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The great Czech seafood dilemma

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This story is part of an occasional series of articles from the Prague Wanderer, a webzine created by New York University students in Prague. Learn more about the Prague Wanderer here.

Walking down the cobblestone streets of Old Town in Prague, it is impossible to avoid signs advertising authentic beef goulash and potato dumplings, famed staples of traditional Czech cuisine. While the seemingly endless supply of meat and starches in Prague may make for a savory meal, the prevalence of these dishes overshadows lighter, more nuanced fare.

Fish in particular has a bad reputation amongst visiting gourmands who have not done their homework. Attempting to find fresh fish in this landlocked country tends to raise a few eyebrows.

However, the privatization of restaurants in the 1990s and the diversification of foods available within the Czech Republic during the past two decades have greatly expanded the prominence and availability of fresh fish. Government-sponsored initiatives promoting the Czech freshwater fishing industry, the fourth largest in the world, have also increased the spotlight on seafood around the country.

But beware, if a craving for a carp or a feeling for flounder hits while in Prague, visiting a restaurant that specializes in seafood is going to cost extra crowns.

Reykjavik and Rybářský Klub are among the best-known fish restaurants in Prague and offer two very different approaches – casual verses upscale – to preparing seafood fare.

Rybářský Klub Restaurant, literally translated “fisheries club restaurant”, is a cozy establishment inauspiciously nestled next to the scenic Vltava River. The restaurant exudes a quaint and rustic feel, with fish netting and shells covering the ceiling and ocean green walls giving off a seaside ambiance.

The restaurant clearly prides itself on its devotion to underwater delectables and every appetizer, with the exception of a mozzarella and tomato plate, is seafood based.

They are known for Czech freshwater fish, including carp, pike, cod, and trout. Both the traditional Czech fish soup, garnished with fish-shaped crackers, and the spicy herring twist stand out as stellar starters.

For the main course, Rybářský Klub offers a variety of both local freshwater fish and imported saltwater options. The grilled pike with wild-rose and ginger sauce was average; compared to the freshness of the fish filet the side sauce’s bold flavor was somewhat starling.

Instead, try the roasted carp with garlic, a simple yet flavorful dish. Just be sure to watch out for small bones when eating carp or any other freshwater fish.

While not cheap (a main course will cost around CZK 310 or USD19), it is not exceedingly over-priced for tourists visiting Prague and definitely worth a try. After a taste of traditional Czech seafood at Rybářský Klub, it is easy to be perplexed as to why fish is not more popular in Prague.

Compared to Rybářsky Klub Restaurant, Reykjavaik Restaurant is a less traditional approach to seafood. Its location on Karlova street (in the heart of Old Town), clearly appeals to the tourist crowd.

In terms of price, Reykjavik is expensive; the average cost of an entrée is CZK 400. Furthermore, be careful of waiters suggesting tips far higher than necessary in attempt to take advantage of the restaurant’s foreign clientele.

The restaurant boasts an internationally-inspired menu, complete with oriental seasonings, Icelandic specialties, and barbeque. The starter menu has a large seafood selection, with the super fish sampler platter showcasing Reykjavik’s skill in fish preparation.

The sampler includes a fish soup with a strong but delightful curry flavor, a salmon stick battered, fried, and resting in a sweet and sour dipping sauce, a shrimp cocktail in Russian dressing, a gravlox sandwich, and two types of marinated herring toped with dill mustard and ketchup. The fish soup, salmon stick and herring in dill mustard were superior, but the platter’s excessive use of contrasting condiment toppings leaves an uncoordinated after-taste.

The list of entrées showcases an even ratio of fresh to saltwater seafood.

The grilled salmon, for instance, was a good quality steak but lacked interesting seasonings. Moreover, the salmon’s accompanying roe butter and oyster sauce was far too salty.

The sides were of varying quality. The cucumber salad was sweet and complimented the salmon nicely, but the rice was mushy and bland, and the other vegetables were also drowned in the salty oyster sauce.

The cod with oriental vegetables had a bit more flare in its flavor but the vegetable sides similarly suffered from the chef’s liberal use of sodium.

While the menu, the presentation, and the restaurant’s decor all try to equate fish with fine dining, the overall experience at Reykjavik lacked finesse. The chef has not mastered the use of spices, the decor is pleasant but generic, and the loud tourists streaming by are distracting from the meal.

However, the restaurant does prove that high quality fish ingredients can indeed be found in Prague. Yet the complete dining experience satisfies neither the quest for authentic Czech cuisine nor the craving for innovative seafood dishes.

Rebecca Weinstein is a third year student at Tufts University studying Psychology. She is from Westchester, New York.

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