At Lary Fary, the moment of enlightenment came to my companion and I in a chorused “A-ha!” upon the rather dramatic delivery of what should be the restaurant´s signature dish: the skewers. One server attached a thick iron hook, which curved above our heads, to the side of our small, cluttered table, while another server hauled from the kitchen a mammoth chicken skewer, and hung it between our dropped jaws and wide eyes. Its enormousness was matched by the roasted perfection of the generous half-breasts of chicken, succulent chunks of vegetables, and innovative addition of baguette slices, which absorb the flavors of the onions and peppers nuzzled cozily between.
Take a simple concept and transform it into a grandeur experience: a proven formula for success (hell, look at Starbucks, which may open espresso bars within its own espresso bars, as the world runs out of free space for its locations). The Lary Fary culinary think-tank was onto something with its skewers, their unparalleled size and serving technique bearing enough splendor to constitute an actual experience, dining from the traffic light-sized rod of scrumptious roasted delights.
Unfortunately, though, the skewers are not the restaurant´s signature dish. In fact, there is no signature dish at this heavily trafficked Dlouhá location in Prague 1. Or any kind of themed umbrella under which the suspiciously vast array of choices can be threaded together in culinary-harmony, even by use of yesteryear´s trendy term: “fusion.”
The menu draws from global gastronomic influence—not to imply inventiveness, or uniqueness; rather, scattered and inconsistent options, as though every part of the world has a booth at the Lary Fary World Food Fair. Tom yum is listed next to Czech potato soup. The appetizers include carpaccio, a Venetian original, and the “Salmon Lary Fary,” advertised with chimichurri, an Argentinean sauce used for grilled meats. It´s served with chopsticks. Oh, the windy road of fare we ventured!
The confusion might begin outdoors, where the misleading signage hints a gothic or punk pub, until a glimpse at the menu (or the staff´s starched white collars) reveals it is no such place, listing items such as chateaubriand for a hefty 790kc, roast butter fish, and grilled boar chops. The interior is actually a pleasant surprise, resonating with the late-night dining nooks and crannies of Barcelona. The main dining hall, past a small non-smoking seating area in the front, is a cavernous corridor, with curved, crimson walls, and moderate yet tasteful décor. White linen tabletops are crowded with the proper settings one would expect with this price range. Not quite the family-friendly setting, the atmosphere is suitable for dates and philosophy-chatter. Like a great Poe story, it´s dark, candlelit, and best with wine.
On the gustatory front, the flavors of most items we sampled were as overwhelming as they were diverse. The salmon, between layers of paper-thin toast “smelt by tomato oil,” was of a pasty consistency, and coated with sesame seeds, also plentiful in the robust Asian sesame sauce that accompanied the over-garnished display. The chimichurri was undetectable, and I thought perhaps the dish´s description was confused with that of the tuna carpaccio, listed with a “sesame emulsion.” For a dish titled with the restaurant´s name, one would expect more. The beef carpaccio, although drowning in a tartness that detracted from the quality of the meat, was more enjoyable.
In one of a few awkward moments with our server, we inquired on the sushi preparation we spotted on the way in. The mute server merely disappeared, and returned with an elaborate sushi menu and a pencil, without explanation, cuing our I-don´t-get-it shrugs for the umpteenth time. The sushi menu is printed on stationary of such high quality that—perhaps in a moment of extreme environmental consciousness—I felt guilty about the two measly boxes I penciled, which would earn the sleek paper a spot in what I am certain is the most extravagant trash bin in all of Prague. As for the salmon roll and unagi trial: I still await sushi in this city that merits more than a “meh.”
Rowing over to Italy now, I delighted in the buffalo salad: a dish of tomatoes and fresh mozzarella di bufala, impossible to get wrong unless the ingredients are not fresh. This was a significant checkpoint, as the length of the menu caused produce-quality concern. The tomatoes, red and yellow in an heirloom variety, were deliciously fresh, as was the velvety mozzarella, and both had enough flavor to do without the over-drenching of Sicilian olive oil. Fresh produce: check.
One list that can impress with length and international variety is that of the wine selection, and my French companion confirmed that the selection is superb. The only wines served by the glass, however, are Czech, and the best choice for our main course required something stronger and less sweet. (Yes, this is one of the few occasions when the French opinion is actually asked for.) Such a wine list deserves a knowledgeable wait staff. Our server, however, erroneously implied that any selection would have been suitable for the oncoming course of duck breast. My Frenchman wisely selected a fine Chilean bottle, which the server opened and served with proper technique, and then set upon a nearby shelf, where I gazed longingly each time my glass emptied.
The duck was a letdown; it was overdone, and quickly tired my jaw. Unsurprisingly, it was served in a kitschy display across a long plate, with bite-sized scoops of mashed potatoes that lay in a row atop the meat like a toupee, with skimpy mushrooms and pearl onions on both sides. The dish was drizzled in a chestnut sauce, which, although flavorful, could not save the course´s disappointing quality.
Alas, there to redeem the night was the skewer, hanging before us in all its glory. With such tender, Kentucky-marinated chicken (we´re in Kentucky now, please keep up), it hardly required use of the knife. So abundant, this is a meal to be shared, and for a price of 265kc, it is the best value on the menu. The seafish skewer, a combination of salmon, tuna, and tiger shrimp, beckons my return.
We concluded our peculiar dining adventure with the house-made yogurt, topped with honey and loads of fresh fruit—a success in freshness, and another explosion of flavor, yet another testament to visual gaud: it arrived in a tall cup on a massive plate fit for a turkey, decorated with sugar and mint-leaves in childlike art.
Though entertained, I am no less confused about Lary Fary than when I first opened the menu; my opinion is as mixed as the fare selection itself. The dramatic skewers and fantastic ambience might compensate for the bewilderment, and maybe—if only by a hair—simplify my view into an overall positive one. The live music of the guitarist, the clamor of the crowded dining room, and especially the tasty cocktails I ordered as the grand finale to my big fat bill, each made me more comfortable with this fact: Lary Fary—um, I still don´t get it.