At-home Mazemen

At-home Mazemen

At-home Mazemen

After a vigorous work-out, or a busy day, I will occasionally indulge in what I will call, for lack of a better term, At-home Mazemen.  Let me explain.

Like many Americans, I have eaten my share of packaged ramen noodles.  In fact, you could say that I got through graduate school on them.  However, I have never prepared them according to the directions on the package.  Rather than have a soupy concoction with some noodles to be fished out of it, I much prefer a thick, saucy dish, with just enough broth to coat the noodles.

Again, like many Americans, I ate the cheap packaged ramen I could find in my supermarket.  But after graduate school, I started exploring, trying to see if I could find a packaged ramen that was really good, rather than the gluey noodles and fake tasting sauce I was used to.  I went to where I thought that more of a variety of ramens might be found, to Kam Man Market on Canal Street, in Manhattan’s Chinatown.

For those who don’t know about Kam Man, it is a multi-level supermarket that has pretty much everything you would think of when you think of Asian food.  Jars of Hoisin sauce.  Woks and Asian tea pots.  Packages of wood ear mushrooms.  Well, sure enough, Kam Man sold a mess of different brands of ramen, and at prices much lower than I had seen in my local supermarket.  I was thrilled, and bought a variety of brands to see which one, if any, I liked the best.

When I brought my basketful of ramens to the counter to pay, the ladies thought I was nuts.  I guess they were thinking, “What?  A Caucasian dude eating spicy ramen?  He probably has no idea what he is getting into!”  They pointed at the packages and said in a cautioning tone, “very spicy!”  I nodded and said, “yes, I know.”  Not to be deterred, they said it again – “Ve-e-ery spicy!”  I smiled and went ahead and purchased my ramens over their strenuous objections.

Sure enough, there was one that stood head and shoulders above the rest: Nong Shim.  This a Korea-based company that makes a number of different varieties.  The kind I usually buy is a spicy one called Shin Ramyun, but all of them are quite delicious if handled correctly.

That last part is my own prejudice you might say.  Because again, I don’t follow the directions.  Here is how I prepare my Mazemen (and I will tell you about that word a little later):

In a sauce pan, bring just enough water or (preferred) chicken stock to cover the noodles to a boil.  Add the noodles, and stir until the noodles are nearly cooked (2 to 3 minutes).  Then add the flavor packets (half the pepper sauce and all of everything else) and stir, and turn the heat down to low.  Let the noodles continue to simmer for another 90 seconds to 2 minutes.  At this point most of the stock should have evaporated or become stuck to the noodles.  Toss the noodles once to make sure they are all well-coated with sauce, and then pour them into a bowl.  Finish the dish with a drizzle of 1 to 2 teaspoons of toasted sesame oil, stir one more time, and enjoy!

I should say that there are a million ways to get creative with these noodles.  You can cook proteins (chicken, small meatballs, seafood) in the stock before cooking the noodles, and then add the protein back in at the end.  You can add vegetables – although my advice there is to cook them separately, because they interfere with the noodle cooking/sauce creation.  Over the years, I have probably eaten my noodles a hundred different ways, although I usually eat them the simple way I described above.

By the way, if you have never had toasted sesame oil, that stuff is gold.  If you’ve been eating Chinese food for years and there is this flavor you really like, this smoky nutty flavor, that you can’t identify, that is probably toasted sesame oil.  Since my early days of eating Nong Shim Ramen, I always make sure to have a bottle of toasted sesame oil in my cabinet.

One of the things that thrilled me about this dish from the beginning was that it was dairy free.  But that is not to say it is necessarily healthy.  The flavor packets often contain MSG, which I know many people prefer not to eat.  But this is a quick and easy yummy snack.  And if you don’t want to use the flavor packets, you can create your own sauce, which I have also done many times.  Just go to the Asian food section of your supermarket and select an Asian-style marinade/sauce and drizzle a bit of that over your noodles near the end, stir it up, and I bet that will be just as good as anything I have ever created with my packaged ramen.

