the restaurant because of this desert. So I guess it could be named the signature desert of the restaurant?

The Philadelphia Cheesecake - a signature desrt?
We were full - that's no secret! I still wanted my Cappuccino and BF suggested we had a cognac. We asked Jirka to make his special show, the Cognac Flambé, which is basically cognac served in a very large glass and gently heated over a flame until it catches fire - and then is put out again by yourself. Violence against good alcohol, you might say. And I would normally agree - but once you've had your nose inside this large glass of cognac you'd want to try it yourself. Careful, though, as you may burn your lips if you are impatient.

Jiří Pešek doing the Cognac Flambé
I'll not add up the bill - maybe there's somebody out there whom I owe money, who reads this. But it was worth it, and we'll probably be back soon - for instance November 5th, a special occasion for us. Or maybe I can find an excuse even sooner. I hope so! I am sure, I can! Let's see, don't I have an "important business meeting" next week? Or could I make one up?

U Emy Destinnove
Kateřinská 7 (3-5 minutes' walk from I.P. Pavlova)
120 00, Praha 2
Mo–Fri: 11.30–23.30 (Wednesdays and Thursdays usually live piano music during dinner)
Sat: 18.00–23.30
Sun: closed (open for special events only)
phone: 224 918 425
phone: 724 977 602 - Steven Trumpfheller
phone: 608 813 509 - Jiří Pešek

After all this food and drink it is nice to know that the toilets are classy - decorated with tiles the style of wine cases