Monday, June 25, 2012

Lunch with a hot young chef



This morning we drove via a beautiful green forest from the UNESCO World Heritage town of Kutna Hora in the Czech Republic to another famous Czech town and UNESCO World Heritage Site: Cesky Krumlov, which is near the Austrian border. Our driver took us via mountain roads and the most beautiful countryside for two hours to the 15th century town of Tabor, about two hours away.

Here we stopped right at the top of the hill, in the town square, to have lunch at Tabor’s (and the entire region’s) best restaurant, Goldie, at the Hotel Nautilus right on the square itself.

AWARD-WINNING COOKING

Goldie is the very stylish restaurant of the four-star boutique Hotel Nautilus, and it’s claim to fame is that it’s run by a young, handsome and charming Czech chef who has won many culinary prizes for his prowess.



Martin Svatek is a member of the Czech Republic’s national culinary team, and he often acts as a culinary ambassador of goodwill for the country, bringing the gastronomic delights of the Czech Republic to other countries. As soon as we walked in, we knew were in for a unique culinary experience.

The restaurant itself is very nicely done up with simple furniture and modern artworks – just the right kind of atmosphere for the most elegant restaurant in this part of the country. Martin came out to welcome us and to talk us through his menu of Czech specialties and Western meals.

Of course we wanted to try the local specialties as we can have award-winning Western meals everywhere else in the world – and here at Goldie, the Czech specialties are rabbit, duck and trout, all locally sourced and personally prepared by Martin himself.

A FAMILY RECIPE

Mushroom soup based on a family recipe
A and I ordered the duck while S had the rabbit, which is supposed to be the restaurant’s piece de resistance. And to start, we tried Martin’s fresh mushroom soup.

Martin told us about his mushroom soup: “That’s my grandmother’s recipe. I’ve been doing it with a slightly different version here in this restaurant for the last eight years.”

This is a pate appetizer that was also very good.
The mushrooms had been picked fresh. Have I told you how Czechs just love wandering into forests and picking mushrooms for a fresh meal at lunch and dinner? It seems to be a well-loved past-time here. Even our guide talks about mushroom-picking everytime we drive through a forest – and one of these days she’s promised to stop in a forest and give us a basic lesson on mushroom picking.

Martin’s version of mushroom soup was very nice, but heavy on the cream. I usually like mine lighter, but this was indeed very good. I asked him what he put in it, and he said: “Chicken stock, cream, celery root and a whole lot of other vegetables.”

CABBAGE WITH EVERY MEAL

Martin brings in the main courses...

Then came the duck. What a wonderful duck that was. We all stopped talking for a moment to concentrate on the food as A and I were in raptures over the duck, while S said her rabbit was the best she’s ever had. As this is Czech cuisine, our rabbit came crispy on the outside and tender and tasty inside, and on a bed of spiced red cabbage and spiced potato dumplings that seem mandatory in every Czech main dish.

This was my duck...


This was S's rabbit...


After the main course, Martin took S and I to his spotless kitchen to see how everything is prepared. He had two large vats of soup stock boiling, and he said this would be boiling for about two days. One pot had duck bones and duck meat in it, while the other had beef and vegetables. I almost couldn't believe that these would go just to soup stock -- they certainly looked good enough to eat.



We also watched him prepare our desserts. I've been quite good about desserts on this trip, and usually I've only had a little bit after dinner. But as the food so far had been very good, I declared to everyone that I was having my own dessert. So I ordered Martin's favorite chocolate ball dessert which came with mascarpone cream and ice cream.

We all declared that this was the best meal so far in 2.5 days of eating in the Czech Republic, although I must point out that everyday we’ve had very good food so far for dinner as well.

BEST OF BREED 
ANYWHERE AND EVERYWHERE

I’ve deliberately stuck to Czech food for this trip although we’re trying everything from the fanciest places in the country to provincial taverns in the middle of nowhere. My only requirement is that they be “best of breed,” meaning the very best meal wherever we are. It doesn’t matter what kind of restaurants they are as long as we get to have very good food.



Most of the restaurants we've eaten in so far haven’t made it in detail in this blog, except for this; if I wrote about everything, you’ll be reading this blog forever – or maybe you’ll have to stop because it’ll be too long.

But last night, for instance, we had an excellent dinner in a really historical tavern named after a local rake who was crazy over wine, women and song. Pls look out for our accounts of our wonderful dinners in upcoming issues of Travelife Magazine. Scroll down to read more....



RIGHT COUNTRY, WRONG COMPANY

Anyway I was reminded today of my foodie friend J’s comments regarding my trip to the Czech Republic. He always has something to say about some aspect of my life, and just the other day, I’d sent him the following message: “How presumptuous you are about everything in my life.”

But we’re just teasing each other most of the time. It’s how we get through hours of waiting at airports and airport lounges, or waiting in cars stuck in traffic, or driving around Europe's highways.

 Before I’d reached the Czech Republic a couple of days ago, he’d wished me luck about the food. He’d said something like: “No great food there, except perhaps in XXX hotel.”

Well, after my third good meal in 2.5 days, I’m beginning to think he just wasn’t in the Czech Republic with the right company. The food is wonderful, although it takes some getting used to as it is admittedly on the heavy side. But I solve that problem by just having half of everything.

So we’ve been eating very well in the Czech Republic; and if J had been living a real Travelife, he’d certainly be eating well – or at least better. Good night from beautiful Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic.





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