As for the name, for many years, I thought that what I was doing was making my ramen the wrong way.  Little did I know that the saucy ramen has its own name: Mazemen.  I found this out just in the last couple years, when first at Yuji Ramen in the Bowery Whole Foods Supermarket, and then at a Wine & Food Festival dinner put on by Chef Ivan Orkin, I ate their mazemen with great relish.  Now granted, their dish is a little different than what I do.  They use buckwheat noodles that are thicker and chewier than the noodles in Nong Shim’s ramens.  But as for the sauce, what they are doing in Mazemen is EXACTLY the same thing I have been doing for more than 20 years when I make my ramen.

If you look up Mazemen on the Internet, you won’t find much.  There isn’t even a Wikipedia article about it yet, which shows you how new it is (or how rare).  Most references call it a “dry” or “brothless” ramen, both of which characterizations don’t adequately describe it.  Saucy rather than soupy is how I prefer to think of it.

Most of the references you will find to mazemen on the Internet will be related to Chef Ivan or Chef Yuji.  Did one of them invent it?  Or someone else?  I have no idea.  Maybe it was one of those Japanese secrets that you would only know about if you had traveled there and been to some out-of-the-way ramen bar where mad genius ramen chefs invent things like mazemen.  I have no idea.

I just know that when I get back home from roller-blading or a long walk on a hot day, nothing does it for me like a big jug of cold water, and a nice bowl of my At-home Mazemen.  Happy noodle cooking, my friends.

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Sarah Bernhardt Restaurant Prague

Sarah Bernhardt Restaurant Prague

Sarah Bernhardt Restaurant Prague

The dinner Therese, Eileen and I enjoyed at Sarah Bernhardt Restaurant Prague was probably the best meal we experienced during our time in the Czech Republic back in September.  So I feel that it is only fitting that my post about Sarah Bernhardt’s should be both my last post about our Czech Republic trip, and my first post of 2015.

I told you previously a little about Sarah Bernhardt.  Our evening there had all the elements to make it a magical one: great food, great setting and outstanding service.  Let me begin by telling you about the service.  The young lady who waited on us was very friendly and extremely helpful.  When I told her about my dairy allergy, her response was to say, “pick anything from the menu, and the chef will find a way to make it for you.”  How incredible is that!  I have been accommodated greatly on many occasions in restaurants over the years, but that is the first time I have gotten such a blanket positive response.

When she brought our bread, she presented me with my own plate of condiments: olive oil, salt and balsamic vinegar, to go with two different kinds of delicious bread, a light and a dark.

Bread with Condiments

Bread with Condiments

For my appetizer, I chose a seasonal specialty, chanterelle mushrooms flambéed table-side with port wine.  I remember hearing someone on food television making a derisive remark about table-side service, saying it is passé.  Well, this was my first experience with it, and I thought it was pretty cool.  The waitress wheeled over a portable gas stove, and then brought the port and the mushrooms.  Then she poured some port into what looked like a Turkish coffee pot, lit a burner and started warming the port.  Then she put the mushrooms into a copper pan (as I recall, with some chopped arugula) over another burner, poured the warmed port over them, got the port alit, and cooked the mushrooms as the flame died down.  The important thing is that the result was delicious.

Chanterelle Mushroom Starter

Chanterelle Mushroom Starter

For my entrée, I chose a dish of veal medallions with a truffle demi-glace, grilled artichoke stuffed with ratatouille and house-made tagliolini pasta.  It was just as extraordinary as it sounds.

Veal Medallions with Black Truffle Demi-glace, Grilled Artichoke Stuffed with Ratatouille and Tagliolini

Veal Medallions with Black Truffle Demi-glace, Grilled Artichoke Stuffed with Ratatouille and Tagliolini

Normally, the pasta would be presented bathed in some sort of cream sauce.  For me, they offered it plain, but it scarcely mattered since I could dip it in the demi-glace, which was extraordinary (I am a big sauce lover, and this was a rich, complex, satisfying sauce).  And the veal medallions were tender and full of flavor.  The star of this dish, however, was the grilled artichoke and ratatouille.  I could’ve eaten a plateful of those.  It was not a spicy, overly-saucy ratatouille – it was just diced tomato, onion, pepper and eggplant lightly seasoned and cooked well within their artichoke heart home.

My meal was accompanied, as were so many of our meals in the Czech Republic, by a glorious local wine.  I regret that I did not take note of the name or the precise nature of my enjoyment.  For 2015, I pledge to you that I will talk more about beverages in my posts.

