Written by: John Letzing
Photo by: Dorothea Bylica
Can a strategically placed umlaut and stark interior convey the level of cool that Ajvö desires?
More importantly, is “cool” even a factor when one is seeking new and better Prague eateries? The American owners of Ajvö, Chris Hora and Zack Crighton, certainly hope so. Opened in April, the restaurant’s first round of advertising proclaimed, rather awkwardly, that it is “definitely cooler than anywhere else.”
In the literal sense, keeping cool in the summertime certainly matters for most diners. Nearly any comfortable patch of outdoor space will do – and Ajvö sports a particularly nice one. Festooned with the family crest of the building’s owner writ in stone, the patio here is small and blocked in by four walls, but is well shaded and charming. Inside, the restaurant features a minimalist design, in line with Hora’s desire to convey “empty, open space.”
The thrust of Ajvö’s smallish menu is “California” cuisine, a little-understood term that’s been recklessly bandied about since American chef Alice Waters forged an haute-organic revolution in the 1980s. When pressed on what California cuisine entails, most people today can only muster images of avocados and perhaps a spare bitter green or two. Hora, for his part, defines it simply as “nothing that comes from a box, it all comes from the land or the sea and goes straight to the plate.” Ajvö offers strikingly adventurous dishes centered on the California concept, including crab asparagus flan and tuna tartar appetizers, quail with tsatziki red rice and lobster with chop suey mains, and a zabaglione and almond meringue dessert. For business lunches, Ajvö offers a very attractive CZK 250 lunch special, which includes two courses and a drink.
Locating suppliers for their locally uncommon dishes was not an easy task for Ajvö’s owners. “There was a lot of, ‘what is that?’” says Crighton, who adds that he spent as much time educating as he did ordering supplies. Whether it was explaining what ‘uni’ is and how to get it (it’s a small sea urchin, for any potential suppliers out there), or providing instructions on how to properly cut a rib-eye steak, the American two-man team spent a good deal of the restaurant’s preparatory period holding forth. Most of the knowledge came from Hora, a trained chef who has manned kitchens from New York to the French Alps.
Besides zeroing in on suppliers, Hora and Crighton also conducted an extensive eating tour of Prague’s elite restaurants, from last autumn to the Ajvö’s opening day. Their summing up of the competition is mixed; what’s clear is that they feel their menu stacks up to anything else in town. If one takes Kampa Park as the cornerstone of Prague dining (they seem to), Ajvö’s owners rate their place as nearly as good, and with more attractive prices (Hora dismisses Kampa’s cousin Cihelna as “a glorified bar”).
One of the pressing questions on the minds of diners and passers-by must be: what’s the deal with the name? Hora, a native of L.A. with a Czech father from Kutná Hora, explains that he purposely conjured it out of nowhere. Its absence of meaning in any tongue, he says, is a good expression of the beyond-categorization etherealness of his restaurant. But it’s always the small details that can trip you up, and Hora may have displayed that famous American tin ear when it comes to things international. One day a Ukrainian employee at the restaurant innocently informed him that “ajvö” translates precisely as “quince” in her mother tongue. So perhaps a new direction for the restaurant is forthcoming?
Ajvö, Týnská 12/633
Tel.: 224 827 177
Open daily 11:00- 2:00
All major CC
FARTHER AFIELD: Malá Svatá hora
Photo by: Archiv
On top of one of the Brdské kopce (Brdy Hills), the Malá Svatá hora restaurant lies hidden in the woods. The newly refurbished building stands close by the old road from Mníšek pod Brdy to Příbram and is a great place for family or intimate get-togethers, offering not only a summer terrace, but also a cozy, tastefully furnished interior that includes two small private dining rooms. Two basic set menus (for CZK 145) are supplemented by excellently prepared Czech classics, such as filet mignon in cream sauce (CZK 87) or pork, dumplings, and sauerkraut (CZK 117). In addition to lighter dishes like variations on Oriental chicken, there are several tempting meals for vegetarians, as well as a rich selection of vegetable salads. Further house specialties include the pastries baked right on the premises, and returning guests usually remember to leave room for an apple strudel or an almond cake.
Restaurace Malá Svatá hora
U kaple 326, Mníšek pod Brdy
Open daily 11:00-22:00
tel.: 728 174 407, tel./fax: 318 599 183
How to get there:
From the Strakonická road take the Kytín exit, 600 m after the signs.
|Photo by: Archiv|
Zdeněk Krchov, legal representative, Sving
“My favorite restaurant is the French Restaurant in the Obecní dům (Municipal Building) in Prague. It’s located in fin-de-sie` cle surroundings redolent with the atmosphere of an extraordinary era. The Maitre d’hôtel meets you at the door and shows you to your table, the waiter offers you gourmet delights, and the chef conducts a culinary symphony. One of my favorite specialties is the Coq au vin Bordelaise, a small rooster in wine sauce with fresh grapes and mashed potatoes. From the desserts, I can recommend the Moulin Rouge, a small caramel chimney filled with whipped cream on a strawberry coulis with walnut ice cream. The cuisine is enhanced by a great selection of French wines.”
Francouzská restaurace v Obecním domě, nám. Republiky 5, Praha 1, tel./fax: 222 002 770