Prague, Czech Republic
The Czech Republic for me has always been a place of mystery. I remember the first time we were to play there, we were quite a ways away from Prague’s center. That was back on the Unholy Alliance (Slayer, Trivium, Mastodon, Amon Amarth) tour. Some of us decided to grab a cab and go check out the city for the day – our tour management at the time were a headache to say the least (constantly slightly sabotaging our good times with early bus calls to prevent us hanging out among many, many other things) and in their typical fashion, made getting there a dramatic event. I’ll skip the specifics – but me and Paolo were able to break off from them and stumble into a random restaurant and be completely blown away. I remember having a Goulash in a giant bread-bowl and a whopping Medieval hunk of Pork Knuckle (that is the knee). It was insanely delicious – one of those random lucky meals you don’t forget.
Flash forward to the headlining gig in Prague, on the way up to supporting In Flames in Europe – where we were to have a full day off on the outskirts of the city. I contacted the local Roadrunner rep if they’d be keen on a hang and perhaps showing us where to go – unfortunately, schedules didn’t line up – but they got me in touch with Jana at a local CZ music magazine. Jana agreed to come out the morning of our day off and show us all around Prague – eating and seeing as much as possible in that one day.
Thank the metal gods for Jana, for the day we were about to have goes down in history as one of my favorite days off in recent years on tour.
Our first stop was at Cestr – a sort of higher end restaurant in Prague that does I guess what could be called as “New Czech”? If you’re from the States, or familiar with the New American genre… it’s that… but Czech. Cestr utilizes the typical Czech colors, but alongside quite a modern presentation. There were cow-graphs on the walls and on the menus that list what every part of the cow is when talking the edibles; impeccably well-designed menus and logos and fonts and presentations of all things aesthetic were ever-present; even the charcuterie room was visible slightly further down from the partially open kitchen area. Massive tanks of beer in their golden-beauty were also available to the eye.
The Czech Republic is hailed by many a beer-nerd as a a holy land. There is something about the way the Czechs do beer that makes it constantly rank as “one of the best beers on Earth.” Creme Urquell. My elixir! This stuff goes down like water – tastes crisp, clean, fresh, not too hoppy, not too anything really. It’s very tricky to describe a Czech beer – but I can maybe say: picture you’re favorite Pilsner, then make it taste about ten times better. That’s the best I can do. That beer that Sam Gamgee in Lord Of The Rings wanted to try in that one pub that they didn’t end up going to? This probably was it – only with a Hobbit-name. That good.
The amouse that greeted us was cottage cheese on house made bread, greens on top. Simple. Fresh. That European rye-tasting soft, brown bread with that light cheese – perfect compliment. There was a simple Czech-style stewed cabbage, dumplings made from grated raw-potatoes, and creamy mashed potatoes as sides. Each one presented in a humble, rustic grandma-style serving dish or pot – each one presented so minimally, but with flavors bold and delicious. Cabbage is a big thing in this country – and here, it was done incredibly; dumplings – another massive thing here… insane! The smoothest, creamiest mashed potatoes I’ve had in Europe.
My main was the Knuckle (low-temperature roasted under vacuum with garlic and marjoram) and Paolo’s was some cut of steak. The knuckle was presented in a sleek, gorgeous little sauce pan – the meat came with a spoon – and yes, it was soft enough to be completely enjoyed with only a spoon. The food was done perfectly.
If you’re eating with me, you know a desert must happen post gorge: Stuffed dough buns. Buns filled with poppy seeds with a rum-flavored mousse. Positively delicious. Imagine a little doughnut hole in a creamy, airy sauce that has a nice obvious taste of rum. I washed it down with a turek (Turkish coffee apparently is something enjoyed quite a bit here in Prague) and we were on our way.