The décor in the Sarah Bernhardt Restaurant makes visiting there a joy all by itself.  Named after the famous turn-of-the-century actress, the sign outside (a photo of which I posted at the outset of this writing) shows her in one of the classic illustrations of her by renowned Czech artist Alphonse Mucha.  It all fits because Mucha’s Bernhardt posters were entirely Art Nouveau in style, just as is the restaurant and the Hotel Paris in which it resides.  I will let this extraordinary décor speak for itself.

We ate at Sarah Bernhardt on a Tuesday night, and it was very quiet there.  So in spite of being such a great restaurant, it is not hard to find a table there on a weeknight.  We had called ahead and made a reservation just to be sure.  And I should not neglect to mention that the restaurant excels in a fourth element as well: location.  It is directly across the street from the Municipal House, and just west of Namesti Republiky (Republic Square).  For us, it was just a short walk from our hotel.

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King Solomon Restaurant Prague

King Solomon Restaurant Prague

King Solomon Restaurant Prague

When you walk up to the front door of King Solomon Restaurant Prague, in the heart of the Czech capital’s Jewish Quarter, the first thing you learn is that American First Lady Michelle Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have both eaten there.  I was not concerned about whether I would be welcome there based on my political leanings.  But I suppose if I was, I would glean from this first experience that I would be welcome there no matter what.

In any case, after walking through the labyrinth of the Jewish Quarter and its historic synagogues and cemetery, I was ready to sit down and enjoy a good meal.  I would not be disappointed at King Solomon.

First of all, with it being a kosher restaurant, I was assured by the waiter that everything on the menu is dairy free (woohoo!).  So I ordered freely.  I began with their signature Matzo Ball Soup.

My Appetizer of Matzo Ball Soup

My Appetizer of Matzo Ball Soup

Ah, this was just what I needed.  The rich broth and the chunks of carrot and chicken, and of course the chewy matzo ball, revived me.  I slurped up this good soup, and was ready for my entrée of goose breast and potato croquettes.

My Entree - Goose Breast and Potato Croquettes

My Entree – Goose Breast and Potato Croquettes

I had had my first taste of goose ever just a few days earlier when I enjoyed a goose leg confit at Kolkovna Celnice.  That was quite delicious.  This was extraordinary.  The luscious slices of breast, the rich giblet-y gravy, and most of all, the incredible croquettes made this a meal to remember.  The croquettes – wow!  Soft and creamy inside, lightly toasted and crispy on the outside.  I gotta try my hand at making some of these.

Therese also had a really good lunch.  Her appetizer was a bowl of borscht, and her entrée was a stuffed cabbage.

Believe me, her food looked so good that I wished I had had a second stomach, so that I could order those dishes as well as my own!  As it was, I regrettably could not finish my goose breast entrée, though it was not for lack of trying.  I was stuffed! and so happy.

The airy dining room where we ate our lunch was very nice, by the way.

King Solomon's Airy Rear Dining Room

King Solomon’s Airy Rear Dining Room

Well, I may not be Bibi Netanyahu, or Michelle Obama, but I can tell you that I loved our lunch at King Solomon.  And I will be searching for kosher restaurants in cities we visit in the future, because there is nothing like being able to order everything on the menu!  Thank you, King Solomon!

King Solomon's Sign

King Solomon’s Sign

Posted in Countries, Czech Food, Czech Republic, Dairy Free, King Solomon Kosher Restaurant Prague, Kosher Food, Lunch, Prague, Prague Jewish Quarter, Restaurants | Leave a comment

Prague Jewish Quarter

Prague Jewish Quarter

Prague Jewish Quarter

When we visited the Prague Jewish Quarter, we toured the many historic buildings which make up the Jewish Museum.  There were several synagogues and an old meeting house, and a historic cemetery (I will give some details on these places below).  However, you won’t see a lot of photos of these places in my blog, for the simple reason that there is no photography allowed in any of those places.  An exception was the cemetery, where you could purchase a photography permit – we didn’t get a permit, but when we saw that the booth where you usually buy these permits was closed, we decided it would be ok if we snapped a photo or two.

The one place I did get a good photo was outside of the Spanish Synagogue, which began our tour.

