Restaurant Kalina - new Prague cuisine
... the real luxury is actually waiting for you on your plate and inside your wine glass...
Kalina is a tall, garrulous man. Friendly and amiable with his staff, whom he greeted as his first order of business upon arrival in the morning, the Prague native has extensive culinary experience both here and abroad. He has worked for several restaurants and hotel restaurants throughout the city, including the Hotel Hoffmeister, as well as in Greece. In fact, he laughingly says that he “stole” the phrase “new Prague cuisine” from his former boss Martin Hoffmeister.
But what precisely does that mean? What can customers expect from the establishment that Kalina owns with an investment partner and with wine expert Vitek Hepnar?
The chef explains that his food is “original cuisine” that includes “the products from your region.” Although he imports many ingredients from other European countries, “the basic cooking is traditional: how to prepare the sauce, the soup, the meat.”
The restaurant’s three signature dishes are Czech variations on one type of meat in particular: veal. He is proud of the veal tartar, veal sweet bread, and of course, veal schnitzel.
“We are not so trendy” as other restaurants in the city, Kalina admits. “We’re classy: comes from the word ‘class,’ which is our philosophy.” To run a classy restaurant is to “make the simplest things in the best way that we can.”
His classic sensibility is mirrored in the restaurant’s interior design. It isn’t a large space, comprised of one small and rather narrow front room with a bar and a wine display inlaid along its far wall, and a larger though still cozy windowless back room. The latter has only a few banquettes and tables whose seats are upholstered in cerulean leather. In both rooms patrons are welcome to skim through the stacks of cookbooks from Kalina’s own collection.
The owner of the building also owns an art gallery and was kind enough to let Kalina hang several of his sketches from the 19th century French artist Toulouse Lautrec. With soft lamplight, vaulted ceilings, books, and these scenes from a Parisian dance hall, the back room that Kalina calls the “club room” feels comfortably homey, as if it were the living room of an old and educated world-traveler.
Kalina is himself hoping to attract more travelers. Most of the customers who currently patronize his restaurant are local Czechs. He would like more expats to visit, a group he describes as “very important people for us. They’re cosmopolitan people. They are traveling around the world… they’re intelligent people.”
Nearly all those who stop for a meal at Kalina also order from the restaurant’s impressive wine collection. Kalina lauds Hepnar as “one of the best sommeliers in Europe and a very good customer as well,” citing his understanding of the best food-and-wine pairings. He is an expert in Burgundy wine, says Kalina, but can also knowledgably converse on the Italian wines for which many people ask, as well as the Czech and Moravian wines that tourists often seek.
Kalina says the business relationships he enjoys with his partners are very strong because all three are “communicative.” The quality of their restaurant is the result of this group effort and the desire to remain consistent that Kalina so strongly emphasizes.
Whether it is improving upon the restaurant’s “new Prague cuisine” or maintaining its classic aesthetic, Kalina and his crew are “every day working to be better and better.”
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