Last year I was invited to work for the Czech newspaper Lidové noviny as their weekly restaurant reviewer. For most of us, that might sound like a dream job, but I had already spent more than five years as the restaurant reviewer at the Prague Post, even seeing a story from there included in Best Food Writing 2005, and I had little interest in returning to the same task, especially since I was having so much fun writing travel stories from all around Europe. Despite being flattered by the offer, I passed, suggesting instead that the editors contact the Prague Spoon‘s Laura Baranik, who has since taken to it swimmingly.
But resolutions are meant to be broken, and I’ve recently agreed to occasionally review a few restaurants for Lidové noviny, either when Ms. Baranik is on vacation or as a means of helping out with what I know is very stressful, very demanding work.
To be honest, I’ve enjoyed writing reviews again much more than I thought I would. I even managed to get something about good beer into this weekend’s article.
Here’s a piece on the expat-friendly restaurant Vermeer, which got the local spodní prádlo in a clove hitch when word of its classic American diner sandwiches first hit the food forum at Expats.cz. In case you’d rather read it in English, I’ll post the entire English version at some point, but for now, here’s the relevant paragraph:
This kind of food goes extremely well with a great beer, but Vermeer offers Krušovice Mušketýr (35 Kč per .5l) with Heineken (65 Kč) as its top choice on draft, which the owner told me is because he wants to provide what foreigners want. Speaking as a foreigner, I can tell you I didn’t move to the Czech Republic to drink Dutch beer. What I want — and what many other expatriates here are absolutely crazy about — are the outstanding, extremely flavorful beers from small producers like Pivovar Kout na Šumavě and Pivovar Kocour Varnsdorf. Personally, I’d gladly pay a higher price for those beers. For Krušovice, not unless I’m very thirsty. For Heineken, absolutely never.
Call it one small strategic strike for craft beer in Prague. But the bigger picture is this: restaurateurs may care (or claim to care) about the food and drink they serve. But in a beer-loving country like the Czech Republic, a restaurant owner who cares enough to have food items imported especially for him will still offer the biggest, blandest, most mass-produced beer around.
I undertand it’s hard to watch over every single aspect of your restaurant, and if you haven’t had any kind of education in beer, it might be hard to understand what difference it makes. But believing that your customers prefer to drink overpriced Heineken — a so-called “Pilsner” — in the very country that invented Pilsner brewing? In a country that loves beer so much it drinks more of it than anyone else in the world?
Just hypothetically: if you opened a stylish restaurant in, say, Paris, how much attention would you pay to the wine? Do you think that if you offered a high-volume cabernet sauvignon or a so-called “Burgundy” from the biggest industrial winery in California, your customers would be into that? Would you tell people it’s because that’s what tourists want?
Well, just my 40 hellers. In any case, I’ll be reviewing regularly while Ms. Baranik is out this month; after that, I’ll continue to contribute pieces to Lidové noviny occasionally, in addition to my regular work for Concierge.com (where I cover Prague, Budapest, Ljubljana, Dubrovnik and the Dalmatian Coast), and the travel section of the New York Times (where so far I’ve reviewed restaurants in Prague, Budapest and Vienna). At the moment I’m not planning to sneak craft beer references into forthcoming restaurant reviews in any of those publications. But you know, sometimes plans change.