Spanish Synagogue

Spanish Synagogue

This building was gorgeous both inside and out, and really the highlight for me of our tour of the area.  The interior was ornate, decorated in the Moorish style that is apparent on the outside.  And in the balcony, there were numerous display cases that commemorated many great artists and writers and statesman from Czech Jewish culture.

The rest of the Jewish Quarter tour reminded me once again that, for the remaining European Jews, the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust are still a vivid memory.  The Pinkas Synagogue, with its walls covered in the names of the people taken from area Jewish communities to the concentration camps, is unremittingly somber, and the mood established while there continued for me throughout the rest of the morning.

I was also reminded that, for Prague’s Jews (and those in communities throughout Europe), ill-treatment didn’t begin in the 20th century.  Prague’s Jews were squeezed into a tiny ghetto northeast of the Old Town.  When they were allowed to leave the ghetto in the late-nineteenth century, the city condemned the buildings left behind, tore everything down, and rebuilt the neighborhood.  As a result, there are many beautiful Art Nouveau office and apartment buildings in the area.

As we left behind the synagogues and cemetery and thought about lunch, there were occasional reminders of what we had just seen, as under our feet, embedded in the sidewalk, were gold tiles listing the names of some of the Jewish people from the neighborhood who were taken away to the concentration camps.

Tiles Commemorating Prague's Lost Jews

Tiles Commemorating Prague’s Lost Jews

After the strong medicine that was our tour of the neighborhood, I felt like I had earned a good lunch, and so we found our way to the area’s foremost kosher restaurant, King Solomon, where we looked forward to a transcendent meal.

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Prague Decorative Arts Museum

Prague Decorative Arts Museum

Prague Decorative Arts Museum

Given the choice between fine arts and decorative arts, I will often choose the former. A Monet or a Bosch will please me any day of the week.  However, having now visited the Prague Decorative Arts Museum, I have gained a new level of respect and appreciation for all that is decorative.  Seeing a collection that demonstrates the heights of artistic beauty to which even the most humble functional item can be raised, I cannot help but be impressed.

Take for example, the lowly candy dish. Just about any old thing can be a candy dish. You could saw a coffee can in half and, voila! Candy dish. But here at the Decorative Arts Museum, I saw an item, which I am calling a candy dish simply because that is what it most reminds me of (it had a fancier title, but I neglected to take note of it).

White and Red Candy Dish

White and Red Candy Dish

This was so lovely as to make me write an Ode to the Candy dish:

(Clears throat) – “In life I have one solemn wish, To own such a lovely candy dish…”

Oops, sorry. Anyway, getting back to the museum.  Starting with the building, this is a monumental celebration of all that is decorative.  Built in the late nineteenth century in Neo-Renaissance style, the structure is a more than capable partner to all the beauty it contains.

The wealth of artworks then made available are displayed in very creative ways.  For example, all the kinds of cloth and paper are laid in drawers of large cabinets.  Each cabinet is labeled, and there are chairs to sit on while you roll out each drawer of whatever category of printed matter, for example, that you might wish to explore.  Here are two examples of things that caught my attention in the cabinets: an extraordinary piece of lace, and some examples of gorgeous illuminated manuscript letters.

Then in other rooms there were huge glass cabinets with hydraulic shelving.  You could view what was presently at eye level, or you could press a button and bring a piece on another shelf way above your head down to where you could best see it.  A very efficient way to make the largest number of pieces available.

And then there were more conventional glass cases full of items related to each other.  Here is a collection of some other pieces in the museum’s permanent collection that caught my eye.

When we had explored the entire permanent collection, we descended to the ground floor of the museum and discovered there was a gallery to one side that housed temporary exhibits, in this case an exhibit of ceramic works by the important modern Czech ceramic artist Václav Šerák and his students, called “Fire Clay Ice.”

Fire Clay Ice Exhibit Poster

Fire Clay Ice Exhibit Poster

While there were many of Mr. Šerák’s works on display, documenting his long and varied career as a ceramicist –

Vaclav Serak's Work

Vaclav Serak’s Work

I personally found the works of his students to be much more appealing, especially the set of dishes by Jiří Laštovička.

Looking at these attractive dishes and teapots and other ceramic works was a delightful finish to our time at the Decorative Arts Museum.

