Of course, when my wife and I travel, the primary purpose is to see and do interesting things, but there is always a significant secondary consideration – we like to eat. To us, eating traditional or locally popular dishes is a good way to experience the culture and history of whatever place we happen to be visiting. With three days in Prague, two in Bucharest, and one in Transylvania, we’d have plenty of opportunities to sample Czech and Romanian cuisine in its native habitat, and Prita and I had already picked out a few dishes we hoped to try.
With such a large number of restaurant visits on the agenda, posting a full review of every establishment we visited would be too time-consuming, so I’ve put together an all-in-one post providing an overview of our gastronomic experience. I’ve broken this up into three sections, traditional Czech cuisine in Prague, Italian food in Prague and Bucharest, and traditional Romanian food in Bran and Bucharest. If you’re looking for beer, you’ll have to wait a couple of weeks. I have another post in the works specifically about that subject.
Traditional Czech Food in Prague
Restaurant: Archibald City Hotel, New Town, about 5 minutes south of Wenceslas Square by foot
I normally shy away from hotel restaurants, but after getting to our hotel in Prague at dusk after flying in from Dallas, neither my wife nor I had any desire to go very far for dinner, so we decided to take a chance on the Archibald’s restaurant. The special on tap, a three-course meal for CZK 199 (about $8) per person, certainly influenced the decision. In addition to the salad bar, I ordered grilled chicken with mixed vegetables, and an apple streudel with cinnamon cream sauce for dessert.
I provided a brief review of the meal in my hotel review about the Archibald (link above), but to recap, this actually wasn’t half bad, the potatoes and grilled chicken cooked in olive oil being particularly good. And who doesn’t like a good streudel? It looked and tasted homemade, though I’m not sure where the hotel sources their desserts from. Breakfast is buffet style, and a pretty good one, but I was most excited about seeing this bad boy…
As a longtime customer of the world famous Czech Stop in West, Texas, I was thrilled to see that not only are kolaches real, but that I have in fact been getting the real deal all these years. Unfortunately, the three course dinner for CZK 199 appears to have been discontinued, replaced by a rather uninspired Continental menu. Too bad, because it was actually a pretty good deal.
Restaurant: Restaurace U sv. Jana Nepomuckého, Prague
Location: Just outside the main gate of Prague Castle, on
It was delicious. The venison was tender, the brown gravy rich and hearty, and the bread dumplings a fine tool for sopping up the gravy. It’s always a good thing when the dish you were seeking in a particular place actually turns out to be good. In lieu of desert, I chose another item that seems to be a Prague specialty in the fall, fresh hot chocolate. Yes, it was as delicious as it looked, and a bit cheaper (by about CZK 15) than what you’ll find at Prague Castle.
This was a good start to our meal journey. Incidentally, if you’re not in the mood for Czech food, there are numerous other items on the menu, especially Italian specialties and pastas. Price: approximately CZK 700 ($28) for two, including beer, tax, and tip.
Restaurant: Restaurace u Českých pánů, Prague
Location: on the border of Old Town and New Town (technically in New Town), about 3 blocks from the northwest end of Wenceslas Square
This was another cellar restaurant in a medieval building, this one dating back to roughly 1360. Funny how that makes the building part of “New Town” in Prague. Anyway, the atmosphere is very similar to our our lunch stop, with a medieval theme throughout; there are even old Bohemian coats-of-arms on the walls.
I went half and half with this meal, going with a moder dish, fried cheese, for an appetizer, and a traditional Czech dish, roast rabbit leg in a red cream sauce, over a bed of potato dumplings (according to the menu, the rabbit is no longer offered).
I didn’t enjoy this dish quite as much as my lunch. The rabbit was a little dry, but that wasn’t the main issue; it was otherwise nicely seasoned and had a nice crispy skin. The issue was the sauce, which was overpowered with paprika, but otherwise lacking spice or flavor. The potato dumplings were good; if you like German food, this is basically a spaetzle. If you aren’t off-put by the lumps, they’re actually quite nice and tender, and make for a good dipping partner for sauce. Now if only the sauce were better…
Desert was once again an apple streudel, this time drizzled with chocolate and served with a scoop of ice cream.
