Cafe Savoy – Prague

Last week there was a midweek Czech holiday and the Mrs., Little NH and I decided to make a brunch/lunch of it at Prague’s Cafe Savoy.  If you’ve never been, Savoy is worth a visit.  It hardly feels like you’re in Prague.  It feels more like Paris or Vienna.  The service is great, the food is very refined and the atmosphere laid back yet, neat as a pin.  The cafe itself seems to have a sense of sophistication that manages to avoid out-and-out snobbery.  It turned out to be the perfect setting for an early afternoon epicurean adventure.

Pea SoupMrs. NH started out with the Fresh Pea Soup.  I had tasted hers the last time we ate there and I recalled being pretty impressed.  It was just as good this time.  Little dollops of mashed potatoes arrive in the bowl and the creamy, bright green soup was poured in afterward.  Fresh and tasty.

I decided to go a little heavier with my starter.  The Escargots à la Bourguignonne was my selection and provided excellent flavor and brunch conversation with my 2-year-old.

“What’s that daddy?” she asked.
“Snails.”
“Oooh, yum!”
“Want some?” I queried.
“Uh, no thanks.  I’m eating French fries right now.”

EscargotAnd that was that.  But I can’t blame her too much.  The fries were good.  Shoestring, golden and really crispy with just the right touch of greasiness to add a layer of decadence.  But back to the Escargots – I was amazed how good they were.  They were as good as any I’ve had anywhere – including France.  This fact just helped to add a layer of authenticity and otherworldliness to Savoy.

Next, there was the main course.  Mrs. NH decided to treat this as more of a brunch with a Mimosa and a Savoy Omlette with Gruyére.  It was one of the prettier omlettes I have ever seen.  The eggs were bright yellow and contrasted nicely with delicately dressed pile of greens on the side.  It was rich and full of flavor.

OmletteAgain, I decide eschew any brunch protocol and go in heavy with my main course.  I ordered up a dark, heady Kozel beer with a rustic Veal entrecôte á la Périgourdine which included truffle sauce and fresh spinach leaves on butter.  I told you I went in heavy.  It was a rich, bold, yet balanced meal that was the perfect complement to a cool fall day.  It certainly made the outing feel like a special occasion and gave me the same sort of pleasant lethargy that I used to get at Sunday brunch at the country club after church.

Truffle VealWe took our time through the meal and the attentive but not overbearing service was perfect.  I was a little worried when the bill came that all of this pleasure might come at a very high cost.  My fears were unfounded, however.  When I looked at the bill, it seemed just about right.  Not to mention, with all of the money we had saved in not actually driving to France for lunch, we’ll certainly be back to do it again.

Dirty Mouse

mousetrapWe had a critter living on our balcony (or “terrace” as the folks here call it) up until last week.  I killed the little SOB.  It’s the second time we’ve had a rodent problem in this apartment and it’s really starting to tick me off.  There is so much construction in our Prague neighborhood that it’s absolutely no surprise that the furry little buggers are running for safer environs.  The problem is, they’re seriously harshing my mellow when it comes to sitting on the porch in the waning days of summer.

Still, in a town this old, I imagine we’re not getting the shortest straw when it comes to rodents.  But we have had our fair share.  A couple years back, I had the landlord come and plug up the drainpipes on my balcony after trapping about 6 or 8 of the beasts over a couple weeks.  The plug worked up until a few weeks ago.  I discovered the latest mouse when I was going out to grill after sundown one evening and saw him chomping on a scrap of food left over from my daughter’s outdoor dinner.  He skittered into the corner and proceeded to startle the heck out of me.  Within about 12 seconds the startle turned into anger and I set up 3 traps with peanut butter.

What followed was sheer torture.  After the traps were set up, I watched from the window overlooking the balcony as he proceeded to lick the peanut butter off two of the traps without setting them off.  As I stood and fumed while spelling out profanities under my breath (I could have nailed him with a BB gun), my wife explained to my daughter what was going on.  “There’s a dirty mouse on the porch,” she told Little NH in a effort to differentiate between the one on the porch and the ones in all of her books and on her videos.  It didn’t take long for the kiddo to sense that daddy was out for blood.  She really got the hint when we headed to the hardware store the next night and stocked up on three different types of traps.

