Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Of Oysters, Lobster Tail & Cocktails

The oysters at Zdenek's

I love oysters (see my post about my 50th birthday trip to Whitstable, the oyster capital of England). Daisy loves oysters, too.

So it was not without a small degree of excitement that I read Brewsta's review of Zdenek's Oyster Bar, a new restaurant in Prague. He waxed lyrical about the freshness of the oysters and raved about the lobster roll, which I was also eager to try.

Daisy and I had a free evening recently. Guess where we headed?

I can confirm that the oysters are fresh, cold and delicious (albeit expensive at around $13.50 for three Tsarskaya oysters), and presented very attractively. Although for me the choice of condiments is superfluous, as I like to eat my oysters naked (the oysters, not me.)

Zdenek's lobster roll

The lobster roll ($25), too, was heavenly (including that giant slab of claw meat right on top), though I expected the entire sandwich to be slightly larger than it was based on the photos I'd seen. It's served on a toasted buttered bun and with a choice of two sauces ("red island," with brandy, ketchup and egg, and a dill sauce), as well as some spicy Andalusian gazpacho and delicate rosemary potatoes.

Daisy thought her lobster meat left a bit to be desired in the texture department, and she didn't finish her sandwich. Indeed, Brewsta tweeted me that he'd had the lobster roll again. "Tail meat was fine, but claw was overcooked and dried out, tasted odd. Subtract a star." Daisy was right.

A half-liter of very drinkable Pinot Grigio was 300 CZK. It seemed to disappear too fast. Hard to believe that little carafe held a half-liter. We ordered another.

An impressive tray of homemade breads with olive oil was automatically brought to our table. Only when we got the bill did we notice that we'd been charged 65 CZK for the bread. I would say either include the bread in the price of the pricey seafood, or ask customers if they'd like the bread platter.

I really liked the vibe of Zdenek's Oyster Bar. And I liked the fact that Zdenek himself was there, presiding over the evening and making sure the customers were satisfied.

The tall bar tables and stools on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant are pleasant on a summer's evening, but not the most comfortable place to sit for an extended period.

I'm definitely going back. Zdenek's is a worth the splurge. Just try not to think too much about the final bill.

From Zdenek's, we walked over to the Hemingway Bar. I'd been wanting to visit the Hemingway Bar ever since I'd heard about its authentic absinthe, served using the classic ice water drip and sugar cube, not the stupid Prague method of setting a shot glass of absinthe on fire and stirring in a melted sugar cube. I've heard of tourists setting themselves on fire this way. I'm quite sure this method is a Prague affectation and that absinthe was never drunk this way in its heyday.

The Hemingway Bar's very cool promotional video also had me eager to stop by for an after-work drink:

I'm also a big fan of Ernest Hemingway.

Sadly, once we arrived, we discovered that the bar was closed for a private party. A peek inside revealed a very cool, cozy dark wood bar, perfectly lit (that is, dimly). We'll be back.

Instead, we walked over to Bugsy's, my favorite cocktail bar in Prague but one which I feel doesn't get its due. Other cocktails bars, such as Tretter's, seem to have more buzz, but Tretter's is a meat market, and I don't believe the bartenders are the artists that they are at Bugsy's.

Gentlemen, choose your poison.

One of my favorite evening occupations is to walk into Bugsy's in the early evening, sit at the bar, order a cocktail, and just watch the bartenders at work. They are gifted.

Daisy and I sat at the bar. Erik was our bartender. I liked Erik very much.

I ordered a Vesper Martini, the original drink of James Bond in the 1953 Ian Fleming novel, "Casino Royale." It's made from a mixture of vodka, gin and Kina Lillet, a French aperitif that's difficult, if not impossible, to find in Prague. I'd always wanted to try one. It was delicious. Daisy ordered a Negroni, a sort of bitter Martini, one of our favorite cocktails when we're at home, Campari being the operative ingredient.

The Scotland Breeze

For my second round, I ordered something from the exhaustive bound menu simply because the ingredients intrigued me. It was called a Scotland Breeze, and it contained whiskey, vanilla syrup, freshly ground ginger and grapefruit juice. Let me just say that I have found my new favorite cocktail. A little smokey. A little sweet. A little sour. And a lot delicious. Daisy ordered one, too. I had another, as well.

I've been trying to find the recipe so I could make the Scotland Breeze at home, but I can't find it anywhere. I'm guessing it's a unique Bugsy's creation.

The Maple Old-Fashioned

For my last round, I ordered a Maple Old-Fashioned (not cheap at 195 CZK), made with maple syrup instead of caster sugar, as well as bourbon, bitters and orange zest. Fantastic. Even the ice in the Old-Fashioned was hewn into a rough ball from a solid brick of ice as I watched. I loved that. Here's a video of a bartender making one. Believe me, the bartender at Bugsy's has it all over this guy:

Bugsy's is such a class act that the bartender even had nice things to say about the Hemingway Bar.

I can't wait to go back to both.

Even in Prague, in the middle of tourist season, it was possible to find a deserted Old Town sidestreet as we walked to the Hemingway Bar.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

We Have A Winner!

The complete puzzle answers as supplied by Merl Reagle.

I was honored to have famous crossword guru Merl Reagle create a puzzle for me in honor of my 50th birthday. The clues are based on my life and my two blogs.

I offered a prize of $25 to any blog reader who could solve the puzzle. And I'm please to announce that we have a winner!

Robin Wisdom (aka Wissy), a regular reader and commentator on my blogs, sent in the winning entry. While he didn't fill in every answer, he filled in the most clues of any contributor. And frankly, the clues he didn't get could only really be solved by those who know me really, really well.

Wissy's winning entry.

Here's what Wissy had to say:

"Attached is the uncompleted crossword as discussed. I'm really annoyed with myself for not completing it but really enjoyed doing it and going through your old posts. Hope you and your family are all well."

Being the upstanding guy that he is, Wissy wanted me to donate the $25 prize to my favorite charity, so I'm sending 500 Czech crowns to the Prague Animal Welfare Society.

All the best to you, Wissy, and to all those who had a good time attempting to solve the puzzle.

And if you've never heard the Captain Bravo joke (19 Down), here's an audio clip of my father-in-law, Paul Sindelar, telling us the joke during a recent trip to Prague. I've heard it many times now -- the first time during a trip to Croatia a few years ago -- and I never get tired of it, especially in his telling. Enjoy.

Captain Bravo Joke (mp3)