Janko's recent post re: wanting a Czech food fix struck a chord. I still mourn the loss of Cafe Bohemia in Martinez so many years ago and haven't been able to fill the void.
One of my partners took me to a Bohemian cafe in Davis last year. He's Slovakian from Chicago and raved about their pork and dumplings as being comfort food. I'd rather find something in the East or South Bays, but am willing to make the trek to Davis rather than go over the bridge to SF
I've only been to DJ's in Concord once and wasn't impressed by their paprika chicken over spaetzle. In desperation I'll have to give them another try.
Over the years, I've eaten in quite a few (about 30) Czech and Slovak restaurants and bakeries, some in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, but most of them in North America: Manhattan, Queens, Texas, Montreal, Seattle, Vancouver, San Francisco, Winnipeg, Iowa, suburban Chicago, Davis, and Los Angeles.
The one in Davis -- www.littleprague.com -- isn't bad. Soups, bread, beers, and desserts are good. Entrees are variable. I'd eat there a few times a year if they were close to San Jose, but as it is, I need a reason to be in the vicinity.
DJ's in Concord seems very well regarded by many Chowhounds, so that's now on my to-do list. I've also heard, off list, of another place in Inverness.
There are other analagous and overlapping cuisines -- German, Hungarian, and Polish. In the South Bay, only German seems represented, AFAIK. Teske's Germania in San Jose is overpriced and mediocre. Elbe in Palo Altois good -- it costs less and has better food. Harry's Hofbrau sounds German, but isn't really, as far as food goes.
Has anyone encountered any Hungarian or Polish restos in the South Bay?
Thanks. It's been ages, LR Transit Mall construction in fact, since I dined at Teske's and I always remember the food and service as being good. Friends and family have gone there recently and were all disappointed with the food and said the service was even worse.
I hit the Elbe website - one look at their menu and your praise for them make them a must try for me:
German, Czech, Hungarian and Polish - I need an education here as I'm sure there are vast regional differences within each. Are there benchmark dishes in each I should try to find? Hey, this could be fun as well as calorie laden
To properly answer the question about the differences among German, Czech, Hungarian, and Polish foods would take a long essay and would of course be challenged on each point!
If you're totally unfamiliar with those four cuisines, you might find more similarities than differences. If you grew up familiar with one or more of them, the differences loom large.
Then there are regional specialties, which would rarely turn up outside the borders.
Off the top of my head ....
General similarities: cabbage, dumplings of one or another form (often potato-based savory ones accompany meats, cheese-filled and sour cream-topped stand alone), potatoes, long-cooked stews and braises.
Hungarian and Czech cuisines feature wonderful goose dishes.
Paprika flavors many Hungarian savory dishes. Sauerkraut and/or pickled cabbage turns up a lot throughout the region.
Root veggies, sour cream, sweet-and-sours.
To my taste, the Hungarians are the world's best bakers--authentic strudel, made with a dough similar to filo, and filled with everything from cabbage to poppy seeds, is unsurpassed as a culinary triumph. Likewise the buttery and sour cream-y yeast cakes,
Although it was too darn hot to enjoy the food, I still remember my mouth watering at the menu and fragrances at the Czech Pavillion at the Montreal World's Fair in 1967.
Germans of course make numerous sausages and are well known for their ginger-snap flavored sauerbraten., often accompanied by potato pancakes.
Stewed fruits often accompany main courses, particularly at German and Hungarian tables.
Polish food is closer to Russian than the others.
Hungarians love garlic.
I guess to answer my question might just take a thesis. Thank you for jump starting my education. My experience (excluding the one time to DJ's) has been limited to Czech food at Cafe Bohemia in Martinez and Hungarian once each in Davis, Denver and Calgary. I've never been able to hit the one in Vancouver when it's open and had to settle for Ukrainian on Denman St. With the exception of the Ukranian restaurant, I've really enjoyed my experiences immensely. Their version of chicken paprika w/ dumplings weighed very heavily. German has been much easier to find, but is not as hoch on my list. Chopin in WC is also VERY good, but doesn't scratch the itch.
You've already answered some questions I had, especially with regard to the use of healthy doses of paprika I enjoy in Hungarian food. I never noticed the garlic but, then, I'm third gen Korean and probably desensitized.
A couple of Elbe tips:
The potato pancakes are excellent, and make a good appetizer.
I've been disappointed with the sauerbraten. Maybe my expectations are too high for that dish. I've had very good home-cooked sauerbraten (in its Czech guise as svickova), and the best ever was in a greasy-spoon Ukrainian or Polish counter-style place on Tompkins Square in NY back in the '60s, but I've never had a really good one in a "serious" restaurant, not even in Germany.
With this cuisine, beer is usually more appropriate than wine, unless you're having fish or chicken. Their selection of European beers on tap is impressive.
My brother and I tried Elbe last night, Entrees come with choice of two sides. William had the sauerbraten with spaetzle and potato pancakes, and I had the wienerschnitzel with spaetzle and red cabbage. The sauerbraten had delicious gravy and the beef was tender as promised, but all the life had been cooked out of it. The meat had that dryish, stringy texture and not much beefiness. The two veal cutlets on my plate tasted better than they looked. The breading looked heavy, but was actually crisper and not as clunky once I cut into it, and the meat was tender and moist and enjoyable once I sprinkled it heavily with salt. The "beurre blanc" was not really, and the wedges of lemon squeezed over were a better accompaniment. The spaetzle were too soft for my taste, and the brown mushroom gravy served on the side for it had no salt at all. Cabbage had been cooked too long by the end of the night. Potato pancakes decent, but not craveable. We theorized that the patrons must be of the sodium-conscious older set to explain the lack of salt in the food. Most interesting part of the meal was the cheese spread served with the bread (butter too), that seemed to be made of sprayed cheese flavored with sweet pickles. Too bad the food wasn't better, as at about $15 per entree, it could have been good value with a little more skill in cooking.
Perhaps the lunch chef is better?
While it doesn't do Czech exclusively, you might check out Britt-Marie in Albany which was founded by a Czech and still has some lingering dishes and atmosphere.
Even more limited is Cafe Prague in SF
Czech and Polish are so different it annoys me they get lumped together. If looking for one, you aren't looking for the other. As mentioned, Polish is more a sister of Russian. Sometimes Polish gets lumped in with Hungarian ... also so wrong.
Hmmm ... there's this one place in the East Bay that Jonathan Kaufman wrote about years ago. I remember it standing out for what seemed like a Bohemian feel. I have it somewhere in lost notes because it is on one of my places I keep meaning to go to. I'll post if I find it.
re: Robert Lauriston
Thanks. I don't think that is it and my map of Bay Area Eastern European eats didn't note whatever place it was. But not one dish in that review is one that seems right.
Then again, maybe my memory is failing. The joint I was thinking of was more of a deli/market. It was more of a morning place ... I remember the whole morning aspect of it because it was part of the reason I never got over there.
Though thanks again.
re: Robert Lauriston
No, definately not that one. For some reason, I have it in my mind that this place was nearish Delikatesi (sp) and I was going to stop but got diverted lurking around that place for Polish donuts that never arrived ... and by then it was too late in the afternoon because I believe it closed early. I think I asked about it on the board, but it was under the old software where your name had to be entered for some posts so I made spelling errors and it probably wouldn't be worth searching.