Czech out Operetta in Chicago
"Czech food historically tends to be a peasant-fueling winter warming type of cuisine.."
Like many well-intentioned supposedly smart kids, I once thought I'd go to medical school. Then I took organic chemistry. It wasn't that the nuances of covalent bonds or steric interactions threw me for a loop. I actually enjoyed the class and did pretty well. No, actually the moment of doom came in the first week when I entered Chem 1800, a Greek amphitheater-sized lecture hall at the University of Michigan filled with about 500 of peers.
But, Greece this was not, and there was no ingénue playing Lysistrata convincing Athenian women to withhold sex from their men to end war, but rather Dr. Brian Coppola. Coppola was the student's professor, a guy who eschewed hardcore research in favor of accessible effective pedagogy. He was so cool, there was a rumor, he'd even had pierced nipples.
On the first day of class, Coppola asked how many of us wanted to go to medical school, and I'm pretty sure 499 arms went up. It would have been 500, but I abstained out of embarrassment, even though this too was my secret ambition. That being said, seeing all those people hell-bent on being doctors, I started to realize I wasn't so sure that's where I wanted to go.
And many years and many jobs later, I find myself as a food writer, and while not my initial calling, it does give me the satisfaction that most doctors have, the ability to save. Though I save not people so much, as the occasional beleaguered restaurant. And frankly, I'm not sure whether I can really save a restaurant as much as I add a few cc's of live-giving blood in the form of a few new patrons which hopefully lead to more.
And so I find myself in this position again. A good friend told me that Operetta, a rollicking fun Czech restaurant was looking a little grim these days. Apparently the beautiful female Euro waitstaff had been laid off and they were down to the bare bones staff of the owner and his wife, who told my friends that due to the economy, a lot of the Czech migrant workers had left Chicago and their built-in clientele was waning.
Couple that with the fact that Czech food historically tends to be a peasant-fueling winter warming type of cuisine, and well, Operetta isn't looking too good.
Spring or not, I urge anyone on Chicago to make the trip for Cesneková polévka (garlic soup) fortified with scrambled egg, salty rich broth and crunchy croutons, Smazen hermelín (deep-fried and breaded brie cheese) a refined, complex Mozzarella stick accompanied by freshly grated sweet carrots and cabbage, and Bramborové knedlíky plnené uzenm masem, half orbs of potato dumpling filled with chopped, smoked beef and crispy caramelized onion.
If you're on the Atkins diet (is anybody anymore?) or you eschew vegetables like Jay Leno, you might want to check out the Talír Operetta (Operetta plate)--a butcher's assortment of pork roast, smoked beef, and a quarter roasted duck. The lacquered crackling crust of the duck skin is as good as any Peking version.
Best of all, you'll feel good about yourself, and won't even have to part with an organ in the process.
5653 West Fullerton, Chicago IL 60639 (map)