Monday, June 8, 2009

Restaurant Review: Kri-Kri

This review originally appeared in Czech translation in the 23/05/09 edition of Lidové Noviny.

I'm sitting in Kri-Kri, a small Greek restaurant in Vinohrady, and my companion and I are very hungry. We've been waiting what feels like forever for our appetizers – dishes that are cold and should already be pre-made, so we can't imagine what the hold-up is. Finally, the server approaches us with three plates. Ah, the relief!

But no. We hadn't ordered the grilled feta cheese or the spinach pie. We watch as the food is redirected to the people sitting next to us, who definitely arrived after we did, because we had almost sat at their table when we first came in.

Our food does come, eventually, after our neighbors have already cleaned their plates. One of our dishes, an eggplant spread (65 CZK), requires pita bread to be eaten, but we had forgotten to order it and weren't asked if we wanted any. We order it now, but it takes so long to arrive that by the time it does, we have finished off the eggplant entirely.

The other table also gets their entrées before we do. As we wait, a waitress comes by and asks if everything is all right. "Yes," my companion says, "but it would be better if we had our food."

"Come on now, we're in Greece!" the waitress laughs. "Everything's chill! You know, one Greek minute." She strolls off, shaking her blond curls as she goes.

Now, I don't know what "one Greek minute" is supposed to mean exactly, but I'm guessing it has something to do with the fact that things move more slowly down in the Mediterranean. So by my estimation, a minute in Greece would translate roughly to a half hour in the Czech Republic. In that case, it took four Greek minutes for us to eat two courses at Kri-Kri. I was not willing to wait around for dessert.

Despite its spaced-out service, Kri-Kri has quickly become a hopping little spot. It helps that the prices are reasonable and the food is mostly decent, and sometimes it is even very good. On a second visit, I fell in love with the shrimp saganaki (105 CZK), which were cooked in a light tomato sauce with feta cheese and green peppers and spiced with a little bit of the quintessential licorice-flavored Greek spirit, Ouzo. I was also pleasantly surprised by the dakos (60 CZK), a very dry, hard bread topped with tomatoes and goat cheese. The tzatziki (60 CZK) was great, too – packed with garlic and made with thick Greek yoghurt.

The server made a fairly big show of the kleftiko (210 CZK), a lamb dish cooked in baking paper with potatoes, vegetables, feta, and spices. In Greek, kleftiko means "stolen meat"; according to legend, the dish was invented by thieves who would steal a lamb from a grazing flock and slow-cook the meat in a hole in the ground, covered up with mud so the smoke wouldn't give them away. When he brought the kleftiko to the table, the waiter loosened the string holding the paper together so that my friend could "smell the aroma of the herbs inside" (this was accompanied by an instructive hand gesture). But for all the hubbub about its scent, the dish inside the paper was disappointingly bland and the lamb was as tough as beef jerky.

My stifado (185 CZK), on the other hand, had a dark, rich tomato sauce, tender morsels of beef, and some sweet pearl onions. It didn't come with a side, but I soaked up the thick stew with some toasted pita bread – which, on this visit, the waiter brought without my even asking for it. This was a really nice dish, especially considering its below-average price tag.

Another entrée, the chicken souvlaki (170 CZK) brought back some pleasant memories of New York City's late-night Greek diners. I often had the dish there as comfort food, and it was served similarly here – with pita bread, French fries, and tzatziki. The meat wasn't exactly bursting with flavor, but it was satisfying enough that I would order it again.

As a reminder of its central theme, Kri-Kri is decorated with various Greek knickknacks, including framed photographs of soaring cliffs and sandy beaches. The tables are made of dark wood, and the paper place mats, napkins, and menus are in bright primary colors, which is nice (though the menu printed in red is very hard to read in the restaurant's dim light, and I failed to understand why there was a pile of crunched-up used place mats displayed in one corner).

The overall mood in Kri-Kri is that of a Mediterranean hospoda, which I guess equates to the traditional Greek taverna; it's a little dark and a little dingy, but it still has a nice warmth. Oh, and the place has one more thing in common with the pub down the street – its toilets, at least when I saw them last, are less than spotless. That never bodes too well for the kitchen's hygiene standards, but sometimes you have to force yourself not to think unsavory thoughts.

It's worth mentioning that the house wine at Kri-Kri is cheap and surprisingly potable. You may end up ordering a lot of it, depending on how long you have to wait for your meal. Or maybe I was just unlucky – on my second visit, things seemed to go a lot more smoothly. Although when I checked my watch as we were leaving, I clocked the same time that I had a few nights before: two hours for two courses.

To me, that seems like a lot. But maybe I should start readjusting myself to run on Greek time. Apparently, the people down there are a lot more relaxed.

Korunní 48
Praha 2 – Vinohrady
Tel: 222 540 400

photographs: 1, 4, 5 Tomáš Krist for Lidové Noviny; all others


VoY said...

I hate to say my experiences last week were quite similar. Everything took very long, they left us sitting over empty beer glasses for what must have been good 20 minutes, while the waitress was chatting with some friends of her. My Kleftiko was good, but for the price (210 Kc) the portion was ridiculously small. At least the pita I ordered to go with tzatziki was good, although the tzatziki itself was on the bland side. Overall not bad, but they should do something about the service, really. One thing I must give to them is that their Pilsner was very good with some nice foam.

EB said...

I still like Olympos for Greek food in that area (I know it's Prague 3 rather than Prague 2, but still close). The mezze and the stews are ample and tasty, and they have that lovely big garden.

Anonymous said...

You can't beat the garden at Olympos, but the food at Kri-Kri is worlds better. All of my experiences at Kri-Kri have yielded amazing food, but admittedly the others I know who have dined there have had hit-or-miss experiences.

I also think one needs to be prepared for the "Greek experience", which is 2-hour dining. After all, the owner, the chef, etc are all Greek.

If that's not your thing, or you don't know it going in, I guess it's a bit annoying.

Anonymous said...

I've gotten a stomach ache more than once after eating at Olympos, even when I haven't had much to eat there. The experience has been shared by several friends on different occasions. We suspect that something is funky with their olive oil. :-(