Monday, September 8, 2008


Allegro, in the Four Seasons Hotel in Prague

Italian cuisine in a luxurious four-star setting.


In all our research on Prague restaurants, the Four Seasons' Allegro kept coming up. Not as authentic Czech cuisine, just as one of the best restaurants in the city. So we figured we had one full night in Prague, we'd give it a shot.

Walking in, you get the impression of elegance immediately. It's quiet and dim without being dark. Windows give a lovely view of the river and, if you're in the right seat, the Charles Bridge. Otherwise, you might be "stuck" with a backdrop of wood paneling, floral arrangements, and simple colorful art.

Service was generally excellent. We were never presented with one course before another was finished, and all of our instructions about splitting dishes were followed to the letter. The only problem was that the portions were somewhat larger than we'd been expecting, but more on that later.

The first course, or zeroth course, perhaps, was an amuse-bouche of duck with bacon, marscapone cheese, and glazed fig. We enjoyed it: the duck didn't overpower the other flavors, melding well with the salty bacon and sweet fig.

We particularly love bread, as you may have gathered. The bread basket was outstanding here. Besides the standard white country bread we'd been given to dip in olive oil at the beginning of the meal, we also had a thick black bread, sour and seedy, but not as thick and sour as some of the ones we've had in California, so it was to both of our tastes. There was also a light beer bread with a lighter sour taste, almost like a softer sourdough, crispy breadsticks, a potato bread with onion topping that was as light as focaccia, and a fruit bread which, sadly, we did not get to try. The only disappointment was a bland flatbread.

We didn't want to fill up on bread, but we couldn't help ourselves--until the appetizer arrived. "Variations on tuna" was the official name, presented as three small dishes on a plate: tuna tartare with a refreshing cucumber jelly and a slightly sweet green tomato foam; seared tuna over "panzerella" (?), a seasoned diced tomato mixture that also included some dried mango on top; and a variation on a nicoise salad, with cooked tuna over greens, potato, cucumber, and tomato with a balsamic reduction. The tartare had a very summery taste, between the cucumber jelly and the celery and bell pepper mixed in with the tuna. We didn't like the mango on the seared tuna, but the rest of it went together well, the creamy tuna with the sharp tomatoes. And the nicoise was very nice, proving to have egg, green bean, and olive in addition to the potato, cucumber, and tomato--quite a lot to fit into one small sampling, but an excellent combination, also rather summery and light.

For the middle course, we'd selected the homemade gnocchi, and this might have been the highlight of the meal. It was served with morels, tiger prawns, chopped langoustine, and walnuts in a zucchini sauce with carrot foam. The gnocchi was terrific, not doughy nor as heavy as we're used to, with a great potato flavor that the sweet zucchini sauce combined with to make it hard not to shovel the whole plate down. The morels and shellfish were fresh, good earth and sea flavors to go with the potato and veggie. We like European walnuts, thicker and meatier than their American counterparts. The carrot foam we weren't sure was necessary, but it was a nice visual touch to an overall yellow-orange dish.

While we were recovering from that, they brought out the duck to show us the cuts they were going to cook so we could approve of it. The skin was brushed with a sweet glaze, and we each got a small leg portion and a larger breast portion. Interesting difference between the two: the texture of the breast meat was thicker but the flavor less rich than the leg meat, which overall we both preferred. We couldn't finish that course, much as we wanted to, because we'd run out of room. It turned out to be lucky that we didn't try.

We attempted to decline dessert, but the waiter talked us into a lemon sorbet by telling us that it aided in digestion. All right, we said, one to share. Unfortunately, that opened the door to a pre-dessert offered by the chef, a plum tart topped with plum sorbet, which was really good, but by the time our individual lemon sorbets arrived--one each--we were groaning. Digestion, we said. We need help with that. So we ate the (very good, very lemony) lemon sorbet--and the attached little wafer cookie--and sat back, thinking, fools that we were, that the meal was over.

When the waiter brought the bill, he also brought along a small tray of petits-fours. Upon seeing our expressions, though, he asked if we wanted them added to the box we'd requested for our duck (and the remains of the bread basket). Please, please, we said. He was good enough to box up another set, but even though he left the original eight on our table, we resisted the urge to eat them.

And then, on our way out, they gave us macaroon cookies! We'll tell you how they are when we finally get around to eating them. But we have to recommend Allegro for anyone seeking fine dining in Prague. It's pricey--dinner was as much as our hotel room for the night, almost--but it's truly an experience to cherish and remember if you want to be pampered for one night, and feel like the royalty that once lived here.

No comments: