Prime beef, by George
American-style steakhouse tries to fill a gap on the market
Posted: October 9, 2013
Prague's culinary offerings have improved over the past several years, but still were incomplete, according to Slovak-born owner George Betak, who has extensive experience as a chef in Canada, Italy and Switzerland. The newly opened Emblem hotel, which is trying to break out of the standard hotel mold by eliminating the front desk, also wanted to stake out new territory with its restaurant, something that invited the general public in addition to serving hotel guests.
The management allowed Betak to develop the restaurant according to his own ideas. He came up with George Prime Steak, a high-end eatery with a main room that seats 42 plus two private rooms that each seat 10. One of these can be set up with a private entrance on a side street.
"Italian has been done, French has been done … I was looking for something new and I came up with an old-school American steak house. There wasn't one," he told a small group of journalists invited to sample some highlights from the meat-intensive menu. While there are a few Argentinean-style steak places, he claims his is different. "It is a different style and different flavor of meat. To me, [Argentinean beef] is a bit more gamey," he said, while acknowledging that these rivals did bring the first high-quality beef to the Czech market.
George Prime Steak primarily uses USDA-certified prime beef imported from America, and aged at least 30 days. The goal is to increase the aging to 45 days. The black Angus beef is purported to be corn fed, ethically treated, and hormone and hormone and antibiotic free. "The beef comes by ship, where the aging process begins," he said. The trip from Arkansas to the Netherlands takes 14 days, and then in Amsterdam it takes another seven days for the sides of meat to be cut up into desired American-style cuts including New York steak, T-bone, rib-eye and top loin.
Hours: Lunch noon-3:30; dinner 6-11 p.m.; lounge noon-1 a.m. (last food served at midnight)
Tel: 226 202 599
Pan fried Maryland blue crab cakes: 355 Kč
Petit filet mignon (225 grams): 810 Kč
Porterhouse for two (950 gram): 1,950 Kč
Roasted Atlantic halibut fillet: 790 Kč
Black truffle mac and cheese: 125 Kč
Creamed spinach au-gratin: 95 Kč
The final trimming takes place at the restaurant to ensure it meets the desired look. By importing the meat directly, Betak says he cuts out the middle man and can offer the same quality as steak houses in New York, for example, for 40 percent less cost. The design of his restaurant is also different. "When you come in, there is a lounge where a guest can sit and wait for friends," he said, adding that this was a typical feature in the US but not so common elsewhere. The restaurant has an extensive collection of bourbons as well as a list of California and other wines that the restaurant exclusively imports. The wine list does include selections from Francis Ford Coppola's vineyard, but not the same ones that are already on the Czech market.
One innovation that the lounge has is a special device that keeps an open bottle of wine fresh for 30 days, allowing a guest to sample a particularly expensive vintage without paying for a whole bottle. The rest can be offered as a limited-time special to other patrons. The restaurant lounge is just to the right of the main entrance, eliminating the feeling that you are walking through a hotel to reach its dining room.
The lounge, which also serves food fairly late, has its own menu that includes the most expensive hamburger in Prague, a topic The Prague Post intends to investigate further. It contains real gold.
The main room is bright and lit by several impressive crystal chandeliers, and several staff members are waiting to ensure that every guest is taken care of. "We are not looking for a Michelin Star. Our goal is to treat every guest like a VIP. But if we get recognition [from a rating service] that's fine," Betak said. Decor includes framed gold-leaf spiral prints on handmade paper.
One of the private dining rooms, with door that can be opened to see the kitchen, is quite warm and cozy. It has dark-wood walls filled with interesting wine bottles to peruse and glass and metal case where guests and have large cuts of meat drying to perfection. "We call them when the meat is ready and tell them they can come and we will prepare it for them," Betak said.
The restaurant is just a stone's throw from Old Town Square, and the intention is not to make a neighborhood-type place, but more of a spot for special occasions and times when people want to splurge. The cheapest steak on the menu, New York strip, is 790 Kč for 310 grams. Prices range up to a 1950 Kč steak for two and a 1590 Kč lobster dish.
To show what guests could expect, executive chef Martin Hnilicka prepared a special lunch with tasting-size portions from the dinner menu. After a welcome drink of Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs wine, two appetizers were served. Pan-fried Maryland blue crab cakes with shitake corn salsa and spicy sesame lobster beurre blanc were paired with a glass of Hahn Chardonnay 2010 from California.
While the crab couldn't be faulted - it was clearly fresh and the salsa offered a fine complement - it was far outshone by the second menu item: classic steak tartare made with freshly hand-chopped 30-day-aged filet mignon with Hawaiian black salt. The raw beef spread easily on the toasted bread and had a subtle flavor that was enhanced by the rather unusual taste of the black salt. While this dish can often taste like stringy undercooked hamburger, that was not the case here. The aged beef practically melted on the tongue. This was paired with another California wine, Buena Vista Pinot Noir 2007.
The main event was a steak that is billed on the menu as "the ultimate sharing experience." While the menu suggests it for two people, it could easily serve three or even four if sufficient side dishes are ordered. The menu size is 950 grams, and the restaurant does not play games by charging hidden fees regarding the weight. The steak is truly massive and is carved into slices at your table by one of the staff, all of whom seem to have had lessons in politeness.
The steak, due to its size, included both New York steak and tenderloin portions. The restaurant has a special oven called a Montague Legend radiant broiler that reaches 650 degrees Celsius. The result was a nicely browned, but not burnt, top and bottom with a reddish pink center. The beef cut easily and, as with the steak tartare, was full of the sort of beef flavor that one simply does not find in a neighborhood eatery.
The Prague Post tends to prefer beef cooked a little more to the medium side, with a firmer and pinker center, but that also leads to some loss of flavor from the juices. The steak was served with no sauce or other toppings, which might detract from the natural flavor of the meat. Indeed, none of the beef items on the menu have herbs or sauces listed as accompaniments. Four sauces including bearnaise and bone-marrow butter are available on request. A few other items such as free range chicken, rack of lamb, veal chops and the seafood offerings do have added flavorings ranging from curry to red-pepper shallot butter included.
The sample menu included three side dishes: creamed spinach au-gratin, sugar roasted baby beets with white balsamic, and black truffle mac and cheese. These were served "family style," meaning a portion in the center of the table for people to share. All of these are what one would expect in a high-end eatery, although the mac and cheese was a true stand out that took a basic comfort food to a higher level with a fine off-white cheese sauce covering large pasta shells instead of standard-sized elbow macaroni.
Dessert was one of those treats that is almost impossible to make at home, Vermont maple syrup panna cotta with bourbon glazed pecans and a caramel spun cage. It seemed a shame to crack open the hard caramel dome, but it had to be done. The steaks are so large compared to the standard restaurant offerings in Prague that it might be temping to skip dessert, but leaving some room is recommended.
Raymond Johnston can be reached at