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This is not a formal review, but rather an off-the-cuff first-impressions-style riff on a brand-spankin’ new D.C. restaurant.
“This seems pretty legit,” my brother, Adam, says. We’re sitting at a two-top inside the cozy Bistro Bohem, the new Czech-themed boîte in Shaw, hungrily dipping into a big bowl of beef goulash with bits of bread dumplings.
The Brothers Shott don’t exactly hail from Eastern Europe, but the younger one spent a summer in Prague, where he pretty much lived on the hearty peasant stew. Well, that and pilsner. Lots of pilsner.
My typically skeptical brother’s endorsement of the brownish beefy broth makes some sense. Chef-owner Jarek Mika is a Prague native, after all. And, it’s a pretty simple, traditional recipe, Mika tells me when I call later to chat about the stuff.
Mika stews the beef cubes for two to three hours with sauteed onions, garlic, salt, pepper, caraway seeds, and what he calls marjoram—-“which you guys actually call oregano,” he says—-then thickens it with flour. (To cater to the Celiac crowd, the chef also offers a flour-less version.)
One complaint, though: the bread dumplings seem a little dense, almost scone-like, not puffy—-a textural discrepancy that Mika attributes to the differences between the various types of flour available in Europe and the standard all-purpose stuff you find here in the States. “We’ve been having serious issues recreating those,” the chef says. “The jury is still out on the dumplings.”
Still, the stuff goes down pretty smooth when paired with a glass of crisp Czechvar, the standard-bearer Czech lager. In Mika’s native land, brewhounds call it Budvar—-the original model for America’s Budweiser, only it doesn’t suck so much. But that brand name simply doesn’t fly here in the States. Anheuser-Busch won’t allow it.
The little brother had been hoping to find a bottle of the elusive Staropramen cerny—-perhaps the truest test of Czech authenticity in his book. No dice.
But, hey, if the goulash is good and the Bud is better than usual, that’s something, even by bourgeois-bohemian standards.
Bistro Bohem, 600 Florida Ave. NW, (202) 506-0019
Photo by Chris Shott