Food TV airs a fantastic show called Restaurant Makeover. Each week, they
temporarily close a stagnant Canadian restaurant to overhaul their menu,
kitchen and décor. The resulting makeover regenerates enthusiasm in
the restaurant: both the owner and the patrons are often thrilled.
I’d love to see them get a hold of Bistro Praha.
Bistro Praha has long been a downtown fixture. Consistently receiving good
reviews from its established clientele, this restaurant hasn’t seen
significant changes since its inception over 30 years ago.
With great anticipation, I took a date there last Tuesday evening. This was a
first date—the sort that makes even the most confident woman tremble.
Handsome, charming and smart, I couldn’t wait to impress him with this
We made reservations for 8 pm and walked past the patio of tables into the
warm interior of the restaurant right on time.
The space was surprisingly stark, with beige stucco walls and painted green
ceiling tiles. A few pieces of art adorned the walls and the tired-looking
infamous scenic mural still graced the rear wall. The weighty wooden tables
and accompanying bistro chairs were nice, but table linens would have added
an upscale finish.
The host seated us near the rear of the restaurant and gave us a pair of
tattered menus. A warning on the front page admonished us against rocking on
our chairs: “take care of our furniture,” it warned. I smiled at
the thought that must have gone into placing this cautionary notice. How many
chairs had they lost to undulating bottoms over the years?
We perused the modest wine carte, but since we were unable to settle on a
choice, we boldly decided to try some of the numerous European ales and
lagers instead. I ordered a New Castle Brown Ale (England, 550ml $7.75) and
my date settled on the Nastro Azzurro (Italy, 330ml $6.25).
Waiting for our drinks, I sat back and scanned the other patrons. A table of
four in their 40s, two tables of similarly aged couples, and a single woman
of indeterminate age sat alone at a table against the wall. I didn’t
get the “late-night hot spot” vibe I was expecting, but the night
was not yet terribly late.
Our aloof server unceremoniously placed our beers on the table before asking
if we’d decided our order. No recommendations and no small talk; this
individual preferred a very hands-off approach to serving. The sparse
appetizer menu featured a number of canapés and three alternatives. We
decided to share two of the three alternates: escargot with garlic chili
butter ($6.75) and pickled rolled herring ($5.75).
Both items appeared without delay; the escargot was presented with a soft
roll of bread and the herring arrived on a bed of lettuce. Each of the three
fish fillets were wrapped around a pickle to form rollmops, which is a German
presentation. The rollmops were then topped with marinated onions and placed
adjacent to a generous mound of sour cream. The herring was tender and the
pickles were crisp. Overall, this was a pleasant dish.
The escargots were tiny, but succulent and the bite of chili was an agreeable
surprise. The garlic was pungent and abundant in this fine hors
Having been directed by friends to order the steak à la tartare
(half-order $17.75), my date had no difficulty in deciding on his
entrée. First toying with the roasted goose, then the rainbow trout, I
struggled to finally settle on the schnitzel Parisienne (half-order $11.25).
Schnitzel is one of my favourite dishes; having travelled across Austria on
the all-schnitzel diet, I was excited to revisit my memories.
Though the service could not be described as warm, it was certainly prompt.
We quickly received a bowl of Romaine lettuce topped with Italian dressing
and chunks of mozzarella cheese. Sadly, this was a rather uninspired salad
that neither of us finished.
We ordered two more beers while waiting for our entrées to arrive.
This time, I chose the Czechvar (the original Budweiser from Czech Republic,
500ml $7.75) and my date opted for the Hoegaarden Wheat Ale (Belgium, 330ml
$6.25). We shared the Czech lager and drank it first, enjoying its medium
body and pleasant finish. Then we split the Belgian witbier, which was a
sweet-tasting beer that offered a surprisingly bitter finish.
Our server brought out our entrées and we gently pushed our beer
glasses aside to make room for the impressive dishes. The steak tartare was
wonderfully presented on a platter of rye crisps with chunks of lemon, tomato
and cucumber. The filet américain was tender, beautifully spiced and
delicious atop the thinly sliced rye bread.
My weiner schnitzel was breaded with an eggy Parisienne batter and plated
alongside a small scoop of potato salad and one slice of cucumber. I asked
for the requisite cranberries, lingonberries or whatever they might have in
the kitchen, but unfortunately they had none to offer. Disappointed, the veal
cutlet became less appealing to me, and I only managed to eat about
Undaunted, we decided to top off our meal with two glasses of Taylor port
($8.50 each) and a Crepe “Henry Christian.” Steamed kiwi and
orange liqueur filled the crepe, which was then topped with fresh whipped
cream. This combination tasted slightly bitter, but the smooth Portuguese
port rounded some of the edges.
Bistro Praha wasn’t entirely a disappointment. The food, although
somewhat prosaic, was actually quite good. Still, the philosophy of change
would have this bistro revisit their menu, revamp their décor and
reconsider their hands-off service. After all, every good restaurant needs
the occasional innovation. V
Daily 11:30 am – 2:00 am
10168 – 100A Street