Friday, November 11, 2011


Do you ever stop to think at how important the choices you make are and what impacts they will have on your future and for how long a single choice will impact you? Is there such an emotion as pre-regret?

Seems the older I get the more important my choices become; with my body changing at what feels to be a super accelerated pace, even decisions or choices about what to have for dinner seem to have such great impact on my life. Is the fun of choice gone once you hit 30? 

Every decision comes with a choice; every selection of a choice that becomes a decision yields a consequence or outcome that usually leads to more.  It is as if the days of whimsical, finite decisions you were making for three decades before are over. 

When your 10-15 years old or younger even, it’s about instinct and impulse, the fast and furious years. From 16-19 as a man, your decisions are mainly made with other organs besides your brain and from 18-26 you begin to realize that your choices will shape your future, but still you lack the life experience to give you pause. By the time I hit 30, life decisions have become less instinctual, and more introspective. The results of my choices no longer melt away with the candles of my next Birthday cake; they linger. 

My thoughts lately have been about the choices I need to make and will make. As mentioned in a previous article, I do not have too many regrets, so choices of the past typically do not haunt me; it is the choices I make now that I find terrifying.  They also seem to be bigger, pre-30 decisions are much like a pebble thrown into a lake the ripples are small and the effect more localized, but the post 30 choices are more like throwing a boulder into a swimming pool. 

I find it takes me more time to make my choices than it did in previous years, I find they come with pre-regret and the awareness that they shape decades of my future. Pre-regret is the “what if” feeling you get when you have almost chosen which path to take.  This pause and this pre-regret I find terribly daunting. In many ways I miss the times when I made snap decisions where they yielded a positive or negative outcome never seemed to matter. 

Do you lose the introspective dialogue again at 40? Is everything so damn serious for the rest of eternity? Do you ever get the whimsical back? 

Food for thought – I hope this will open some meaningful discussion.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Review of Ambiente - Čestr: A great new addition to Prague steak!

It has been a while - but I am back with the tip of the year!

The Ambiente Group has come to the table with a bang up version of a Czech Steak House called Čestr. The restaurant is located in the old venue for Garden at the Opera, just on the back part of the OLD Radio Liberty Building next to the National Museum, the official opening is 15th of April, but it has been open under a "soft" opening since February (25% discount for all guests before the official opening).

Service - Pretty Good
(Better than good, but not quite very good)

Food - Excellent 
(If you know me that is a very high compliment, there is only one, maybe two restaurants that get that rating or higher in my book in Prague)

Atmosphere - Comfortable/Friendly
(Unique and welcoming, but not mind numbingly amazing)

In the last ten days, I have eaten at this restaurant a total of four times.

The service in my opinion has been carried by two super stars on their staff - One of the greatest highlights has been one of the delightful back-up waiters, the 20 year old 'beer boy,' Jirka. He knows all there is to know about beer and beer drinks and he always greets with a smile and an infectious enthusiasm that forces you to enjoy your stay there.  If you are lucky enough to get him to bring you one of the 'Beer Aperitifs' and deliver you beer on a regular basis you can count yourself in the lucky few.  The rest of the wait staff while efficient and polite have a lesson or two to learn from the 20 year old 'beer boy' in how to make you want to stay, order more and tip well beyond your expectations.

The second is the jolly man who comes out from behind the kitchen from time to time and always has a smile and a genuine concern of your well being.  I will get his name on my next visit! He takes service a step further than just going through the motions.

Tip to the management: GET SEAT NUMBERS - I am tired of helping the waiters figure out what goes where and with steaks of various temperatures and cuts as well as the numerous side dishes and sauces its just chaos every time... figure it out!

I waited tables for four years throughout university, I never asked the customers to help me do my job, why should I? Also worth a note here is that in four visits I was only offered a wine list ONCE and halfway through my meal... not a great way to up-sell.

Food!!! Where to begin... I have tried the Rib eye, Sirloin, Entrecote, Strip loin, and the wine basted ribs. Sirloin, Entrecote as well as the hard to get Rib eye steaks come highly recommended, soft, tender, full of flavor and always cooked perfectly.  The Strip loin was a bit tough and lacked any flavor at all, while the meat on the ribs was excellent when you could find it among the piles of fatty cellulite looking ick. If you actually do not mind fishing through fat to get to your dinner then try the ribs as the flavor is unique and bursts out in your mouth while the meat so tender it just melts (order 2 portions for a normal size portion of meat).

Side dishes are all you can eat!!!  Need I say more??? Well I will anyway... Best sides; carrots (fresh and full of flavor), spinach (finally a restaurant that does NOT cover up the earthy taste with garlic, cheese, onion or cream), french fries (home made and fried to perfection, so much flavor and fried goodness) and finally worth a mention and gold star - the potato dumplings (so utterly unique, buttery, smooth and tasty, a must try! Nine years in Prague and these are the best dumplings I have ever tasted).  While other side dishes I tried were OK, they were not worthy of noting either for being good or bad, they were just standard.

Starters and soups and desserts I have saved for last as they are my biggest disappointments on the menu - There are so many wonderful soups that can be made from beef stock that just putting a broth with no meat and a splatter of homemade noodles does not live up to the rest of the menu. Not to mention, both the carrot soup and the broth were room temperature... and drab both in temperature and flavor.

The choice of starters it rather good, though all four times had trouble to find tastes that suited me, tonight I chose to go without... I hope as the restaurant changes the menu daily that they will occasionally have something to excite me as much as the 'beer boy' to start my meal with.

Finally, the desserts while at first glance and first visit it feels like there are so many to choose from and that you want to try them all... I have... and sadly can't say that any of them are executed to perfection (Cheesecake was OK, Chocolate cake was OK, Chocolate Fondue gets cold too fast)... with the exception of one star!!!  The poppy seed buns in a vanilla creme - while many Czech moms and grand moms can sometimes make them like led balloons, Čestr has made them light and filled with all the wholesome goodness you can expect with a vanilla creme to crave long after the dish is finished!!!

The overall atmosphere is nice, one friend compared it to a hospital cafeteria, but frankly I find it unique and welcoming. It is bright, light, inviting and open with a very bohemian Czech feel to it. It matches well with the food, and I think that in time it will remain friendly and welcoming rather than daunting as some of the downstairs dungeons of the Ambiente Group tend to get after a handful of visits, though I would love a bit more ventilation.  The no smoking policy only adds to my immense love of this restaurant. 

Overall, I have to rate this as a great experience and one worth doing on a regular basis as the menu changes daily. Currently, if you go before the opening they are offering a 25% discount to all patrons to help foster a great learning environment for the staff before the grand opening next month.  The average price per person with the discount on each of my visits with beers, starters, mains and desserts was around 500-600CZK per person.

If you have been there or will go after reading this, post your experience; I would be curious to know if you all feel the same about it as I do!?!?