The Museum is just west of Prague’s old Jewish quarter, Josefov, and we walked past the Jewish Museum on our way to lunch at George Prime Steak.  I had heard that George’s serves amazing hamburgers, and since Therese’s mom Eileen loves hamburgers, I thought that would be a fun place for lunch.  It is also an elegant restaurant, much fancier than many of the other restaurants we visited in Prague.

When we entered the restaurant, it seemed at first that the wait staff didn’t know what to do with us.  But after conferring, they offered us a very nice table in the dining room.  The menu were given didn’t have any hamburgers listed, but when I asked about that, they brought us a separate hamburger/bar menu.  Unfortunately for me, the hamburgers could not be prepared dairy free (I think it was the bun that had some butter in it).  So I opted for a small filet mignon with a port wine sauce and frites (with house-made ketchup), accompanied by a nice local golden ale, Pivovar Matuska.

Eileen did end up ordering one of the hamburgers – in fact, it was the variety that I expected her to order, one with sautéed mushrooms and blue cheese.

Since we were attending the opera that evening, a performance that began at what was to us the early hour of 7pm, our lunch at George’s was our main meal of the day.  We took our afternoon break after lunch, and then had light snacks in our hotel executive lounge before taking the metro to Wenceslas Square and then walking just one block to the State Opera House.

State Opera House Prague

State Opera House Prague

The interior of the State Opera House is very beautiful, and the auditorium is quite intimate, compared to what I am used to (New York City’s Metropolitan Opera House, where we usually attend opera performances, is enormous).

The size of the auditorium was just perfect for the performance we attended.  Soprano Eva Hornyakova was making her Prague debut as the title character of Verdi’s La Traviata.  Listening to her sing from the first row of the balcony, I felt like that I could easily hear every nuance of her performance and that of the entire company.  It was such a privilege to go to the opera in Prague, and the perfect end to another wonderful day of our Prague holiday.

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Lifethyme Natural Market

Lifethyme Natural Market

Lifethyme Natural Market

Lifethyme Natural Market is such a reliable part of my life, such a great place to shop where I’ve shopped for food for so long, that I sometimes take it for granted, or even overlook it.  Take for example, this past week.  I was thinking that for the month of December, it would be fun to do a series on the great vegan bakeries in New York City.  I wanted to go to each one and buy one slice of cake or cupcake (as hard as it would be to buy just one), and then of course blog about the bakery and the sweet I enjoyed.

I started compiling a list in my head.  Atlas CaféBlossom CaféBabyCakesPeacefood Café.  And I thought, hmmm, I feel like I’m leaving one out.  Then it came to me: I was forgetting Lifethyme!  A health food store in Greenwich Village that contains an awesome vegan bakery, the one where I’ve been shopping longest, and which might be the best of any of them (or at least a close second to Atlas Café, which gets its baked goods from the awesome Bethlehem, Pennsylvania-based Vegan Treats).  I couldn’t believe it.

The only way I could atone for this gross oversight was to forget about all those other places (or at least put off visiting them until some other time), and focus on Lifethyme.  After all, their baked goods are so good that I would love nothing better than to go there and buy a whole bunch of them, and then spend the next few days having Lifethyme cakes for desserts!  Yay!  That is exactly what I decided to do.

So I took the subway over to 6th Avenue and 8th Street, to discover that Lifethyme is nearly obliterated with scaffolding (scaffolding being the bane of our existence here in Manhattan).

Yes, they are looking a bit bedraggled, with scaffolding bars criss-crossing their windows and so forth, but at least they are still there.  So many grocery stores and bakeries and other institutions that have been my go-tos over the years have disappeared overnight.  Thank God Lifethyme is still here!  I went inside and snaked my way through the narrow aisles to the back of the store, where the deli and vegan bakery are.  And there it was, the vegan bakery case that is one of most amazing in NYC.

Now I apologize that in my photos, I cut off the top row of the case, where a variety of awesome oversized cookies are sold.  Their bestseller is a monster-sized version of the old Nestles Tollhouse cookie that they call the “Tollbooth.”  The last time I was at Lifethyme, I seem to remember it no longer being vegan (??!!!) – maybe it had butter in it? I don’t remember.  Anyway, I was not so cookie-oriented this time, so it didn’t matter.

Instead, it was the lower portion of the case that caught my eye.  From the right side, I got slices from two kinds of cakes: the Blackout Cake, and the Mint Chocolate Chip.

