Thrill of the Hunt

Duck Season? Rabbit Season? Eat ’em both!

Hotel Diana

Hůrská 12, P9

Tel. 266 610 060

How to get there: by taxi – the place is a bit hard to find.

Halloween has come and gone, and Thanksgiving is on its way, which means that
if you have been paying attention to your gastronomical calendar, you now have
a license to start getting fat for the holidays. But fat on what? With hunting
season open in the Czech Republic, there is an ample supply of heavy meats to
choose from. Finding the right restaurant, though, can be the real hunt.

Don’t be afraid of game. Instead, be afraid of the guy who’s cooking it for you,
who may or may not know the proper preparation techniques. We didn’t have this
problem at the restaurant in the Hotel Diana in Prague 9. Despite the cheesy name
and far-off location, this little gem is worth visiting. It’s listed among the
20 Best Restaurants in Gurman Guide 2002, and is now on my own list of top spots
for game meats in Prague.

As soon as you walk in the door, it’s obvious that this is a family-run business.
They care about your visit from the moment you enter until you waddle back out.
Mr. Kuchař, the owner and cook, personally takes your coat and escorts you to
your table amidst the half-green-house/half-hunter kitsch décor. Particularly
impressive is the ventilation system. Most don’t know that cooking game meat can
be a smelly business, and a conscientious restaurateur provides ample air supply
so that his diners don’t smell like dinner at breakfast the following day.

The wait staff is attentive and knowledgeable. When, as a diner, you ask for a
recommendation from the waiter and he is unable to provide one, you should run
away. At the Hotel Diana, our waiter took the time to explain the high points
of all the dishes I listed, and talked me out of a few potentially deadly combinations.
He, like the others I observed, really appeared to enjoy his work, which makes
the atmosphere that much more pleasant. When you’re venturing into exotic culinary
territory, such guidance is welcome and recommended.

Kuchař secures his meat fresh from small, local suppliers. He handles and marinates
the meats according to the type of animal in question. Fallow deer, for example,
is a heavy meat with a low fat content. This requires relatively intense marinating
– at least two days and preferably in a water and juniper base – to tame it enough
for the average palette. The fat content, by the way, is what determines the taste
in meat. A lack of fat in ground beef, for example, means that you’re left with
an unfortunate meat blob after frying up your once-moist hamburgers. For juicier
burgers, ask your butcher for a fattier mix of beef. I can recommend Mr. Moravec
at I. P. Pa-vlova. He supplied Planet Holly-wood before its timely demise, and
can still give you this specific mix on request.

Fatty animals are my choice of game, and this season offers plenty: wild duck,
wild hare (different from domesticated rabbit), pheasant, quail and their little
cholesterol-free eggs. I had a fantastic duck breast on red and white sauerkraut
with homemade bacon dumplings (249 Kč). My wife had the lamb Provencal style with
loschke (249 Kč). What are loschke? In addition to being a skilled game chef,
Kuchař is also a potato wizard. These darling little fry-ups are a perfect match
for the lamb gravy. Never seen ’em before, might never again. Don’t pass ’em up.

But why the name, Hotel Diana? I noticed Kuchař’s collection of 45s and posters
of Paul Anka on the wall, and thought I had it solved: The Canadian heartthrob’s
hit song “Diana.”

“Should I put it on, you want to hear it? It’s our theme song!” Kuchař said after
catching me ogling his musical décor.

Oh, please, stay with me, Diana

Oh my darlin’, oh my lover

Tell me that there is no other

The threat of Anka made the duck in my stomach a bit restless, but I hadn’t gotten
the whole story. It’s not Anka’s Diana that they’re selling, but Diana the goddess
of the hunt in Roman mythology. This was a much more pleasing thought than visions
of 1950s pop crooners dancing in my head throughout the meal.

The goddess of the hunt has been working hard. Starting next week, Hotel Diana
will be offering its premier dish of the season: specially-prepared pans that
contain the legs and thighs of choice fresh animals, primarily boar and deer.
They will be baked under the crust of a potato-layered vegetable mix – a must-have,
according to Kuchař. A reservation may also be a must-have.

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