giant shrimp Posted June 29, 2012 Share Posted June 29, 2012 Eastern European cooking seemed a natural follow-up to a film by Czech avant-garde animator Jan Svankmajer at the National Gallery last month, so we boarded a 70 bus to the fairly new Bistro Bohem. The small and inviting restaurant is located a block away from the gloriously revived Howard Theater and is an encouraging addition to Le Droit Park, which is looking particularly good these days, not counting the incongruously monolithic Howard University Hospital looming over its shoulders. (In pre-gentrification days, when these streets could turn unexpectedly mean, the proximity of the hospital was a good thing for stalwart neighborhood residents who had just been bludgeoned.) We had read enthusiastic things about Bistro Bohem in the newspaper and had heard similar praise from friends, so what unfolded was a bit of a disappointment. I won't blame it on Svankmajer. Although food plays more than a bit part in his movies, it is a source of mayhem, as it was in what we had just seen -- "Little Otik" -- where babies being fished out of briny water are delectably pink and you can see why customers are lined up for them. Savory soups and stews are brought to the table throughout the dark proceedings, and they appear fortifying, though unfortunately not enough to sate the enormous appetite of a rapidly flourishing tree-stump baby who has been brought to life by a hopelessly barren couple. Finally confined to the basement of the disconcerted parents' apartment house after devouring the mailman and a social worker, the temptation of a courtyard patch of cabbages is Otik's downfall, an ending out of the folktale on which this is based, a chronicle of an insatiable appetite running roughshod over the countryside. If I lived in its neck of the woods, I would visit Bistro Bohem often for its drinks and beers, but I would tend to stay away from the food unless I was famished. Sharing appetizers and small and large plates, we felt a bit like Otik, devouring our food but never finding anything that was truly satisfying. Garlic soup was mostly all salt, though the interplay of garlic and toasted bread revealed an intriguing affinity in flavor. Flecky in texture, melted Gruyere provided a reminder that this was a poor man's version of French onion soup. Pierogi with a potato and cheese filling were light and supple, steering things in a happier direction, except that there was some undercooked flour in the bechamel-based sauce on which they rested. Home-made potato chips were ridiculously bad, dripping in oil, some half crisp, others totally soggy, a few with raw centers. And a potato pancake was gummy, covered in a dark gloppy sauce, along with small orange knots of hard chicken. The menu advises that the kitchen is small. Clearly it was wrestling with the food the night we visited. Maybe it was just our dumb luck that the wrong person was cooking. Why go to Prague for food, when you can go to Paris? Bistro Bohem raised but did not answer that question for us. Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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