There was a new, plastic, German-made trap that caught my eye.  It was pre-baited and looked like a good design.  You’d think the Germans could design a better mousetrap, no?  I think $10 for four of them might have been a waste, however.  After a couple days in the sun they seem to be much less sensitive – even with my extra bait for good measure.  The trap that got the job done was a terribly sensitive, hairpin-trigger, classic trap.  No more peanut butter.  I loaded it up with a Snickers bar chunk and made sure that it was securely stuck with caramel to the trigger portion so there would be no free meals.  It was so sensitive that I had to reset the thing about 5 times while setting it down.  Within a few hours after dusk, el ratón was dead.  I don’t think the flavor of the Snickers even registered in his tiny brain before the trap ended his life.

That was about two weeks ago.  I did a major cleaning and inspection of the porch and found no more signs of rodents.  Still, I have 5 traps out, just in case.  The landlord is doing a full survey of the building to try to figure out where they’re coming from.  (With the cooking smells emanating from some of the apartments and the international mix of some of the tenants, I would imagine that some of the rodents are from far off lands.  I’m just sayin’.)

It’s a good life lesson for the little one.  Still, whenever Stuart Little comes on, I have to admit that I feel the urge to grab a snickers and a very sensitve trap.

Noi – Prague

With the fall season slowly encroaching on our last days of summer here in Prague, we’re doing everything we can to soak up every warm summer night.  Prague’s Thai restaurant, Noi, offered us a good place to enjoy a meal outdoors on a balmy evening last week.

I’ve eaten at Noi several times (Mrs. NH has eaten there a few more) and Noi never ceases to satisfy.  The patio in the courtyard just outside the back of the restaurant is a secluded, shaded area with about five tables.  It’s a nice quite place to enjoy the fruits of Noi’s kitchen.  On this particular occasion, Mrs. NH had the Vegetable Spring Rolls as a starter followed by the “Neur Phad Kra-Prao,” described as Beef minced with green beans, onions, garlic, chilies and fresh basil leaves.  She was thrilled with both dishes exclaiming, “They remembered the green beans this time!”  I guess it was fine the other time without them since she ordered it again this time.  I can see why.  It was a great dish with bold spice that really went well with the sticky steamed rice.  It’s the flavor that my taste bud imagination conjures up when someone says “Thai food.”

"Neur Phad Kra-Prao" or Beef minced with green beans, onions, garlic, chilies and fresh basil leaves
"Neur Phad Kra-Prao" or Beef minced with green beans, onions, garlic, chilies and fresh basil leaves

My dishes were equally successful.  I had the Chicken Satay followed by the “Khao Phad Koong” or, shrimp with rice, eggs, carrots, onions, spring onions and tomatoes.  It was essentially a fried rice Pad Thai and hit all the right notes as Thai comfort food.  The rice was the perfect texture, slightly fried and really full of flavor.  The shrimp itself was perfectly cooked.  Sometimes the shrimp ends up rubbery in other establishments – but at Noi, they do it just right.  Snappy, steamy and really fresh tasting.  As always, the Satay starter was delicious.  It’s a simple skewer of chicken with a thick, chunky peanut sauce that would be good enough eat with a spoon on its own.

"Khao Phad Koong" or, shrimp with rice, eggs, carrots, onions, spring onions and tomatoes
"Khao Phad Koong" or, shrimp with rice, eggs, carrots, onions, spring onions and tomatoes

Little NHer enjoyed the meal as well.  She got her own chicken satay (or “bock-bock” as she calls it) and enjoyed rice from both of our dishes.  She even had a few bites of Spring Roll for the first time.  Good taste, that kid.

The wine selection was made by Mrs. NH.  She usually does the honors and this time she was in the mood for a rosé.  I didn’t stand in her way.  I really never do when it comes to wine for fear of being run over.  She liked the Spanish rosé they served (the only one on the menu) but I thought it fell too far into the “sweet-tart” spectrum.  It was passable, though not superlative.

That being said, I really like Noi.  The service is great, the atmosphere, both inside and  out, is top notch and the food is tasty and consistent.  Well, consistent with the exception of the green beans.  If you can take that gamble, you’ll love Noi.

Radiohead at Výstaviště, Bruselská Cesta, Prague 8-23-09

Radiohead in Prague

On Sunday night, Radiohead proved that it has mastered the art of crescendo.  From start to finish, the concert behind Prague’s Stromovka Park was a long arc of building tension followed by cathartic release.  Within the songs themselves and throughout the set-list, the band harnessed the roller coaster inertia of the rise and fall.

