“Nothing defines humans better than their willingness to do irrational things in the pursuit of phenomenally unlikely payoffs. This is the principle behind lotteries, dating, and religion.” Scott Adams
Me and my long-time dining partner, V, went our separate ways earlier this year. So now I’m in the market for good restaurants for dates.
Just the other day, G-Man told me of a place in Vinohrady that his Czech colleagues are raving about called Zelená Zahrada (The Green Garden).
I decided to take Curly Girl there.
At the street-level entrance, there’s a modern, stylish little bar.
A trip down a short staircase reveals two similarly appointed dining rooms.
But the real attraction is out back.
First, there is a winter garden.
It has windows that can be opened in fine weather.
But even better are the few tables in the elevated, open-air garden.
This has added attraction of a koi pond, which is also stocked with turtles.
These perches are hot commodities. If you want one during a warm, dry, summer evening, booking is a must. Thanks to G-Man’s advice, I did.
It’s a really nice spot for a meal. The only drawback is that there is no lighting out there except for a tea candle. After dark, it’s almost too dark to see the person across from you or the food in front of you.
I started with a Mojito (99 CZK). The first one was excellent. It had just the right balance of sugar and lime.
It was a large glass for a low price, but it was also jam-packed with crushed ice, making it a little less generous than it first appeared.
I liked it so much, I ordered a second one. However, this one was out of balance, with too much rum. Some might not have a problem with this, but I didn’t like the flavor.
Curly had a couple of glasses of the 2008 Hibernal bio wine from Vlastimil Peřina (82 CZK each). It was dry but lightly fruity. We both liked it.
Some French-style baguette slices were placed on the table.
The waiter told us that half the slices were warmed and half were cool. It does not come with butter or olive oil.
We shared two starters. The first was the seared scallop (85 CZK/one, 155 CZK/two). This was one the best scallops I’ve ever had.
It was cooked right, with a crisp, brown exterior and a delicate, almost gelatinous interior.
The tomato glaze on the outside gave it a zing. The concentrated little tomato around the side only added to that. It stood upon the creamiest of mashed potatoes with parsley and dill in the mix. There was some crunch, as well, which the waiter informed me was hazelnut.
It all worked together perfectly. It’s the best thing I’ve seen on a half-shell since The Birth of Venus by Botticelli.
We had the goat cheese salad with sun-dried tomatoes, rucola, and pine nuts (159 CZK).
The cheese, cut into small chunks was served cold. The leaves had a minimal oil dressing. It was fresh, but rather ordinary.
Curly also ordered the chicken broth with pork and black mushrooms.
We both had the same assessment here: not much flavor and boring.
For the next round, Curly got the tagliatelle with beef tenderloin and rucola (185 CZK).
The menu said there were chili peppers, and they looked chilies, but they tasted more like ordinary red bell peppers. There was almost no kick to them. The noodles also held tender, sliced garlic and shaved Parmesan cheese. I thought the sauce was too sweet, but Curly liked it.
I had the octopus with black risotto (285 CZK).
The one tentacle was small, but it reminded me of some of the best I’ve had in Greece. The end was charred and crunchy.
As I worked my way up, the crunchy exterior gave way to a wonderfully tender interior. The risotto tasted of lemon, dill, and perhaps a hint of wine. Though a small portion for the price, I found the dish extremely enjoyable.
There was one big sin here. The risotto was way overcooked to the point of mushiness. But given the great flavors, I was feeling forgiving on texture.
I also ordered the tiger prawns with lime leaf sauce (270 CZK). The five medium-sized shrimp were good, but weren’t bursting with flavor.
I love lime leaf and the coconut-based sauce had plenty of that going on. I’m a fan of sweet sauces, but it was just over the line on the sweetness scale.
Curly isn’t and didn’t like it. The garlic bread was bordering on dry, and the mache salad had almost no dressing. The whole thing was just OK, but it could have been so much better.
I was stuffed, but I had to try the chocolate fondant (110 CZK).
This one had a very intense and liquidy chocolate center. Its crisp cake walls caved in on themselves easily with one touch of a fork.
The ice cream didn’t impress me, but I’d call this one above average.
This large meal cost 1537 CZK before tip.
I went back the very next night with another Departing Friend.
DF wasn’t hungry and ordered the scallop at my recommendation.
To start things off, I had a half-liter of Gambrinus (35 CZK).
I felt the need to check out something from an odd section of the menu called “Chinese from Vodičkova Street.” I asked the waiter to explain. He told me the Czech chef was a cook at one of the first Chinese restaurants in Prague after the revolution.
I ordered the orange chicken (78 CZK).
I asked if it came hot or cold and he said “cold” but I could have it hot if I wanted. I took it cold, but looking back, hot might have been better.
The meat was fresh, but had a cold stiffness to it. The spicy sauce did have fresh orange peel. But again, it was too sweet. I would have rated it higher with less sugar. I actually added salt, and I thought that improved it a lot.
Then, I had the “beefsteak” and green pepper sauce with potato cake and asparagus (459 CZK).
The steak had a moderately good, beefy flavor, but it was not very tender. It had grill marks on it, but didn’t have much of a grill taste.
The asparagus was fresh and had a good snap. The sauce, with whole green pepper corns, didn’t impress either of us favorably. It had a seasoning we couldn’t identify, but perhaps it was rosemary, because the receipt mentioned that herb with the steak (but the menu didn’t).
Finally, a word about the service. Waiters were often missing in action, leaving diners out in the garden sitting high and dry. There were long stretches between courses. I also had something of a “who’s on first?” conversation with the waitress to explain that medium-rare falls between medium and rare.
The biggest stumble came with the scallop order on the second visit. It wasn’t delivered with the appetizer. And when it didn’t appear with the steak, we asked the waitress what happened.
“Oh, I forgot!” She was very apologetic.
At this point, the hunger pangs had grown a little, so DF ordered the double scallop order. A full 15 minutes later, the waiter brought out two double orders, so four scallops all together. Informed that only two were requested, the other two were taken away (DF loved them, by the way).
Those two tardy bivalves did appear later on bill. Given the error, taking them off the tab would have been the right thing to do.
Zelená Zahrada certainly has a number of imperfections to get past.
But it is also a very good-looking restaurant with one of the best back gardens in town. Some dishes fail, but a few are real winners.
Should you try it? I’d say it’s worth the risk. It’s the kind of place that could payoff in more ways than one.
Tel: (+420) 222 518 159