Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Bistro Praha Edmonton - Laid back, friendly and iconic

Rating: 8.0/10

I've lived in Edmonton for years and finally got around to trying Bistro Praha last month when they reopened in their new location downtown... mainly because the last time I wanted to try them, the restaurant was unfortunately in flames. So finally, in the first 2 weeks of their re-opening, I get to find out what makes Bistro Praha so beloved to many Edmontonians and why its an iconic restaurant fixture in this city.

Photo courtesy of Candace Elliott, edmontonjournal.com

After stepping in out of the cold, and walking through a heavy fabric curtain, you step into a strangely bohemian world with the an odd assortment of chairs and mismatched tables (salvaged, lovingly restored and moved into the new digs), welcoming staff and a huge mural of the Alps on the far wall (an exact replica kindly donated by patrons as the old mural was destroyed in the fire).  Tables are numbered so returning customers can reserve their favourite table easily.  Service is outstanding with content staff more than happy to share little details about the place during brief lulls... brief because this was a busy place to be!

the DRINKS
A surprisingly large range of wine, beer and soft drinks you're more likely to see in europe greet you on their drink menu.  Then again, maybe not too surprising as there's always a group of theatre and art patrons heading over for a bite before or after a show at the Citadel or Winspear.  Having planned to have some schnitzel, my fellow foodie ordered a beer and I chose a girly Fruli... a very light wheat beer with one third of it being brewed along with strawberry juice.. nice and crisp with minimal bitters.

the FOOD
Steak tartare caught my eye as its ubiquitous in europe, but rarely seen in restaurants in Canada.  Raw hand scraped filet mignon is mixed with diced onions, lemon juice and seasonings (peppers, capers, etc depending on what the chef felt like.  Yup, its raw, so not for the faint of heart, but when prepared correctly and seasoned well, it makes for a wonderfully tender pate served on rye bread.  Bistro Praha's version isn't bad, the meat is tender and well seasoned and served with fried rye bread. Yes, you can fry bread!  I would suggest they use sweet onions instead of the run of the mill regular spanish onions in their steak tartare as the taste of the raw onions quickly overwhelm the more subtle notes.


Most of my friends have raved about their schnitzel so we were a little surprised when it came out, the meat was dry, though the breaded crust was light and crunchy.  Taking a hint from our waiter, it did make a really tasty sandwich the next day.  After smelling the scent of cooking sausages, we ordered a side of them - lean with a nice crisp casing "pop", they were almost on the dry side as the sausage was cut in half lengthwise before cooking and it wasn't a fat laden sausage to begin with.  The lamb however, was wow.  Initially I raised my eyebrows as it was cooked well done, and upon closer inspection, it was because the chops were deep fried!  It was the most tender and well seasoned fried lamb ever.... nomnomnom!  The homemade potato salad had a nice acidity and pickley tang, helping cut through the heaviness of the deep fried menu items.  The green salad, as well as the tomato and onion salad were dressed in a light vinaigrette were passable as sides though not noteworthy.  Again, if the onion used was of the sweet variety instead of a spanish yellow, the onion wouldn't overpower everything else on the plate.
Sadly, we had no more room for dessert, though we had plenty of leftovers to pack for lunch.


the VERDICT
Quibbles - some of the seating is so cozy, you'll be rubbing elbows or shoulders with other patrons, needs work on their salads, so 8/10.  Despite its eclectic appearance with a weird pale green submarine like dome on its ceiling, the staff treat you like its home and love permeates the air in this tiny little bistro - or maybe its the smell of cooking sausages in the air, or feeling like you're jockeying for the best seat at home cuz you maybe rubbing elbows with other customers. The manager almost religiously asks for feedback from customers, going from table to table, and is the type that will sit down with customers to swig back a pint of beer and chat.  I'll be back to try their roast goose and chicken, and maybe next time I'll have room to try their dessert as some customers and the staff recommended their crepes.  Its laid back, cozy, and are open till the wee hours of the morning if you have a midnight snack craving.  I can see why Bistro Praha is so beloved by its customers, and I'm glad its settled in nicely in its new location.  I'm remembering my table number for next time, and you should go see for yourself.

Bistro Praha
Address 10117 101 St NW Edmonton, AB
Phone (780) 424-4218
Hours lunch, dinner and late night until 1-3am depending on night

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