Fresh Mex

You haven’t lived until you’ve cooked your own beans.

Despite hordes of shoppers pouring out of Kotva and the near-constant stream of
commuters passing in and out of the center on business, the wide stretch of Revoluční
between the Obecní dům and the river feels a bit barren. If someone told you that
you’d soon be making frequent, late-night trips out there, would you believe it?
Well, believe it, because Picante, Prague’s first “Fresh Mex” casual dining spot,
opens on the fifth of December. It may change the way you think about Revoluční,
not to mention Mexican food in Prague.

“A great burrito is all about the basics – rice, beans and the tortilla. It’s
peasant food; simple, cheap and healthy,” says Aaron Martin, who, along with partner
Paul Wilkinson, decided to bring the California burritos of his childhood to Prague.

One look at the storefront restaurant on Revoluční 4 will tell you that these
guys aren’t doing it halfway. The super-clean lines of the street-side bar and
the ordering counter will pair up with one of the most open, modern restaurant
kitchens in the city. Everything Picante serves will be prepared on the spot and
they promise that no ingredients will hang around longer than 24 hours. Think
neighborhood tacqueria.

Unhappy with the quality of ingredients available in the Czech Republic, the Picante
crew decided to do everything themselves. The tortillas will be made in-house,
as will the black and refried beans. The salsas are all cooked and mixed in the
restaurant as well.

“Everything is in the open here,” Martin told me during a recent visit. “The customers
will see their food prepared to order with the best, freshest ingredients available.
There’s no čínské zelí [a favorite local substitute for real lettuce].”

I sampled the Expat Chicken Burrito, a serious meal at 120 Kč – nearly double
the size of Cantina’s respectable spinach burrito. Picante plans to feature a
number of different lunch menu options. And since the two intend to franchise
the restaurant in Prague, respecting local palates is high on their list of priorities,
second only to quality ingredients.

“We were quite sensitive to local tastes, especially when creating the salsa recipes,”
Martin said. “There will be varieties for people who grew up with this food and
for those who wince at the thought of black pepper.”

The San Francisco native professes a near-hysterical aversion to micro-waves,
but doesn’t intend to sacrifice speed. Although there will be 10 spots available
for diners, Martin hopes that most of the business will be take-away.

“Our idea is not to challenge the sit-down restaurants. We want to provide a healthy,
tasty and affordable alternative to places like McDonald’s.”

Confessed restaurant amateurs, Martin and Wilkinson enlisted the help of restaurant
consultant Dean Singleton, who helped plan the excellent vegetarian menu at Radost.
One of his suggestions will be Prague’s very first salsa bar – a self-service
counter hosting four or five different types of fresh salsa, including a mild
red, spicy red, pico de gallo and an amazing salsa verde. Aaron hopes to add a
salsa of the month to the mix as well.

Picante will initially be open from 10 am to midnight, but the plan is to expand
the hours to 4 am by the end of December. Eventually, the restaurant will remain
open 24 hours a day.

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