The streudel was homemade, and once again quite delicious, though the scoop of ice cream also made this insanely heavy. Of course, since you’re basically eating apple pie a la mode, you keep going back for more, even though you know better. It’s a good thing it was a decent walk back to our hotel, because I needed one after polishing this off.
If you’re interested in trying one of these cellar restaurants, this place, along with others in the general vicinity, tend to be much, much quieter, and my guess is a bit cheaper, than what you’d find on Wenceslas Square itself. Price: approximately CZK 700 ($28) for two, including beer, tax, and tip.
Italian Food in Prague and Bucharest
Restaurant: Pizzeria Pulcinela, Prague
Location: Old Town, a couple of blocks south of the Astronomical Clock, about halfway to the entrance to Wenceslas Square.
Italian food and Italian restaurants in general were in ample supply in the Prague city center, and since it seemed to be so popular, we decided to give it a try. We weren’t looking for any place in particular, but just happened upon it while walking around. This pizzeria definitely had the “Italian dive” look down, right down to the red checkered tablecloths.
Neither of us were terribly hungry, so we just ordered a margherita pizza.
It was a decent pizza, with good quality mozzarella and a crunchy thin crust. And kudos for cooking it in a wood pellet pizza oven. The cheese was unevenly dipersed, though, resulting in one bite with plenty of cheese, and the next with nothing. We were also provided fresh bread (not pictured), which was very good. Crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside, and especially delicious with a little olive oil/vinegar mix. Overall, not bad at all. Price: approximately CZK 250 ($10) for a pizza and two sodas, including tax and tip.
Restaurant: Trattoria la Famiglia, Bucharest
Location: 2-3 blocks north of the Romanian Athenaeum.
I was quite surprised to see how many Italian restaurants there were in Bucharest. Perhaps my mind was exaggerating things, but it seemed as though better than 3/4 of all the restaurants I passed were Italian. I asked our guide on our way to Bran why this was, and he replied that it was probably because of large number of Italian merchants and workers that settled around Bucharest, along with the close ties historically between Italy and Romania. In any event, both my wife and I love Italian food, so it wasn’t a problem for us.
Anyway, my lunch at Trattoria la Famiglia consisted of spaghetti carbonara, along with some toasted focaccia bread.
The carbonara was delicious, with a hearty, creamy sauce and strips of fresh prosciutto. It’s hard to tell from this photo, but this was also a right-sized portion of pasta, which was much appreciated as I then didn’t have to do my beached whale impression afterwards. I’m not used to seeing focaccia as the basket bread, but this was good, with a nice crunch and a light seasoning that give it just a little zing. Very good meal overall. Price: 115 lei (~$29) for two, including tax and tip.
Restaurant: Osteria Zucca, Bucharest
Location: In Sector 2, about a 10-15 minute walk east of the Romanian Athenaeum
Website (NOT in English): http://www.osteriazucca.ro/
For dinner on our first night in Bucharest, we headed the opposite direction down Strada C.A. Rosetti. We were in search of another place that we’d found online, but couldn’t find it, and ended up here instead. My choice for the night would be mixed bruschetta (tomato, olive tapenade, and tuna pate), one of the nightly specials, prosciutto tortellini, and tiramisu for dessert.
Everything here was REALLY good. The prosciutto was toasted perfectly, with the traditional tomato and basil variety probably the best of the bunch, though I also liked the tuna pate a lot more than I thought I would. The tortellini was al dente, just the way I like it, the cream sauce was generous with the panna di cucina but also seasoned nicely, and the prosciutto was deliciously fresh. My only complaint was that the dish as a whole was salty, a side effect of a dish with prosciutto and a good helping of cheese. Of course, it should have been, considering the pig’s leg was curing right behind us.
I’m not really a tiramisu person, though I liked this one. On the other hand, I don’t know that it’s terribly successful as an actual tiramisu. It was quite heavy, and seemed to identify more as a pudding. Nevertheless, this was a great dinner, and certainly reinforces Bucharest’s reputation as a hub for good Italian food. Price: 125 lei (~$31) for two, including beer, tax, and tip.
