U Dedka is just a simple neighborhood place, with several steps taken to give it an upscale feel. There are no table tents advertising drink specials or pre-made sundaes. Nor are there any beer signs. In their place, compelling abstract paintings hang on the walls. And instead of pop radio, management has seen fit to play favorite CDs at low volumes. On a recent visit, an album by G. Love and Special Sauce provided a lighthearted, urbane soundtrack in sync with the casual atmosphere.
With all that in mind, the menu still presents a few surprises. One appetizer features the traditional central Bohemian dish of grundle, piles of minnow-sized loach fish from the Vltava river, dipped in flour, fried and served with a homemade garlic aioli. They're delicious, crisp and mildly flavorful, not at all fishy. Pairing grundle with the rich, tangy and oh-so-of-the-moment Provençal aioli is a natural fit, both rustic and modern, traditional and renewed.
Another dish, mussels in white wine, is a take on the classic moules marinieres, blending the shellfish with white wine, oregano, garlic, onions and a dash of sherry. Unfortunately, when we tried this there were more than a couple of bad mussels -- smelly and filled with sand -- in the bowl. Until they get better shellfish, avoid this one.
More to our liking was the pork panenka, walnut-sized pork medallions served with tender and fragrant roast fennel in a cream sauce. It's divine, far better than most pub fare, and a bargain at 155 Kc. If you're clever, get a bite of fennel with each piece of pork, and dab each bit with some of the balsamic reduction served alongside. The flavors alternate from tangy-sour balsamic vinegar to sweet cream and rich pork loin, with a heavenly anise-like fennel fragrance underneath. Yum.
Another main course, a tender beefsteak in a pepper crust, comes out tall-food style, architecturally placed atop a potato gratin side and a disc of perfectly steamed spinach. Its accompanying sweet-and-sour cherry sauce works as a perfect foil to the tangy bite of the steak's green pepper and herb crust.
The salmon fillet --served with fresh basil pesto and a sweet lemon-butter sauce -- would be perfect if it were cooked more thoroughly. Tell them you want it well-done.
In addition to the meat dishes, there are a few salads and pastas on the menu suitable for vegetarians. The large pear salad is particularly nice, blending chunks of sweet and tender winter pears with tart niva cheese, lollo rosso lettuce and rich chopped walnuts. The Caesar salad, however, is only OK, with tangy anchovy dressing that's far too watery.
U Dedka isn't really breaking tradition -- just updating the traditional Czech pub with higher-quality atmosphere and cooking. Before the meal, diners may receive a dish of sliced rye bread with the traditional winter spread of skvarkove sadlo: pork lard with cracklings. This is modest stuff, albeit delicious modest stuff. By way of contrast, the panenka with fennel is more sophisticated than many of the dishes served at the city's high-end restaurants, at a price lower than your average chi-chi appetizer.
It all combines to make U Dedka a most welcome new arrival. Brush up on your Czech or bring a friend -- no English-language menu is available yet. It's still worth a couple of language lessons and a trip all the way across town. When you do make it there, wave hello to the friendly Post staffers. We'll be the ones with a big grin ordering grundle.
Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, has long attracted artists and wandering spirits, although it was originally inhabited by prehistoric fish. Their inland sea filled the basin contained by the Tatras and Carpathian mountains, but when it eventually dried up they were forced to yield the terrain to dinosaurs, wooly mammoths and Neanderthals. In human times the Celtic tribes came to reside here, leaving remains dating back to the 4th Century B.C. Their tribal name, Boii, gives the root of the word "Bohemia". The three separate territories of Bohemia, Silesia and Moravia now make up the modern Czech Republic, which split from Slovakia in the 1993 "Velvet Divorce." Thanks to its enigmatic founder, the city of Prague derives a magnetic appeal for visionaries, scientists and astronomers. The historical figure credited with the launch of Prague is Princess Libuse, a visionary prophet and warrior who once stood atop the hill at Vysehrad and made the prophecy as follows, "I see a vast city, whose glory will touch the stars!" This indeed came to pass after she took Otokar Premysl to be her husband and King, launching the Premyslid dynasty, and leaving it to rule for the first four hundred years of Czech history. When the last Premyslid king, Wenceslas III, died without producing a male heir, the fourteen year-old John of Luxembourg came to take the throne of the Czech lands. Hot-headed John died in battle, but his diplomatic son Charles IV inherited the throne and, through keen multi-lingual savvy, managed to both keep it and earn the title "Father of the Czech Nation." Charles IV was the first of the Holy Roman Emperors here; he ruled during the height of Prague's elegance and splendour. This is the man to know if you want to understand Prague's layout. He sponsored the construction of such landmarks as the Charles Bridge, the Hunger Wall and St. Vitus' Cathedral, as well as personally designing the neighborhood called New Town (Nove Mesto) which has for its center Karlovo Namesti or Charles Square. The city displays every branch of architecture across the last thousand years, including Cubism, a style which you will be hard-pressed to find applied to buildings anywhere else in the world. Beyond the stunning visual makeup of the city, there is a wealth of nightlife and entertainment, beginning with the legendary concert halls including the Rudolfinum, National Theater, Estates Theater and the Municipal House. After investigating the Castle and Bridge, which are the most heavily-trafficked tourist areas, take a look around Zizkov and Letna, two of the cooler neighborhoods for bars and restaurants. However quiet it may seem after ten PM, Prague is alive and throbbing in an endless array of basement bars, pubs, clubs, discos and pool halls waiting to be discovered by the intrepid subterranean adventurer. To get an idea of what lies in store, check out the panoramas for Chateau and Palac Akropolis and when you're out and about, make sure you look for the stairs down to the cellar. Apart from shopping, eating, drinking and wearing out your digital camera, delve into the rich green carpet of Prague's parks, many of which lie only walking-minutes from the city center.Text by Steve Smith.