I wandered around for a little bit near the square, and found this Art Nouveau hotel with dinner prices that weren't unreasonable. Plus, there were people inside that looked like they were enjoying themselves, and it didn't look like an obvious tourist trap--well, not like the really, really obvious ones in the middle of Praha.
The place was the Kadavra Europa, and it was built in 1889 I think. Like many older buildings, it was a mix of yesteryear charm and strange modern appointments (Coca Cola fridges and things like that). After scanning through the menu, the first thing that popped into my mind is that this is very likely the kind of place Tony Bourdain would call a 'dinosaur'. It wasn't Czech cuisine like I had seen in working class pubs and restaurants, but the type of cuisine I would imagine had been served to Shirley Temple or the Shah of Iran (both of which were listed as having stayed at the hotel).
The food was kind of a literal, mind boggling mix of Czech and French. For instance, to eat you could have a 'Starter' or a 'Steak'. There was actually one pasta dish--lasagna--and the unintentional hilarity of that made me grin quite wide. Major Heading: Pasta! Dishes Listed: There is only One True Pasta, and it's name is Lasagna!
I ended up ordering a 'Chicken Steak with Camembert'. In many restaurants they call almost anything a steak, unlike in the States. They had steak of chicken, steak of salmon, ribeye steak of Argentina (they were very proud that it came from Argentina--this surprised me), steak of lamb, and what looked like steak of misc.
I guess I have been waaay to indoctrinated by modern cookbooks, television shows, and the Internet. When I read Chicken Steak with Camembert, I immediately thought it would be some playful, witty combination of chicken and Camembert--perhaps a Camembert sauce made to look like a loaf of cheese, or thin slices of Cam. over a breast of chicken, I don't know. But the point is I was reading waaay too much into it.
What I got was actually a nicely seasoned and competently cooked chicken breast, sliced to form a pocket in which was inserted a fucking whole thing of Camembert. Now, don't think I'm complaining, it tasted quite good and I yummed it up, but when the waiter set the plate down I think I involuntarily laughed at him.
Yes, I ordered Chicken with Camembert. And I got Chicken with Camembert. No wistfulness, no play on words, no confusion, no sleight of hand--it was exactly what it said it was, rind and all.
And that, I think, was my perfect way to remember the Czech republic. The Czech people are awesome, and like any other big city there are the less reputable sort. However, I think that my experiences with real, honest Czech folks show that while they may not be the most whimsical culture on the planet, they are solid and without pretense. Can't wait to come back (but still Eff Joo Lufthansa!!!)
Cheese A Day by Jeremy Pickett is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at cheeseaday.blogspot.com.