Traditional Romanian Food
Restaurant: Hanul Bran
Location: on the main road into Bran, approximately 1/4 mile from the entrance to Bran Castle
After touring Bran Castle, our tour guide gave us the option of either having lunch in Bran or in Braşov. Prita and I were both hungry, so we opted to eat here. Unsurprisingly, there are a large number of hotels and restaurants in Bran with the castle drawing hordes of tourists, so I was curious if this place would actually be any good. Pork schnitzel was on the menu, so I went with that. The schnitzel was served with a small side of potato wedges.
This was a simple dish, which is usually a good sign. And indeed, it was tasty. I’m a frequent eater of Schnitzel thanks to an excellent German restaurant located right here in Dallas. This one certainly met my standards. You can see the golden brown crust, which was crunchy yet light, and the pork cutlet inside was tender and juicy. Folks here know how to do their potato wedges, too; these were nice crisped outside, moist and tender inside. I find it interesting that traditional food in this area strongly resembles German food, but given that nearby Braşov was originally a German settlement, it isn’t terribly surprising. Anyway, if you’re here to tour the castle, put Hanul Bran on your list for a meal before or after. Price: surprisingly cheap, at roughly 25 lei (~$6) for the schnitzel and a beer.
Restaurant: Repertorium Gourmet Restaurant
Location: In the Hotel Scala, a short walk east of the Romanian Athenaeum
We stayed at the Hotel Scala during our visit to Bucharest, and I found myself violating my “no hotel restaurants” rule for the second time on this trip. In this case, we returned to the hotel around 6:30 in the evening after our all-day road trip to Transylvania, so we didn’t feel like venturing out. Plus, it was our wedding anniversary, and a fancy meal seemed in order. This turned out to be the most interesting meal of all, however. The reason: they didn’t have English menus. Now, Romanian is Latin-based, so if you know Spanish, French, or Italian (we both speak some Spanish), you can figure out a few words, but much of it remains a mystery. So, we were at the mercy of our waitress, who didn’t speak much English, either. The conversation went something like this:
Waitress: you try this.
Me: what is it?
Waitress: Romanian food. You try, it is very good!
Ummm, ok. We’ll try it. And hope that we don’t end up eating Rocky Mountain oysters or something. The first course was a pretty standard charcuterie plate. It was alright, nothing terribly exciting. Though the dollop of dijon mustard was quite tasty, and the horseradish was strong, just the way I like it.
Then came the mystery main course. The chef came out personally to describe it; much to my pleasant surprise, it was a ginormous platter of barbecued meat – spare ribs and mixed sausage – and spicy mushrooms on a bed of roasted potatoes.
A couple of the sausages were overcooked and overcharred, but the meat platter was otherwise pretty tasty, the spare ribs being especially good. The potatoes were outstanding; tender and seasoned nicely with some rosemary. This will sound shocking, but I found the mushrooms a little too spicy. While I love spicy food, the heat seeker level here doesn’t work well with mushrooms. As you can see, though, this was WAY too much food, even for two people. We had food left over, and the meat sweats to boot. But then, our waitress brought even MORE food – dessert.
We were each brought a papanasi, a traditional Romanian desert. It’s a donut, plus the hole, in a fruit compote with cream cheese icing. Yes, it’s as delicious as it looks. No, we didn’t need to eat this after eating all that meat, but we ate it anyway. Hey, it was our wedding anniversary. Price: 250 lei (~$62) for two. Considering this is supposed to be one of the most expensive restaurants in Bucharest, that’s not bad at all. NOTE: it appears Repertorium has rebranded as an upscale Italian restaurant, so you won’t be able to follow in our footsteps and order this meal.
My favorite meal of the bunch? Probably the food overload at Repertorium. Not because it was the best food of the trip (the goulash wins), but because of the adventure involved.
In the next installment of this trip report, we hit the skies again to fly to Paris on Czech Airlines, my first flight on that airline.
This post is part of my trip report series about our trip to the Czech Republic and Romania in October. Click here for the introductory post and trip report index.