Hostaria: Where tradition meets fantasy (& the guest reigns as king)
Authentic Italian food in a comfortable atmosphere
Over the years, Andrea learned to cook Italian dishes by watching his grandmothers in the kitchen. One was from Bologna, the second from Venice, and from them he acquired a sense of the role of tradition and the importance of authenticity in Italian cuisine. In his family’s restaurant, which was established in 1922 in the town of Varese (near Milan) in Lombardy, Andrea first discovered that family recipes could charm guests as well as blood kin. In addition to running the oldest restaurant in town, his family also produces a special unfiltered extra virgin olive oil and marinated artichokes under the label EVO on their own estate in Tuscany.
On top of acquiring a keen sense of the importance of using good recipes and quality ingredients in the restaurant industry, Andrea also learned an important concept from his grandmothers – the honored place of the guest. His grandmothers used to tell him, “The ones who must be satisfied are the ones sitting around the table.” When he had the opportunity to co-own his first restaurant in Prague, Andrea developed the concept of treating the guest well. He believed that the leading role must be played by the one who comes to pay, and he wanted a place where he could guarantee that his guest would receive traditional Italian dishes from authentic ingredients.
“We would never serve anything to a guest that we wouldn’t eat ourselves,” he says. From the success of his first venture, which served simple, traditional Italian dishes that Andrea remembered from his childhood to a mainly tourist clientele in Prague’s downtown, he dreamed of opening his own restaurant, a place where he could blend tradition with fantasy, a place where he himself would like to eat and be treated as a pampered guest.
Hostaria officially opened in December of 2015 on Prague’s Mánesova Street in the space formerly occupied by Aromi Restaurant. Hostaria literally means, “A place for guests,” in ancient Italian. Although taking over the space could have been seen by some as a challenge, Andrea says that aiming for perfection is his team’s goal. “We have a 99% satisfaction rate; we are not perfect yet,” he jokes, “but we are always working to improve.”
In Hostaria, guests will find fresh Italian seafood, which changes seasonally according to availability, as well as homemade pasta, vegetable side dishes and homemade Italian desserts. Since the ingredients from their dishes are sourced directly from Italy, getting everything fresh means having nearly daily deliveries. Andrea says, “Flour is hard to import, you need lots of it.” They even use seawater from Italy sourced from the Mediterranean Sea to clean their clams and shellfish and sell bio Italian brand lemonade.
In order to offer Italian specialties by region, Andrea brought in six experienced Italian chefs, each hailing from a different area of the country. Each of his chefs has experience working in a Michelin star restaurant. Several have also studied at the Alma School founded by the father of Italian cuisine, Gualtiero Marchesi, the first Italian chef to be awarded the prestigious Michelin three-stars.
Hostaria’s head chef, Leonarda Panza, is a young visionary whose fusion Italian combines traditional ingredients in unusual combinations on Hostaria’s seasonally changing menu. However, just as important as fantasy is the role of tradition, and as an unspoken rule, Andrea’s chefs must also be familiar with the two Italian cookbooks that form the backbone of traditional Italian cuisine, Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well (1891) by Pellegrino Artusi and La Cucina Italiano written by Marchesi.
Although Hostaria serves fine dining, Andrea doesn’t want the restaurant to be seen only as a fancy place. To this point, he’d like to recreate in Hostaria the traditional aperitif time that’s still popular in bars and restaurants in Italy. It’s usually from 5-8 pm, although Andrea, jokes that it sometimes lasts, “from 5 till as long as you can stand.” He encourages his customers to be comfortable just dropping by for a glass of wine or a drink and staying to sample some cheeses or Italian prosciutto.
On Wednesday nights, Hostaria offers a music night with special wines by the glass and live music, including Jazz, Acid Jazz, Instrumental and Pop. During the week, Hostaria has a lunch menu for clients who’d like to try out the new restaurant for a business lunch or just a special midday meal.
With a background in other industries, Andrea has found that running his own restaurant is a difficult job, requiring his full involvement 24-hours a day every day. Managing his staff, creating his menus and communicating his vision to local customers who increasingly have higher demands, based on their experiences from international travels, Andrea finds his work quite challenging.
However, he appreciates his guests being selective and requiring not only tasty food, but excellent service, too. “We have customers who recognize quality and who are not willing to eat less than good quality food,” he says. When his chef has a new concept, the server often brings samples to the table for guests to taste. “Eating with you is never boring,” his customers say, and Andrea takes this as a compliment.
At the end of a tough working day, there’s no place he’d rather be than sitting in Hostaria, sipping a glass of wine or chatting with customers, many of whom are becoming regulars. On the weekend, Andrea has created a special weekend menu with his own family and children in mind, so that when they visit Hostaria for a weekend meal, they can relax and feel at home. He wouldn’t want anything less.
Check out Hostaria’s new spring menu or stop by for a drink and stay to be pampered.
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