It was a gorgeous night to be out in the park drinking 40 Crown beer (with a 50 crown deposit for the cup) on a dusty, fairly treeless section of land just behind the Prague Expo Center’s dancing fountains (turned off for the occasion).  An odd location to be sure but one that suited the misfit nature of Radiohead’s music.  The selection of songs was a fan’s dream.  The band dove deep into its extensive catalog and pulled out gems like “Pyramid Song” and b-side/disc 2er “Bangers and Mash.”  However, much of the show focused on songs from Radiohead’s 2007 release, In Rainbows. Even though the album is two years old, the songs crackled with energy and formed the skeletal structure of the show.

The vocals were spot on; the playing was sharp and tight.  Still, it seemed like I was watching a band on the verge of destruction.  This was my first Radiohead show, maybe they all seem like that but I couldn’t help but think that this was a band that was desperately looking for a new set of challenges.  The inclusion of the new tune, “These Are My Twisted Words” did not help matters.  It was the low point of the show as the tune itself is meandering and in search of a hook, a chorus and a verse.  The song was an exception to an otherwise engrossing performance.

Throughout the show, lead singer, Thom Yorke, was mum except for dedicating “Pyramid Song” (?) to Franz Kafka.  The musicianship was tight for a band that had been off the road for months but there was a definite tension.   Like I said, maybe all of their shows are like this.  After all, “joyous” is not a word that comes to mind when thinking of Radiohead.

However, “cathartic” is a word that can be used to describe their music and by the end of the set, “Everything in its Right Place” provided the perfect mix of electronics and musicianship to wrap up a dense and powerful show.  It was a gorgeous August night in Prague and Radiohead lent the evening its soundtrack, projecting it’s damaged beauty all through the woods of Stromovka park.  At least for that night, everything was indeed in its right place.

Radiohead Soundchecking in (or near) Stromovka Park

As if I wasn’t excited enough, I heard about 10 seconds of what sounded like “Weird Fishes” being soundchecked this morning.  I was out tidying up the balcony and heard the rumblings back in the park.  Sounded excellent – even if it may have only been the roadies.  I hope the show lives up to my high expectations.

It’s a great day for a concert – 75 and SUNNY!

Radiohead Takes Over Prague Metro

Radiohead Prague Metro

UPDATE: My review of the show is here.

The metro stations of Prague are sporting a strange, homogeneous look these days.  Well, at least the ad space is.  It’s draped in an almost industrial, lava lamp-like ad for the coming invasion of space rockers, Radiohead.

The band is playing at Stromovka Park later this month.  The front section of tickets appears to be sold out and I’m pretty excited to see them.  I’m a new convert to the Radiohead camp and I think that seeing them live will either cement them as of of the best bands in the world or something short of that mark.  You could say I’m expecting pretty big things.

I’ll let you know if they deliver.

The Czech Sasquatch – In His Underwear

Just one final impression of Prague for you during my last hours in the Czech Republic.  What I’m about to tell you is a phenomenon that is highly Czech from all accounts.  Nevertheless, I’ve only ever heard about it and read about it from friends or on other expat blogs.  You know, kind of like the Sasquatch.

There’s the thing about being an expat, the surprises never stop.

Now, to the story.  I was driving down one of Prague’s busiest streets (Evropska), the street that carries all the traffic to and from the airport.  It’s a 4 laner and busy.  However, on this particular morning, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a flash of white and yellow and did a double take.  It revealed a bald guy, 50’s, in his tighty-whities and yellow Crocks.  Standing there.  In front of his yard.  Traffic speeding by.  4 lanes.  Tighty-whities.  Crocs.  Wha?

Apparently this is regular practice here.  Folks go out to do yard work and instead of dirtying a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, they just go in their skivvies.  I guess its kind of logical but no less shocking when seen in person.

But for me, it really hammers home one point.  Culture shock is real.  And it’s going to hit me HARD.  I’ve been out of America a looong time.

Before I got this job, I remember seeing the guys that worked in Prague when they came back to Washington for consultations.  They always looked really lost and a bit out of place.  Now, I know why.  They were.

Seriously, how does one transision from what I just saw to the Pentagon City Mall?  I’ll soon find out.

Pivovarsky Klub

My wife is a very smart woman.  She knows how her husband thinks and operates.  Like a Golden Retriever, she knows her husband’s life revolves around a work/reward system with the reward most likely being good food and drink at the completion of the task at hand.  Saturday, the task was Christmas shopping and the reward was Pivovarsky Klub.

