Taverna Toscana: Southern hospitality
Written by: John Letzing
Photo by: Dorothea Bylica
Prague diners longing for a real Italian trattoria will appreciate the food and atmosphere of this top-tier eatery, where authenticity reigns.
A comfortable duality reigns at Taverna Toscana, where the co-owners are a divorced (but still amicable) couple, and operations are neatly split between a tourist-inclined pizzeria and an upscale piano bar. While the pizzeria inhales tourist money through its unavoidable entrance adjacent to Karlova street, the relatively secluded hidden piano bar (with an entrance on Michalská street) offers a more refined menu and atmosphere. Featuring nightly musical entertainment and a cool, grotto-like interior, it creates a world apart for locals and expats craving Italian food and drink, but who also want to avoid the tourist crowds feasting on ketchup-doused spaghetti in trattorias throughout Old Town.
Co-owner Moreno Marchi had run a restaurant in Arrezzo, Italy, for three years with his Czech wife Helena before moving to Prague in 1991. The two established Principe, an erstwhile eatery in Prague 2, then went on to open Taverna in 1995. Marchi personally recruited executive chef Carmelo Faramo from Italy (“there are only fourth-degree chefs here,” sniffs Marchiová), who had spent previous decades plying his trade in Europe, Chicago and Australia. The two put together a seafood-heavy menu of mainly Tuscan treats. Tuscan cuisine, according to Marchi, “is not just one typical thing, it’s many things.” These include white beans doused in olive oil, swordfish with garlic and tomatoes, and of course, bistecca alla fiorentina, a mammoth t-bone steak for two. Beef tagliata with mushrooms or parmesan is also a favorite on the Taverna menu, as is the saffron risotto with shrimp. Though they visibly cringe while describing guests who don’t care whether their pasta is tossed with chopped tomatoes or smothered in canned sauce, the Marchis acknowledge that things have improved. Much more now than only a few years ago, many patrons seem to appreciate the Taverna menu and the fresh ingredients that it entails, the pair admits with relief.
The wine list is, not surprisingly, about 70% Italian, and include a house Chianti for CZK 500 per bottle, and a 1988 Brunello di Montalcino il Poggione that goes for CZK 3,950. There are also a number of whites on hand, including a Vergine Valdichiana Frizzante for CZK 500 per bottle and a Marzocco-Avignonesi at CZK 1,300. The steep customs duties levied on imported wines, which essentially make a
CZK 300 bottle in the EU magically become a CZK 600 bottle here, give Marchi cause to gesticulate with his hands in a manner that must be translated from Italian as, “I am simply disgusted”. While in mid-disgust, Marchiová began to explain simultaneously, that the duties actually aren’t so bad. This earned a dismissive wave and an “eh, come no?” from Marchi, before declaring as firmly as an ex-spouse can, “we pay too much.” Recently, there has been a significant drop in pizza-seeking tourists due to the August floods, which has hampered business at Taverna to some degree. And the entire basement of the pizzeria portion of the restaurant, having been transformed into an unwanted aquarium, had to be closed for much of September. Meanwhile, however, the piano bar has sat quietly in its secluded haven, ready to treat those in the know to a genuinely delicious experience.
Malé náměstí 11, Praha 1,
tel: 221 611 535
Open: Mon-Sun 12:00-24:00
Credit cards: Visa, Maestro, AE
FARTHER AFIELD: Restaurace U koně
The former chef of the hotel Ambassador, Jaroslav Sapík, has opened a small family hotel and restaurant U koně in Klokočná, near Prague, where he hopes to offer cuisine for the gourmet in the peace and quiet of the countryside. Besides the restaurant, there is also a classic pub called Formanka and a wine cellar. Whether you feel like traditional Czech “utopence” (pickled sausage), grandma’s “svíčková” (roast beef with cream sauce) or any of the international specialties, including an excellent carpaccio or imperial shashlik, your tastes will be satisfied. The offer of wine is predominated by the best Czech selections, but you can also find French and South African labels. In addition, various gastromical events are organized here every month – in October, there will be a venison feast and in November, a Beaujolais festival.
Restaurace U koně
Klokočná 8, Praha-východ tel: 323 641 186
all credit cards
How do you get there?
Drive from Prague on the Kutnohorská road towards Říčany, Kostelec nad Černými lesy. In the village of Mukařov, turn towards Chocerady and when you come to Svojetice, make a right turn towards Klokočná. Hotel U koně is directly on the village square.
Zbyněk Veselý, chairman of the board and director, Komerční pojišťovna
Which restaurant with foreign cousine in Prague and surrounding you like and why?
“I like La Perle de Prague in the Fred and Ginger building on the river bank. It’s a French restaurant where they serve excellent snails, among other dishes. After a good meal I like to order quality wine and sometimes even a quality cigar! I’m a very demanding customer who is ready to pay a lot, but who requires top service. A good restaurant should have flexible personnel who will not hesitate to fulfill a customer’s special wishes, even if they are not on the menu. I choose restaurants based on three criteria: 1. high quality of food, 2. pleasant and professional service, 3. good location with a nice view and the possibility to sit outside if the weather allows.”