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.

Mmmmm, Sweat!

I haven’t done one of these in a long time.  The product is Pocari Sweat.  I read that it’s a Japanese sports drink.  I saw it in the Japa food store a few blocks from my house right next to the tofu in the refrigerator case.  What a name, eh?  Like, “Hey buddy, can I have a drink of your Pocari Sweat?”  Ah, language and cultural differences.  Is there any end to the hilarity?
Pocari Sweat, Japa
Pocari Sweat
Pocari Sweat

I haven’t done one of these in a long time.  The product is Pocari Sweat.  I read that it’s a Japanese sports drink.  I saw it in the Japa food store a few blocks from my house right next to the tofu in the refrigerator case.  What a name, eh?  Like, “Hey buddy, can I have a drink of your Pocari Sweat?”  Ah, language and cultural differences.  Is there any end to the hilarity?

Euro-Trash

Before my European friends get all spun up about the title of this post, I’m not talking about human beings.  I’m talking about trash.  In Europe.  Lots of it.

All over on our travels through Europe garbage is omnipresent.  I first experienced it over 15 years ago during “huelgas de basura” (garbage strikes) in Madrid.  For weeks at a time sanitation workers would go on strike and garbage would pile up in the subways and the rats and mice would grow too fat to scurry away from cigarette butt flinging commuters.  Piles of garbage as high as my head piled in some corners of the metro.

More recently, while vacationing in Crete, I decided to go snorkeling on one of the famous “black beaches.”  What did I see at the bottom?  Tires, typewriters, bottles, cans and debris of gosh knows what else.  I spent about 60 seconds in that water.

Graffiti adorns every block of historical Prague.  Churches, museums, even the castle is not immune.  I’m not talking the Lennon wall here either, folks.

Everyone in Europe talks green but my personal experience is that most of it is out of ignorance or plain old bluster.  To put it to the test, I tried to recycle some electronics one Saturday last year and found myself taking a 40 minute drive to the other side of town to the only sanctioned junk yard only to be told that they wouldn’t accept and old stereo.  They didn’t like my Czech ID and told me no.  I eventually forced it on them.  No wonder people leave so much crap on the side of the road.

When my generation grew up in America, we were repeatedly bludgeoned over the head with “don’t litter” campaigns, Woodsie the Owl saying, “Give a hoot, don’t pollute,” and even some ill fated kangaroo that tried reverse psychology in personal responsibility by proclaiming, “Let George do it!”  However, it worked.  I don’t do it.  Not even a tapa napkin.  On the other hand it’s quite obvious that Europeans have had none of that in their daily lives.  Or, if so, they didn’t pay attention.

I can go on about European hypocrisy.  They say the American lifestyle is unhealthy?  OK, compare them to infamous European smokers – not only the French.  Americans are fat?  Have one look at an Italian beach and you’ll believe that all American tourists have traveled to Italy,  are tanned and speak Italian while gesturing wildly.  Loud, ugly Americans?  Have you ever been in a beerhall in any of these countries?  Obnoxious?  Have you ever stood next to an unshowered French smoker?  Pushy?  Have you ever stood in a Czech excuse for a “line?”  Rude?  Have you experienced what passes for customer service in Europe?  Vulgar?  Ever seen a British stag party?

Having lived here over five years tends to strip away a portion of the romanticism of the idealized Europe.  Don’t get me wrong, living here is still great.  I just don’t think the Europeans have a leg to stand on when the claim superiority in so many different ways.  I’m not saying that America isn’t without problems of its own.  I’m just saying we’re not the only ones.

La Casa Andina, Prague

It seems I can’t blog enough today.  I sit in a Kyiv hotel room after a great dinner (more about that later) and just keep thinking of things.  The latest blip on my screen is La Casa Andina.  Mmmmmm, La Casa Andina.

The family and I saddled up for a trip downtown last Saturday after a particularly inspiring episode of “Dora the Explorer.”  We ended up at La Casa Andina.  What ensued was a trip to Peru, hosted by the friendliest Cubanos the island (and Prague) has to offer.

We started with the “Piqueo Casa Andina” which offered a mix of four delicious appetizers: chicken salad stuffed avocado, cheese stuffed casava crouquettes, a potato salad with huancaína sauce and a tuna-stuffed potato cake.  Even the small NHer got into the act and loved the mix.

Dinner for Mrs. NH looked like this:
Lomo en Totillas de Yuca Titicaca

It was described on the menu as “Lomo en Totillas de Yuca Titicaca, (Beef Sirloin Cuts, Piled in Between 2, from Yuca Golden Fried Tortillas).”  Got that?  The beef was delicious and the tortilla was incredible.  Our only gripe is that it was over-salted.  It hardly kept the plate from being cleaned, however.

I had this, yes, this:

Papa Rellena de Carne

Forgive the poor photography.  Because what it belies is some sort of a double baked potato (without skin) fried with pork, beef, raisins and hard boiled eggs nestled warmly in the middle.  Very Peruvian and very delicious.  Oh, and for those of you wondering what the yellow, mustard-looking sauce is, it’s the huancaína sauce.  The flavor is difficult to describe.  Go there, taste it for yourself and let me know what you think.

While you’re there, have a couple pisco sours.  Oh, man!  Pisco sours in Prague!

La Casa Andina is a new staple on our circuit.  Excellent service, incredible pisco sours, good location, and great food makes it my Latin American home away from home in Prague.  Bravo, Casa A, bravo!

Radiohead in Prague

I saw that Radiohead would be coming to Prague via Pitchfork today and within minutes I had two tickets purchased, printed and in my fat little hands.  I just got into the band about this time last year after years of putting them off.  I finally took the plunge after our daughter had neared the 1 year mark and I had time to actually get into them.  You see, they’re not a band to be taken lightly.  They’re highly prolific, know the value of a good b-side, and just make you want to own everything.  Well, I own most everything I’ve been able to find in Prague but had yet to see them live.  Now, the opportunity has presented itself and I couldn’t be happier.  Now, if those U2 tickets would finally get here. . .

radiohead

Cream Scrambled Eggs with Black Truffles

We had a little Easter Sunday brunch today in an unseasonably warm Prague.  Cream Scrambled Eggs with Black Truffles were enjoyed on the porch with some yummy croissants and a mimosa or three.   I planted the herbs and the flower boxes this morning as well so, it’s like we’ve added another room to the house.  I love this time of year – especially after this long and ugly winter.

truffle-eggs

Blog Spring

I’ve been off the blog wagon for awhile. I was sick with some sort of cold that keeps me coughing to this very day. I missed my trip to Ukraine because of it. We’ve had company in town and also ended up seeing “Mr. Hope and Change” himself a couple of times over the weekend. He was shorter than he looks and Michelle is pretty good looking in person.

Anyway, being back among the living is a good feeling and I’m ready to take to the kitchen and the road again. Watch this space. It’s going to be a busy spring and summer.

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.