Prague – La Degustation

Sunday had long been forecasted as pretty much steady rain all day, which meant catching up on blog entries and resting my tired bones for a bit. First up though was lunch and given the inclement weather, returning to Dish Bistro seemed the best course of action due to it being literally around the corner from the loft.

Knowing the large dinner that awaited, I opted to forgo a burger this time and instead, had a salad of mixed greens, bacon, potatoes with honey mustard dressing. My body was grateful for the roughage too. I ordered what I thought would be my last Czech beer but turned out to be my first German beer – ooops. Oh and given the pedestrian nature of my lunch, there will be no accompanying pics, plenty of those to come.

A few hours later, I hit the streets, this time solo however as Chris had other plans. My trusty Google Maps indicated the restaurant was within walking distance of the metro and since I hadn’t taken that yet , I thought that would be a nice change of pace. Getting to the station near the loft was easy enough and it turned out that my still not used tram pass was valid for the metro as well.

It was a quick 3 stop trip, which was very easy to navigate. However, finding the right route from there turned out to be tricky. Google Maps indicated an exit route that apparently didn’t exist and when I picked one at random, I wasn’t entirely sure which direction to head. Things were a bit exacerbated by the rain picking up although Chris had generously let me use his umbrella. I walked through what appeared to be a very tony part of Old Town, lined with luxury shops and cars. It seemed to indicate that if one is going to such a fancy restaurant, one would probably not take the metro to get there.

Finally, I saw the sign for La Degustation ahead and to my surprise, the sign for Lokal was just beyond it – almost full circle. La Degustation de Boheme Bourgeoise was the first restaurant in the Czech Republic to garner a coveted Michelin star. The chef Oldrich Sadahjdak was trained in some of the best kitchens in Europe and returned to his native Prague to open up La Degustation in 2006.  The concept was to take recipes from the bible of Czech cooking, written by their version of Julia Child long before there was a real Julia Child, with modern twists.

Upon being seated, right next to the kitchen so I could watch the brigade work, I was handed an envelope which revealed 2 different options – 6 or 12 courses. As tempting as it was to go all out for the 12 courses, financial considerations plus the all-day travel plans tomorrow squelched that idea. Shortly after, I was presented with the first of the amuse bouches – a pickled radish as a welcome. This was soon followed by a trio of amuses – a potato pancake, a piece of trout skin and the most interesting of all, a fried rabbit ear with rabbit pate. The final amuse was my old friend steak tartar, this time in bite-sized form. Needless to say, the amuses had me intrigued as to what was to come.

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The first course was pumpkin ravioli with onions, leeks and soy tapioca broth. As the server explained the components, one of the cooks spooned over the final ingredients, always a welcome touch. This would turn out to be my least favorite course but it was still very good. The soy tapioca balls added a necessary earthy component, which saved the dish from being too one-note.

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Next up was a local catfish filet with thinly sliced kohlrabi in a yeast-based broth. The presentation was quite striking and the flavor was even better. The filet was tender and the kohlrabi slices pratically melted in my mouth. Although I was somewhat skeptical about a yeast-based broth, it was superb. So good, I switched to a spoon at the end to eat all of it. Now, I was very excited to taste what was next.

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The third course had an even more intriguing name – Mustard ice cream infused with thyme in a tomato sauce. This was a real stunner. Although the picture makes it look like simply a dollop of mustard, it was anything but that. First, it really was mustard ice cream, both in the temperature and texture. The coldness of the ice cream was offset by the hot tomato sauce, which soon made everything melt together in wondrous fashion. I was so taken by it I had to ask one the managers how this would have been served traditionally. He explained that tomato sauce is a staple of Czech cooking and so is mustard so the chef thought the two would be interesting together.

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The winning streak continued with the fourth course – perch in a Moravian champagne capers sauce with sliced celery root and pickled shallots. The fish had been lightly poached in oil but not greasy at all. The Moravian sauce was incredibly flavorful and boosted the often neutral taste of the lowly perch. Again, the chef’s mix of simple peasant ingredients elevated to haute cuisine was evident. I ended up pairing this with a Moravian sauvignon blanc, which had a nice crisp mineral body to it that complemented the dish well.

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The last savory course was again a peasant staple – beef tongue with apples and yellow peas. However, in this version, it was beef tongue that had been sous vided to make it incredibly tender and the apple sauce had a demi glace base. Along the edge was a puree of yellow peas (new to me) and dried apples. Again, another fantastic dish.

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Another amuse was next – a dehydrated egg yolk with yogurt powder. It basically tasted like a fruit chew candy but with a bit more tang. It was a good palette cleanser after the richness of the last dish.

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As the cook who presented the next course stated, this was sadly the last one – bread ice cream with plum jam and a beer whipped cream. As a fan of bread ice cream, I was struck how unique this version was as it tasted very close to the local breads I had been having since arriving in Prague. That along with the plum jam made it taste like a liquified peanut butter and jelly sandwich, even though there wasn’t any actual peanut butter in it. The beer whipped cream added another yeast note but like almost everything else I had, worked in harmony in the dish.

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As a final thank you, the last server presented a set of petit fours – a salted caramel chew, half of a fresh plum, a beetroot candy and a mini carrot pistachio cake. All were very tasty and made for a very pleasant way to end this exceptional meal.

I said my goodbyes and headed out with the intention of going back to Black Angels for a nightcap. However, the rain had picked up considerably so I chose instead a small bar next to the restaurant that looked inviting. My goal was to finally try the famous (infamous?) Czech plum brandy and luckily the bar did indeed have it. Since it was a Sunday night, it was fairly empty except for a small group who appeared to be friends of the owner. A small shot glass arrived and I took my first sip, immediately realizing that the purported 40% alcohol label clearly was a pack of lies as this tasted at least 50%. A few more sips and I began to side with the infamous side of the equation with this rip fuel.

I stumbled out into the streets a few minutes later, suddenly not really caring about the rain that much. Still, I had enough wits left to make sure to have the restaurant call a cab for me versus getting one on the street. While I was waiting, one of the managers asked if I wanted another drink. At first I said I was good but after a couple of more attempts to get me to have at least something, I replied that I had just had some plum brandy. The manager knowingly smiled and knew I didn’t need anything else.

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