The Dish

Wooing your date at one of Prague’s most romantic nooks.

Palffy Palace

Valdtejnská 14 in P1

257 530 522

According to a very good friend of mine from Nigeria, there is a tree in the forests
of that country’s jungle with bark that, when chewed, can give a man a certain
“lift” down there that can last for hours. Sucking on wood chips may be more politically
correct than snorting ground rhino horns, but even if the legend is true, jungle
bark is at best only a generic African Viagra and most men under 80 try to stay
as traditional as possible before putting strange things into their mouths. But
being gastronomically fixated I couldn’t help but ask, “Does it taste good?”

While most authorities in the West, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration,
do not recognize the existence of aphrodisiacs, Mediterra-nean and Asian peoples
have built great culinary traditions around them. Generally, libido tweakers come
from fruits, nuts, seafood, and root plants, but the intricate process of preparation
and presentation is what these cultures learned to develop and exploit. They also
know to keep it light: over-eating and high-fat meals can decrease testosterone
levels by as much as thirty percent.

An informal poll of friends and acquaintances revealed that Palffy Palace is the
best place for a romantic dinner in Prague. This elegant, old-world palace in
Mala strana gets a high mark for having lots of aphrodisiacs on the menu, and
the presentation is perfect. So perfect, in fact, that I took a pre-dessert stroll
into the kitchen to talk with the head chef, Luká Vácha.

Vácha is young, which may explain why he so vigorously breaks the aphrodisiac
rule by having mostly meats on the menu. But these are primarily exotic animal
choices, and, well, exotic is sexy. Vácha explained: “I prefer quail, since it
is an easy, light meat,” and it is also an attractive animal as well. “Or venison,
since deer tastes more like a dessert, and you don’t get tired from it.” He added
that presentation is very important. The dish must be vertical, he claims, not

Very true. My tiger prawns with garlic (320 Kč) were grilled and indeed stacked
in such a way as to rise from the center of the plate. I peeled them, and following
the Golden Rule of Aphrodisiacs, fed them one after another into my wife’s mouth.
Her salad had oysters and pine nuts, sprinkled with balsamic vinegar (195 Kč).
The choice of ingredients is perfect and appropriate: Casanova allegedly ate raw
oysters off the bare breasts of young women. And shrimp, despite their unfortunate
name, are known along with oysters to boost a man’s sexual appetite. Above all,
garlic is a staple of aphrodisiacs, and Palffy Palace serves you an entire grilled
clove of garlic with butter and fresh bread before you even get started.

While the main courses are refreshingly petite and designed not to weigh you down,
my duck breast with curry and chutney (490 Kč) came close to filling me to the
brim. My wife’s choice was fantastic: baked fennel with spinach and nut sauce
(270 Kč). The presentation reminded me of the supposed power of the Nigerian tree
bark. A single, large fennel stalk was planted firmly in the middle of the plate,
its long shaft aiming up high to the ceiling as if pointing out something of interest.
The thick bulb at its base was hollowed out and inside was fresh spinach smothered
in sauce. When I later asked about its meaning, chef Vácha just smiled.

The service and atmosphere were impeccable. When I made the reservations, I asked
for the most romantic table they have. Since Palffy Palace offers an open dining
area, the best they could offer was a room that remains empty until late. We were
seated at a table in the corner, close to the window. Hats off to the waiter who
took me seriously and thought ahead. Sometimes, though I don’t advocate it too
much in the food business, the staff should venture forward and think a little

The general manager Jakub Spevak has everything under control and moved effortlessly
among staff and diners to smooth any wrinkles in the evening. I asked, in order
to trip him up, if the interior might be a bit rococo.

“No,” he replied firmly. “Nothing rococo here, this is baroque. Can’t you see?”

I felt foolish only for a moment until I realized that my dessert was waiting.

Chocolate was used by the Aztecs as an aphrodisiac. Indeed, Montezuma is said
to have drunk 50 cups of cocoa before moseying into his harem’s quarters to do
his kingly duty with all 50 of them. Not as ambitious as the king, I stuck to
one serving of chocolate mousse and a dessert wine (a combination I highly recommend
– you won’t regret it). My wife had homemade vanilla ice cream with chocolate
sauce poured on while we watched.

So where is the perfect romantic dinner in Prague? That depends on what you consider
to be romantic. My friend Tim, for example, argues that his bathtub is one of
the most romantic places in town. Let this be a lesson to you: It isn’t the tree
bark, nor even the temperature of the bathwater, that matters. Two people make
a romance. No props necessary. But you should still consider Palffy Palace to
get the evening off to a good start.

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