Dining on the Wine Trail: Alma, Prague

https://notdrinkingpoison.substack.com/p/dining-on-the-wine-trail-alma-prague

The musician and author Damon Krukowski once told me he has a trusty technique for avoiding overwrought contemporary cuisine during tours abroad: he asks hosts to take him to places their grandparents like. I confess a similar predilection, particularly when visiting places with a distinctive culinary heritage to which the 20th century was not kind. (This is to say, almost everywhere.)

Ordinarily I look at spaces like the multi-faceted, modern, and manifestly well-funded Prague restaurant Alma and I walk on, for the same reason I eschew most Michelin-starred restaurants in France: to avoid the embarrassment (and expense) of discovering someone’s parsimonious, geriatric idea of “contemporary” cuisine.

Yet at lunch in January with my friend the Tabor-based wine impresario Jan Čulik, Alma’s kitchen exceeded anything I’ve experienced in Prague or even Vienna, delivering a nuanced and playful tasting menu of resolutely landlocked, Central European flavor.

Situated in the expansive shell of a former cinema, Alma is the project of the team behind Kro Kitchen, where owner Vojta Vaclavik notably introduced cocktail pairing menus. (When I met him in France, he kindly gifted me a bottle of paprika-infused gin intended to pair with fried chicken.) Alma, too, contains an ornate and thoughtful cocktail bar, which I was unable to enjoy on this visit because it was lunchtime and I was hungover from a wine fair afterparty the previous evening. I wish such bar programs more staying power than they’ve had in Paris, where the cocktail rage of the early 2010s seemed to peter out as restaurant owners came to realize how labor-intensive good cocktails are in comparison to wine service.

Alma’s owners and its sommelier Dragan Bogdanovic are partnered in my friend Čulik’s wine import company, Alma Wines, whose estates feature heavily in the restaurant’s list. Čulik took some hard lessons from a previous venture importing the radical natural wine portfolio of Paris wine agent Fleur Godart in the mid-2010s; nowadays, like my friend Alice Feiring, he professes a general preference for lightly sulfited natural wines. Čulik’s unmistakeable passion for wine gives me hope that he’ll return to the dark side someday. In the meantime, we still find common ground, like the penetrating Jura wines of Didier Grappe, or the Moravian masterpieces of our friend Martin Vajčner. (Neither of which see any sulfite addition.)

Chefs Petr Židek (of renowned catering company Zeme Projekt) and Michal Danek both have backgrounds in baking. I owe to them my first revelatory taste of làngos, a Hungarian fried bread specialty that on the day of my visit was the basis of deceptively simple-looking construction of stracciatella, pesto, and ribbons of pickled pumpkin. In this old movie theatre, it was the vegetarian appetizer that stole the show, amid simply magnificent competition from every other dish.

ALMA
V Jirchářích 150/8
Nové Město
11000 PRAGUE
Czech Republic

For more natural wine dining tips – plus vigneron interviews, podcasts, news reports, and commentary on the natural wine scene – please subscribe!


FURTHER READING

Alma got a mention in Evan Rail’s “36 Hours in Prague” piece in the New York Times in Aug. 2023.

In October 2023, Taste of Prague called Alma “one of the coolest places to eat in Prague right now.”

Issue 10: Beyond the Mental Iron Curtain