Monday, February 4, 2008

Restaurant Review: Angel

Finally, something different.

Angel is far from perfect. But in a city flooded with copycat recipes and careful menus, this latest Old Town restaurant venture is a much-needed departure from the Prague norm.

There isn't a tuna tartare or a chocolate fondant in sight at Angel, and you won't find any caprese or crème brûlée, either. Instead, head chef Sofia Smith, well-known for her monthly culinary events at Oliva and Atelier, treats us to an intriguing medley of Southeast Asian and European flavors.

Much of the time, the fusion works. A subtly spicy Borneo-style seabass ceviche (275 CZK), pickled in
lime juice, chili and ginger, was accompanied by Japanese-inspired nori rolls filled with toasted coconut; the dense, crunchy spirals of rice were a good match for the slippery-smooth cold fish.

The spices in the five-spice duck confit wrapped in rice paper (210 CZK) were hard to discern, but a stuffing of fresh mint and coriander leaves made up for the duck's mildness, while a miniature salad of baby beet greens in plum sauce added a welcome sweetness to the dish. Also on the sweet side was the honey- and ginger-lacquered duck breast (395 CZK), but the entrée was well-tempered by an earthy celeriac and onion mash and a few tart pickled kumquats.

Some flavoring proved to be disappointingly out of balance. The seared tuna with tamarind and chili sauce (490 CZK) was rather bland, though the tuna was capably cooked (oddly, the waiter felt it necessary to warn me that Angel serve their tuna "very rare" -- i.e., cooked properly). The tuna's accompaniment, a gingered sweet potato purée sprinkled with crispy bits of confetti-like dried seaweed, outshone the main attraction. In the case of the pan-fried scallops in nyonya coconut laksa (525 CZK), the scallops' delicate flavor didn't have a fighting chance against the spicy, complex curry sauce.

But even when Smith's efforts fall short, Angel is a very pleasant place to visit. The restaurant is outfitted in clean beige and gray, with the sprawling, intricate branches of a gold chandelier providing a striking centerpiece. The level and quality of the lighting is well-judged, and the staff is courteous and helpful.

Some words of warning, however: the progression of meals can be quite slow (especially on busy nights, of which Angel is sure to see many in the months ahead), and there's not much available for vegetarians -- the only meat-free dish on the current menu is a single appetizer. If you know you're going to have a vegetarian in your party, call ahead and let them know; the kitchen will prepare a veg entrée in advance.
It's surprising that Angel hasn't thought to cater to vegetarians. After all, even Gordon Ramsay, a notorious carnivore, included a veggie risotto on his menu at Prague's maze. But Angel is an unusual restaurant with an unusual chef, with a few of the usual early kinks to work through. I'm excited to see what Angel does next. And that's more than I can say for almost everyplace else.

V Kolkovně 7
Prague 1 - Old Town
Tel: +420 773 222 422



Honya said...

Laura, I am confused after coming across this blog... are you are reviewer or a blogger as it seems to be a bit confusing. Good review/blog but just want to comment on one point you made. I quote "The seared tuna with tamarind and chili sauce (490 CZK) was rather bland, though the tuna was capably cooked (oddly, the waiter felt it necessary to warn me that Angel serve their tuna "very rare" -- i.e., cooked properly). Well, why is this odd? If you go to other restaurants (which I guess you do) here particulary Czech ones they tend to over cook the tuna because this is what the Czech customers want (btw, we are IN the Czech Republic). They would see rare Tuna (cooked properly as you say)undercooked. This is a great question to be asked rather than an odd one.

R. said...

It's odd because tuna should never be overcooked the way most Czech restaurants do it (unless it's old/freezer burnt and those bastards are still trying to serve it).

Anonymous said...

@honya (or Honza?)

Blogs don't necessarily have to all be like personal diaries anymore, and people (writers/bloggers/artists/reviewers/journalists...) are finding new ways to use the medium all the time.

Maybe less confusing if you think of some of them kind of like a regular column in a newspaper...?

Honya said...

