In Astoria, Gravy [and Mouse Turds] Flood the Streets of Golden Prague
While waiting for your goulash, try on a dress.
[Update: Thanks to Gothamist for gently noting that the place was recently closed by the Board of Health for a whopping 86 violation points. I swear I didn't see any mouse turds near my food! The "hygienist," as DOH inspectors are called, was also refused entrance to basement food-storage facilities. Yikes! Supposedly, it will reopen.]
Nowadays, when a Czech restaurant opens, you can be pretty sure it will take the form of a beer garden, like Radegast and Der Schwarze Kölner. In an earlier era, though, Prague-ish restaurants offering the full menu were more common. The most respected was Zlata Praha ("Golden Prague").
Even though it opened in 1993, the place seems much older. Peasant dresses sprawl out in glass cases, as if the lasses had just been plucked therefrom, and much of the wall space is devoted to implements of medieval combat, with a few antique farm tools thrown in to test your ability to differentiate. Or maybe they're there to pluck down in case an invading army of Goths or Visigoths forces its way into the front door.
If you're younger than 65, you'll be one of the few at Zlata Praha who is. Never mind, the food is still worth venturing into the restaurant's old-fashioned precincts, even if it's not autumn, when Zlata Praha hosts a popular game festival (that's "game" meaning shot animals, not board or sports games).
Not having been to the restaurant in eight years, I wanted to see if the quality of the food was as high as when I last reviewed it. I took a friend with me, and we ordered one of the dishes for two, a perfect date participation meal.
Our breaths were taken away as the giant platter hove into view on the arm of our waitress. (Earlier she had impressed us by carrying several full and foaming steins of beer across the room.) On the Czech Platter ($28.95) we found two quarters of a substantial duck, not cooked in the French manner, but roasted until perdition, the skin thereby rendered crisp and the flesh dense and grainy, filled with the flavor of the swamp and forest. There was not a speck of pale meat in the carcass. Also on board were smoked pork loin and smoked pork belly in a thick slab.
This estimable pig-out for two will set you back less than $30.
All this flesh rests on an isthmus of the restaurant's excellent homemade kraut, which is flecked with parsley and the stray caraway seed, and not all that sour. But the focus of attention was on the side plate of dumplings, something like steamed Wonder Bread sans crust, sliced into thick sponges for sopping. And sop we did. A gravy boat was always at our elbows for further moisture. We used up one boat and called for another. All hands on deck!
Other menu choices include brisket with dill or mushroom sauce, smoked sausage, chicken paprikash, fruit dumplings, and several forms of goulash. Portions are usually frighteningly large.
The beer selection tends toward the Teutonic. I had a liter of Budvar, the beer that inspired Budweiser -- not really that much better, just a little more full-bodied. About half of the beer selections will be familiar. A trove of Viennese-style pastries, plus crepes filled with jam or Nutella, awaits you for dessert. But you have to finish up all your dumplings first.
Zlata Praha 28-48 31st Street Astoria, Queens 718-721-6422
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