Monday, January 21, 2008

Restaurant Review: U Emy Destinnové

When it comes to décor, U Emy Destinnové is definitely an original.

There are more than a few distinctly Communist-era elements here -- vestiges, presumably, of the longstanding previous tenant, JB Club. Faded red tablecloths, pleather-padded bathroom doors, hideous grey sofas, and waiters with ties clipped to their dress shirts were once staples of the Czechoslovak restaurant scene. These days, although they are a good deal more rare, such pre-revolutionary relics are no less aesthetically displeasing.

But then there are the quirkier, cozier details that lend U Emy Destinnové its undeniable charm: an upright piano covered in knickknacks and dried flower arrangements, a working fireplace, a chiming grandfather clock, and lots of amateurish paintings on the walls. It feels kind of like your babička's country house, but a little more romantic, perhaps.

Somewhat surprisingly, the food is very un-babička. With U.S. native Steven Trumpfheller helming the kitchen (pictured below right), the menu takes on a tone that's international with an American flavor. The results are a little uneven, but on occasion, the food is wonderful.

The spring rolls (110 CZK), for one, may be the best in Prague. Their fried rice paper wrapper managed to be both crispy and doughy at the same time, while the julienned fresh vegetables and shrimp that make up the stuffing helped keep the dish on the lighter side. A drizzle of peanut sauce and a finger bowl of homemade sweet-and-sour dip rounded off this winning appetizer.

I was equally impressed by the caserecce pasta (145 CZK), which is served with forest mushrooms, caramelized onions, and goat cheese. It's an unusual flavor combination, but the onions' sweetness and the earthy quality of the porcini mushrooms cut through the pungent aroma of the cheese very nicely. It doesn't look nearly as good as it tastes -- a little more could be done for the presentation -- but I found myself craving this dish the following day.

With an American running U Emy Destinnové's kitchen, I was hoping for great things from the Caesar salad (75 CZK small, 110 CZK large). Unfortunately, it only got halfway there. The dressing seemed to be about right, but there was so little of it that I couldn't really tell. The lettuce used was real Romaine, but it had been chopped up too finely, which had the effect of cheapening the salad.

Two of the entrées I sampled weren't quite up to par, either: the grilled chicken with sweet and spicy apricot glaze and oven-roasted walnuts (175 CZK) tasted as if it had been slathered in marmalade, and the meat had been undercooked, rendering it inedible. A black sesame-crusted tuna steak with wasabi pesto and ginger soy vinaigrette (330 CZK), on the other hand, was overcooked and chewy, and the pesto hardly tasted of wasabi at all.

Even with its problems, I'd still recommend U Emy Destinnové. On both of my visits, the service was close to perfect, and the atmosphere is something to remember. It's a nice place to take a date, or to bring friends who are visiting Prague -- for them, the padded doors and wall-to-wall carpets will be a novelty.

Hopefully, the undercooked chicken will be, too.

U Emy Destinnové
Kateřinská 7
Prague 2 - New Town
Tel: +420 224 918 425



R. said...

Hands down the best cheesecake I've had in ages and I loved the fireplace.

rjwill said...

congrats steve! hope all is well in prauge. Bob