Dear Anonymous, (BTW, its HONYA not Honza... no typo) My point is this... A blogger is about personal experience and that is what is should be. When a blogger starts moving into the area of reviewing and starts talking about flavours they can and cannot taste in complex dishes like it appears in Angel... well frankly that is "BS" I think you are either a blogger or a reviewer... you cant be both unless you really know what you are talking about and a trained chef and maybe you run a restaurant before. BTW, still waiting for Laura to answer the question I asked... maybe she doesnt know herself

Kristen said...

Honya, I would argue that you are confusing the medium with the message. A blog is simply an alternative medium of disseminating information. In fact, the generally accepted definition of a blog is “a website where entries are commonly displayed in reverse chronological order.” By that definition, labeling something a blog does not automatically confine its contents to “personal experience.” There are news blogs, political blogs (plenty of them), not all focused on personal experience. As Anonymous argues above, the uses for the medium are quite varied.

As it applies to restaurants, “reviewing” and “blogging” are not mutually exclusive. Whether a review is posted on a blog or printed in a newspaper, it is still a review.

Additionally, who are you to disparage Laura’s qualifications for writing said restaurant review? Your definition of a qualified restaurant reviewer is clearly flawed. Take the example of Frank Bruni, the restaurant reviewer at the New York Times and arguably one of the most influential food critics in the US. He is not a trained chef and has never run a restaurant. His background is strictly in journalism. Does that make him less qualified?

honya said...

kristen, thank you for your insightful comment. I believe in democracy and we all have a view and a right to express it hence "Blogs" are indeed a good medium. In terms of your "who are you" question. I did not disparage (nice English word, that) Lauras qualifications but just asked a simple question. I am not aware of a world famous blogger who is a world famous reviewer, I am sorry, I do not know who Frank Bruni is as I am not American. The "who" is a person who likes to eat out a lot at different places but could not recognize one ingredident missing out of 12 in a particular complex dish (example). you have to be really an expert to do that I guess and maybe Frank is that as well as a journalist. I am not and don't claim to be :-)

Jonny Axelsson said...

There are those who enjoy eating and those who enjoy cooking, and in my experience it is more important that the cook enjoys eating than that the eater knows cooking.

It is an often-asked question what qualifications a critic should have, be it a critic of food, film, book, architecture, or something else. For me one of the crucial qualifications is clarity of writing. I don't need to know that something is bad, but why and how it is bad, without the explanation slowing down the review. Qualifications often help, because the lack of them often lead to muddled statements, as the reviewer might resort to that to avoid getting his incompetence exposed in public. It is pretty embarrassing. Not knowing a topic may also lead to a ramble on important trivia, while leaving the important questions unanswered.

I don't detect this in these reviews, which help make this blog a good food blog with good restaurant reviews. I would sometimes emphasise different part of the experience, especially when it comes to service which is deeply cultural, not only by the nations involved, but also by the type of establishment. You wouldn't, or shouldn't, expect service to be the same across the world or in every type of place. The fundamentals are the same, nobody likes rude or inattentive service, but what constitutes rudeness or attentiveness varies widely.

I generally read review to check out new restaurants. While I prefer to scout out an unknown restaurant on my own, sometimes I bring others and I would want them to have a good experience. Knowing them and having good, clear reviews I can make a good guess if they will enjoy the experience as well.

The waiter is one of those who sets what to expect, for good or bad. I think it was entirely appropriate to indicate that the tuna could be not to expectations. This is an inland country with relatively poor transportation links, of course it is natural to make sure that the cooked fish is well and truly dead.

Anonymous said...

Angel is the best restaurant in far from perfect Prague.
Yes, it has its flaws but the food has been divine every time that I have visited and therefore I forgive them for having to wait a pretty long time before the dish arrives. The black sticky rice pudding is orgasmic, literally.

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Help, please. All recommend this program to effectively advertise on the Internet, this is the best program!

Tribal DDBeat said...

sofia. the chef. no longer works here. So take this review as being long redundant.