Thursday, May 10, 2012

Hot Time In The Meat Locker

That's Sir Paul, with a few oysters.

Last year, for my 50th birthday, I took over Sansho, the hip, happening hotspot on Prague's restaurant scene. I invited as many friends as I could fit in there, and chef Paul Day prepared a special menu for everyone.

To say it was a memorable night is to belabor understatement. The food, the friends, the atmosphere. I couldn't have asked for a better birthday. And Paul, whom I now call my friend, made it all happen. Sansho was still relatively new on the Prague restaurant scene then (although it had already generated quite a buzz), and so many of my friends hadn't yet sampled Paul's food.

I loved the idea that I was helping them discover what all of Prague (and beyond) would soon be hearing about.

Paul and Sansho have gone on to even greater glory since then, of course. In May, the restaurant was awarded a Bib Gourmand, one step shy of a Michelin star. And Paul has opened his own butcher shop in Prague's New Town, The Real Meat Society, which I wrote about a few weeks ago.

So, I thought it'd be appropriate to celebrate my 51st birthday at Sansho. A bit more low-key, perhaps, with just a couple of friends, but still a chance to savor those amazing flavors. I hadn't been there in too long.

Paul had another idea.

Why not have a "crudo"night in the butcher shop? he suggested. (Crudo being Italian for "raw," btw.) Some beef tartare, oysters, and a few other surprises. The space was small, which meant only a few people and no kids (quite a departure from last year), but I didn't argue.

The main course. One of them, anyway.

So in late April, one night after the shop had closed, Paul and a few members of his staff set up a cozy table next to the graffiti-covered meat coolers in the back and Daisy and a few our friends -- Margot Buff, Karen LaMonte and Steve Polaner, to be precise -- got down to the business of some serious eating, drinking, and socializing.

We enjoyed salmon sashimi with citrus soy; pork belly and crispy oyster sandwiches; beef tatare with bottarga and yuzu sweet fried bread; Bloody Mary oyster shooters; raw oysters on the half-shell; raw oysters with ponzu; crispy oysters topped with kanafeh and wasabi cream; Angus short-rib penang and roti; and cheesecake with dulce de leche.

We brought our own wine, including some lovely Italian bottles from the Alto Adige region, courtesy of Steve and Karen.

An amazing night. I'm a lucky man.

Thanks so much to Paul and his partner, Míša, and to Daisy, Margot, Steve, and Karen.

Now, Paul, about next year ...

 Beef tatare with bottarga and Bloody Mary oyster shooters

Steve Polaner. Always cutting-edge.

Tools of the trade.

The salmon sashimi with citrus soy.

Oysters on the half-shell; raw oysters with ponzu; and crispy oysters topped with kanafeh and wasabi cream.

That's Steve Polaner (top), Karen LaMonte, Steve, Margot Buff, and Daisy.

A bit of Angus short rib

Night hawks.

Karen is wondering how she's going to tell Steve she's eaten the last oyster.

Things got a little crazy.

You really think we're doing this again next year?!

Photo by Steve Polaner

Photo by Steve Polaner

Photo by Steve Polaner

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Cat's Meow

I wanted to share this truly amazing present I received for my 51st birthday.

Daisy painted a birthday card for me that honored all the cats that have come through our lives in the past few years, mostly when we were living in the village of Černý Vůl, west of Prague. (We just moved back to Prague 6 in December.)

You can read about some of these cats and our efforts to rescue them in some of my previous blog posts, such as "Farewell, Little Friend," "Pussy Galore," "A Home Sweet Home For Chaz," "Looking For A Home For Pee-Wee," "The Funny Things Is, I'm Really A Dog Person," "Remembering Zhenya," and "The Cerny Vul Cat House."

The 12 little faces that Daisy painted perfectly capture both the physical characteristics of the cats, as well as their personalities.

Chicho's manic guilelessness. Zhenya's caramel sweetness. Oscar's trusting innocence. Moussa Koussa's fierce independence. Flakey's adventurousness (and one weepy eye).

The card was inspired by a handmade quilt made for Emma by Daisy's mother, Robin, out of handkerchiefs that belonged to her mother and Daisy's grandmother, Christine Crouch. The quilt hangs in our flat. You can see it below.

"Christine -- or Grandmother Crouch, as I always called her -- lived in a large house in Dutchess County, New York, and probably had a hundred or so cats over her lifetime," Daisy says. "I remember hearing stories of there being up to 25 cats living in and around the house at a time, although by the time I came around there were probably fewer.

"The quilt depicts some of her most notable cats. The names reflect her weakness for Russian literature (Nikolay), Soviet space achievements (Sputnik), American jazz singers (Blossom Dearie), and whimsy (Twinkletoes!)."

What amazes me is that the quilt is, well, quilt-sized. Daisy's card is only 17 centimeters by 22 centimeters.

I'm astounded by Daisy's talents. Definitely taking this one to the framers.

Thank you, honey.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Beautiful Weeds, Indeeds

In Divoká Šárka, Prague, May 1, 2012.