"I take a ridiculous pleasure in what I eat and drink. It comes partly from being a bachelor, but mostly from a habit of taking a lot of trouble over details. It's very persnickety and old-maidish really, but then when I'm working I generally have to eat my meals alone and it makes them more interesting when one takes trouble." – James Bond from the novel Casino Royale
A quiet Sunday night in Prague, alone I walked its dark, cobblestone streets, curious about what adventure lied ahead. My culinary journey in my first few days in the city consisted mostly of heavy brown foods - sausages, potatoes, rabbit, beer and the like. I wondered to myself, how would Czech haute cuisine taste? A small country with so much natural beauty; what treasures may lay in the country?
Leaving the main old town square, I navigated a series of poorly lit, cobblestone streets. Eventually I made to my destination - a simple, modern black awning with the words La Dégustation. One of only two Michelin starred restaurants in Prague.
Given it was a slow, Sunday evening for the restaurant, manager came and offered me the Chef's Table just outside the finishing area of the kitchen. Of course, I obliged. A good evening and nod from the chef, the journey would begin.
I started with a glass of Billecart-Salmon Rose, a lovely aperitif in advance of what I decided would be an 11 course Degustation du Chef, completed with 11 wine pairings.
The full menu is below, but I would like to take done time to discuss some particular standouts.
Course 2. The Russian sturgeon caviar with egg and parsley root was without question the best egg dish I have ever eaten. It was expertly prepared in front of me. An egg yolk was placed in the center of a plate, and then cooked using a blowtorch. This led to a slightly burnt, yolk, with a creamy interior, almost like a toasted marshmallow. Little parsley root chips dabbled the plate, and were topped with caviar. The dish was finished with a parsley and crème friache sauce. Expertly paired with a wonderful glass of Marsannay 2009 by Domaine Hugenot. Simply. Perfect.
Course 5. Catfish. A fish, which, for a variety of reasons, receives very little respect in the United States. I used to understand why - it is inexpensive and at least in the south, usually served fried.
But magical things can happen to a fish when put into the right hands. Another standout dish. The delicate fish was served with a frothy Moravian sparkling white wine sauce and impossibly fresh raw cabbage. Together. Heavenly.
Course 6. The course that immediately followed alone was worthy of a second Michelin star. I was presented with perhaps the most delicious wine of the evening - Gewurztraminer 2009 by Leon Beyer. And then, pork belly, topped with toasted mustard seeds, and accompanied by an apple "jam" and red cabbage "jam". The combination of flavors was so explosive yet delicate it was otherworldly. It was the kind of dish reserved for chefs like Thomas Keller, Elena Arzak, and other 3-starred chefs. One of my favorite food adjectives is "transcendent." This was beyond transcendent. It was indescribably delicious. It may have been one of the best 5 dishes I have had in my life, just behind a Chick-Fil-A chicken sandwich, a Wendy's spicy chicken sandwich, strawberry or red velvet cake from mom, and the purple cow at Per Se.
As I think about it, courses five, six, seven and eight combined are worth visiting Prague.
Course 7. The chicken was a very simple, but unique dish. A chicken leg was cooked sous vide, then quickly smoked with thyme, rosemary and juniper. I was instructed to eat it with my hands, as I did. It was juicy and delicious. I had never had chicken with a similar consistency.
Course 8. And the foie. It was shaved! It looked like a pile of sawdust on a plate. A bit odd, and I actually didn't know what it was at first. Underneath yielded a treat, a very fresh grape jelly. It was a nice balance to what is often always the same foie gras.
There was more. Much more. I almost passed out of exhaustion and an overly full stomach. Having 13 different types of alcohol (including my champagne aperitif and cognac nightcap) didn't help. But it did add an additional layer of depth to the experience.
The full menu is below:
lužické hory snails, leek, garlic
Sauvignon blanc barrique 2009 - Mádl
russian sturgeon caviar, egg, parsley root
Marsannay 2009 - Domaine Hugenot
straw soup, onion, lokus wine
Rosé Pinot Noir 2011 - Jiří Hort
jerusalem artichoke, truffle
Saint Peray 2008 - François Villard
třeboň catfish, moravian sparkling wine sauce, cabbage
Müller Thurgau 2011 - Mikrosvín
piglet, red cabbage, apple
Gewurztraminer 2009 - Léon Beyer
štěpánovsko chicken, rosemary, thyme, juniper
Veltlínské zelené Terroir 2011 - Volařík
foie gras, grape juice jelly
Château Closiot Sauternes 2005
beef tongue, yellow pea purée, horseradish
Merlot“Le Livre Rouge” 2007 - Vinohrad
wagyu kobe style beef, royal oyster mushroom, ginger
Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 - Casa Lapostolle
potatoes, plum jam, poppy seeds
Grape juice Malverina - Vinselekt Vinselekt Michlovský