Also from the right side of the case, I took a Chocolate Peanut Butter roll (the closest thing I know to a vegan version of Drake’s Funny Bones) and from the left, I got a Chocolate Cupcake (with buttercream frosting).

As I was making my selections, I realized that everything I was buying was chocolate.  One voice in my head said, “you know, you can get something that’s not chocolate!” but a second voice spoke up and said, “yeah, but I’m paying, and I want chocolate!”

And was I happy with my selections?  Absolutely.  I have already eaten the chocolate mint cake, and the chocolate peanut butter roll, and the cupcake is half gone.  I would say that the mint in the first cake is not that prominent, but it is on the whole, a very good cake.  The cupcake is excellent, especially the icing, which is just as light and fluffy as anything I ever tasted on a sheet cake growing up.  And the chocolate peanut butter roll?  Just fantastic.  I’m saving the blackout cake, with its huge complement of rich chocolate icing, but I’m sure that it will not live through the weekend.

I have no idea how many more years Lifethyme will be in operation.  I can’t say how long I’ve been going there, but it must be nearly 20 years at this point.  But I will not make the mistake of overlooking it again.  And yes, I will visit some of the other vegan bakeries I mentioned in the weeks to come.  But they will have to be on their A game and then some to outdo what I got at Lifethyme this week!

 

Posted in Bakeries, Dairy Free, Dessert, Food, Greenwich Village, Markets, New York, New York City, United States | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Vinograf Wine Bar Prague

Vinograf Wine Bar Prague

Vinograf Wine Bar Prague

On our last full day in Prague, we stopped in for lunch at Vinograf Wine Bar Prague.  There are actually 2 locations for this establishment I believe – we visited the smaller of the two, on a twisty side street not far from the Charles Bridge.  We had begun the day by visiting Mucha’s Slav Epic at the Veletrzni Palace, and then took the tram to Malostranske Namesti, the square not far from the Charles Bridge.  From there, it was just a walk of a few short blocks to the wine bar.

When I say that Vinograf is small, I am not kidding.  The entire place was looked after by one very pleasant young lady (who spoke good English), and there were maybe 8 tables in the whole wine bar.  When we got there, it was completely empty, and we wasted no time in ordering some glasses of wine and appetizers.

After munching on salmon tartare and sausages with mustard, we thought about getting some dessert.  Unfortunately, their menu is light on desserts.  There was mention of pumpkin cookies that sounded like they might be dairy free, but it turned out that those would only be available for a special dinner taking place some days hence.  So I settled for finishing with a nice glass of sweet dessert wine and a dish of some cashews.

Dessert Wine with Cashews

Dessert Wine with Cashews

The café is filled with an impressive array of local wines for sale, and has typical wine-related décor.

After a couple of glasses of wine, I was ready for a nice walk, and maybe some coffee to get me through to the evening, when we would attend a performance at Prague’s National Marionette Theater.  Sure enough, the Charles Bridge was close, and we crossed that and entered Old Town, stopping at a sidewalk café for coffee.

We still had some hours to kill before the evening performance, so we visited the Choco Café and bought some bars of chocolate to take home with us.  Then we stopped at a café near the Marionette Theater where I had a sandwich – I won’t give you the name of the café, because honestly, the sandwich and the service there were not memorable in the least.

Then it was on to the evening’s performance of Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni performed by marionettes.

Marionette Theater

Marionette Theater

I believe that this troupe of marionettes has been to New York City in the past – I can remember hearing about their performance of Don Giovanni – so when we had walked past the theater a couple of days earlier, we decided to get some tickets.  It was a nice way to effectively conclude our visit to the Prague.

The easiest way to describe my reaction to seeing this marionette troupe perform Don Giovanni would be to say that I will never be able to think of this opera the same way again.  Who would’ve known that this serious opera could contain so much humor?  Yes, the main character’s side kick, Leporello is a humorous character, and they made great use of his humorous potential in this production.  But they found ways to infuse humor into pretty much every aspect of the production.  It was extraordinary, and we enjoyed it immensely.  The marionettes are fantastic, and the puppeteers expressed great skill in their performances.  I suppose you could say that our experience that evening was a microcosm for our entire stay in Prague: full of fun, rich, and with some delightfully unexpected elements.

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