Pivovarsky Klub has been in Prague for quite awhile.  Luckily, my wife figured out that we should actually make the effort to go there and give it a shot.  Man, am I glad we did.  It was truly a beer hall for the whole family.  There were 6 local specialty brews on tap and a New Testament- thick menu of other beers from around the world.  The bulk of them were Belgian.  There was no need to order any of the Belgian beers on this trip, however.  For about 35 Korunas ($1.75) you could get a 0.3 or 0.5 liter glass of some of the yummiest local brews in the area.

The menu itself was also a Czech delight.  Lots of good roasted meats (a beautiful looking pork knee) and some truly tasty goulashes.   Mrs. NH had the classic goulash (she said it was a little tough) and I had the venison goulash with tasty potato croquettes.  After a couple good hours of goofing around with our little rug rat while enjoying some incredible beers (7-8?) , the bill came.  It was less than 700 Korunas ($35)!  An incredible deal.

If you’re in Prague, this place is well worth your while.  After you have the good local brews you can stock up on the off-sale Belgian and German brews in the fridge on the top floor for a reasonable price.  We did.  No doubt, this year the Holidays will have a creamy, heady finish.  Mmmmmm, beer.

U23D in Prague

U23D

I went to see U23D with Mrs. Nothemingway last night.  We hemmed and hawed about weekend plans but, after much backing and forthing, I insisted on going to U23D.  After the show was over, the Mrs. was very happy I did.

First off, we saw U2 in Berlin during the Vertigo tour.  This was essentially the same setlist (slightly abbreviated) that we saw there.  During that show, we were only 10-15 rows back so many of the shots from the crowd were like reliving that show.

The cinematography in the film is amazing and over the top – like a mix of U2 and 3D should be.  The band members appear to be standing on your lap and it’s even more fun to see their interaction ‘up close.’

I have only one gripe and it’s not with the film – it’s with the band.  For the love of all things human, drop “Bullet the Blue Sky” from the setlist next tour!  We get it that you went to El Salvador and didn’t/don’t like American foreign policy.  But do you have to beat us over the head with it every show?  Bring back some more “Pop” or “Zooropa” on the next tour instead.  Please, just drop that bloody song.

All of that aside, U23D is as close to a masterpiece of concert film as is possible.  The sound mix is incredible, the visuals stunning all helped by the fact that on these nights, U2 dialed in a great set of performances.  Even the normally subdued Adam Clayton seems more vibrant in 3D.

It will be interesting to see if this format catches on and if it will be available in a home version anytime soon.  My bet, yes.  Time to buy a new TV.

Primal Scream at the Roxy, Prague, CZ, 10/03/08

It was the perfect setting and circumstance for a concert.  A Friday night after a big but successful work week and one night before a 9 day vacation.  Pretty much impossible to beat.

Primal Scream came out and lived up to the expectations as well.  Five guys on stage that really rocked the tiny Club Roxy.  I don’t imagine there were even 500 people in this club – but it was full.  Everyone there seemed to be enjoying the show.

The band came and played the songs fast, furious and one on top of the other.  Bobby Gillespie, looking like he had just woken from a 2 week nap, rambled onto stage and lazily, yet succinctly hit every note and every word.  Just what one would expect.  The rest of the band thundered through the set adding punch and skillfully executing the songs.

Highlights were Loaded’s, “Movin’ on Up” and Riot City Blues’ “Country Girl.”  But to single out a couple of songs misses the point.  The show, clocking in at a short 90 minutes, was a sweaty, fist pumping, chorus singing extravaganza.  It was a great end to a week and a great first night of vacation.

Happy Hour Mattoni Mojitos

I just got back from the grocery store and found something that I hadn’t seen before.  Pre-made Mattoni mojitos in a bottle.  Granted, it comes without the rum but, in my house that’s absolutely no problem.  The really good news is – they taste pretty darn good.  I picked fresh mint from my plants on the porch but you don’t really need it.  There’s mint flavor in there.

At any rate, it’s going to be great for a mojito in a pinch.

For some reason these Czechs love mojitos.  They’re the special in almost every bar – year ’round.  Their love, my gain!

Mattoni Mojito
Mattoni Mojito

Dollar Rebound?

Oh, baby.  I’d sure love this to be true.  Mostly because the bulk of my non-American friends and acquaintances have been having some visible schadenfreude regarding the currency in which I receive my salary.  It’s obvious when they ask if I get paid in dollars, I say yes, and then they smile and begin their sentences with something like, “Oh, man….”