Traditional Czech cuisine, from heavily sauced meat and pork dishes (sometimes with whipped cream!) to dumplings, presents a challenge for travelers not wanting their souvenir of Prague to be an additional 10 pounds on the scale. Years ago finding a healthy alternative would have been a challenge, but today the Czech capital offers a wealth of exciting, gourmet dining options.
The Only Michelin Star in the Czech Republic
Gourmands need to look no further than Allegro at the Four Seasons Prague. For the past four years this elegant eatery has boasted the only Michelin star in the entire country. The 28-chef kitchen is helmed by 35-year-old Andrea Accordi who blends a playful, creative style with strong culinary skills to craft an Italian menu that is innovative and unusual. And with a setting along the Vltava River and views of Prague’s famous castle, this meal will be a highlight of any trip to Bohemia.
Chef Accordi’s background is obvious as he seamlessly weaves his time spent in Asia into the Italian menu. A prime example is the amuse bouche of mussel sushi and cucumber wasabi foam that began my meal. The chef’s use of molecular gastronomy was evident in the scallop carpaccio appetizer featuring “popcorn” (frozen tomato water made with nitrogen), and his Mediterranean flair apparent in the unique grilled stuffed calamari with burrata sauce, green apple and zucchini blossom. A refreshing change from the typical, pedestrian fried calamari. While many dishes tempted me for a main course, I couldn’t resist trying San Pietro alla diavola. The grilled john dory with cruschi pepper glaze, and black olive and chocolate (yes, chocolate) sauce was too intriguing to pass up. It’s this use of innovative and unexpected flavor combinations and profiles that made Allegro’s menu so interesting and clearly a reason it holds the country’s only Michelin Star.
When dessert begins with its own amuse bouche, you know you’re at a place where they take their sweets seriously! A cheesecake and fig sorbet “cleansed” my palate in preparation for what I call the cherry bombe. Nestled inside a sugar sphere was an explosion of cherry compote and green apple sorbet. Easily the most unusual dessert I had in Prague. But I wasn’t done yet. Next came a display of petifours clearly designed to test my will power. Thank goodness a gorgeous walk after dinner with the lights of Prague sparkling was right outside to work off the meal!
Michelin Bib Gourmand
One of the many accolades SaSaZu holds is a Michelin Bib Gourmand Award, a distinction award given to restaurants that offer very good food at very good value. But what this restaurant really deserves is an award for sheer creativity and concept.
Owner/Chef Shahaf Shabtay has crafted a restaurant that transports the vitality of Asian street life to Prague. The food, which focuses on five Asian cooking techniques; sambal, otak otak, flame, roti and tai tai grill, bring the flavors of Southeast Asia to Central Europe, while the décor brings the ambiance of East to West. But Chef Shabtay takes his theme even further, tying in the wellness culture of Asia by offering free hand massages after dinner and Thai massage during Sunday brunch. Talk about the unexpected!
My tasting meal is filled with popular items from the menu including one of the best Thai papaya salads I’ve ever had, a delicious coconut corn soup and the SaSa Crispy roll, a tuna/salmon roll so good I forgot I don’t like tuna! From the Flame cooking technique we sampled Hanoi Shrimps with pumpkin, green onion and a dashi-cream sauce, and from the Roti section tried the Bombay Butter Chicken marinated in yogurt, garam masala and lime baked in a 500 degree oven and served with roti bread. The culinary experience concluded with a refreshing strawberry semi fredo where fresh strawberries were greatly enhanced by basil.
Chef Shabtay, who was raised on a Kibbutz in Israel, and cut his culinary chops in Asia and New York, draws inspiration from a surprising place; his six-year-old daughter.
“I see what makes her happy and go from there,” he said.
It’s clearly working. In addition to the Michelin accolade, SaSaZu was named the 2011 best international restaurant in the Czech Republic by Euro Magazine.
A Happy Marriage of Czech and International Cuisine
Located in the heart of Wenceslas Square, Como is a sophisticated, modern space that offers a Mediterranean menu with some Czech specialties sprinkled in. On a recent visit I sampled the chef’s degustation menu with each course paired with a different wine.
The evening began with a glass of prosecco and an amuse bouche of tomato bruschetta. For me the highlight of the meal was the Sicilian caponata with buffalo mozzarella and rucola paired with a 2006 Czech Riesling. The grilled vegetables were perfectly cooked, and the flavors of the dish all melded together seamlessly. The weakest dish was easily the daily special of saffron risotto and seared scallops paired with a Czech Sauvignon Blanc. The scallops were simply so over salted they threw off the entire dish. The main course of grilled chicken breast with ratatouille and fried polenta served with a Cotes du Rhone put the meal back on course, and the decadent COMO chocolate cake provided a sweet ending to the meal.