The Wild Side

Throughout history, hunting and wild game preparation has permeated all cultures and civilizations. The Czech Republic is no exception and Prague is surrounded by the wild, both in location and lore, which is good news for those looking to sample its abundant game dishes. With over 140,000 hunters currently registered in a country of 10 million, the amount of wild game that ends up on the plate is plentiful. The Czech Republic's rich hunting history has allowed for the cultivation of many delicious regional game dishes, many of which are served in the restaurants of Prague. So I set forth, a hunter of sorts, to find some of the best.

Eating with Hrabal
In Vinohrady, a few minutes walk from Namestí Míru metro station, I came to sample my first wild game. Appropriately enough the restaurant's name, Hlucná samota (Too Loud a Solitude), is the title of a novel by the country's wildest writer, Bohumil Hrabal. The interior is rugged yet modern with exposed brick walls and dark hardwood floors. Both the lighting and the music were subdued, creating a warm and cozy atmosphere.

The menu featured eight magnificent wild game dishes, ranging from wild boar to venison and pheasant, so my mouth began to water instantly. There is something for everyone here, from traditional Czech cuisine and fish to Italian pastas and vegetarian meals.

Placed in front of me was a large overflowing plate. It included five thick dumplings, a salad with tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce as well as a generous cut of boar covered with a creamy rose-hip sauce topped by a lemon wedge and a dollop of cream and cranberry jelly. The boar was so tender that it dissolved directly in my mouth. There was a short hesitation before it exploded in a piquant mixture of sweet and savory flavors. The rich rose-hip sauce brings out the flavor in this delicate game without upstaging it and the salad was crisp and colorful, offsetting the rest of the meal both in flavor and aesthetics.

I recommend Hlucná samota to anyone looking for wild game, traditional Czech cuisine or simply a cozy place to unwind with a foaming glass of beer. The portions are large and the prices small so come prepared to loosen your belt but not your budget. Be sure to reserve because this place fills up fast.

Detail, detail, detail…
Way off the beaten path in Prague 9, about a 25-minute metro ride from the center, you will find a gem of a restaurant that is well worth the trip. The closest metro station is called Rajská Zahrada, translated as the Garden of Eden. At the Hotel Diana restaurant wild animals are also abundant, but here it is not a sin to eat them.

The multi-lingual owner, Miroslav Kuchár, was very active in visiting all the tables and we accepted his recommendations and ordered a 2001 J&F Lurton Malbec wine from Argentina as well as the house pear brandy aperitif with a game paté for a starter. The dense paté came topped with fresh mountain cranberries and butter flowers and this dish alone made the trip here worthwhile.. Next came the game soup in a broth full of noky, celery, carrots and healthy bits of game while the Old Czech Potato soup was much thicker with large chunks of potatoes and the wild mushrooms, called hriby, in a cream sauce.

Mr. Kuchár has high standards and he told us that while the boar, deer and fallow deer come from Bohemia, he will only accept his wild hare and duck from Italy and France, respectively. So under the owner's goading we ordered the forest-style boar with plum and almond sauce and dumplings and the hare with cream sauce and dumplings. The large, soft slices of boar hidden under the dark, sweet-tangy sauce with juniper berries had my date moaning with pleasure. My hare was covered in a thick brown sauce topped with a mound of fresh cranberries, cream and a lemon wedge. With each bite the meat practically disintegrated in my mouth and the sauce had my palate dancing and The fine Argentinean wine proved an excellent companion to these exquisite dishes. For desert we tried the Mother's Cake and the raspberry brandy digestif was a wonderful way to bring this dining experience to an end.

Diana, goddess of the hunt, is an appropriate namesake for this restaurant. The game was bountiful and the restaurant perfectly set the mood for the meal. I suggest making reservations since it appears to be full most nights. The service is outstanding and the prices are very reasonable.

My final destination lay in the heart of Malá strana. Down a small winding street, lies U maltézkých rytíru or the Knights of Malta restaurant. In addition to being a great place to dine on wild game, as its name suggests, it is historically connected to that famous order of knights which dates back to the Middle Ages.

Upstairs the restaurant resembles a simple wine bar, but a real treasure is found down below. The Romanesque cellar hall dates back to the 10th century while the larger room is in the Gothic style of the early 15th century. Lit only by candles and a few soft lamps, the cellar halls are perfect for romantic dining or tourists looking for a true Prague experience.

The menu ranges from traditional Czech dishes to vegetarian selections, lamb roasts and continental favorites. I started with the Game mosaic stewed in wild spices, served on lettuce with homemade horseradish. It consisted of venison medallions, chopped carrots and green beans marbled together in a delicious gelatin block. The horseradish's strong bite and the generous portion of fresh bread perfectly complemented this delicacy. A Zwiegeltrebe 2000 red wine proved a delightful way to wash down the tasty morsels and a Game Chateaubriand with plum, cranberry and walnut sauce, served with butter chateau potatoes and Vienna dumplings followed. Each game dish came with its own variation on the plum sauce. The venison sauce proved the better of the two, with a slight burgundy taste. The modest midday portions allowed space for a lemon sorbet with mint icing, pistachio and fruit. This sweet but tart dessert was a perfect contrast to the savory meal.

The combination of a fascinating history and distinctive cuisine makes U maltézkých rytíru a sure bet for anyone crossing the Charles Bridge into Malá strana. Daytime visitors should take note of the 130 CZK lunch menu which offers smaller portions from the varied menu. Reservations are recommended.

Completely full
An old Central European nursery rhyme reads, "The first should hunt it, the second should shoot it, the third carry it home, the fourth cook it, and all four should sit down together and eat!" Over a period of less then four days I managed to become the "fifth" and consume wild boar, hare, and venison all within boundaries of Prague. My wild hungers have been satisfied.