When you think of European food, you probably think of Italy and France, or maybe Spanish tapas and British pub food. Odds are you haven’t thought much, if at all, of the Czech Republic, a country not exactly known in America for its food. But Bistro Bohem, which opened in March in Shaw, is quickly trying to change some attitudes in DC. Bistro Bohem’s delicious take on Central/Eastern European food, based on the owner’s Czechoslovakian heritage, might just convince Washingtonians to turn their attention just a bit further east.
Bistro Bohem serves both brunch and dinner, with some crossover between the two menus. My first visit was for brunch, and if you’re looking for a change from the Eggs Benedict, French Toast, and home fries offered on every corner, Bistro Bohem is the place to go. Their crepes are a wonderfully light substitute for the heavier pancakes served elsewhere, particularly those filled with strawberries and cream Chantilly (basically a fancy name for whipped cream). Want a crepe with a little more gusto? Get one with ham and Gruyere cheese. Both are excellent.
But my favorite dish at brunch was so good that I ordered it again when I returned for dinner. Their Chicken Schnitzel, perhaps the best-known Central/Eastern European dish, is like a chicken tender on steroids. The chicken cutlet is breaded and fried until it’s perfectly crispy on the outside and perfectly juicy on the inside, with a pink sauce (I think some sort of spiced remoulade) drizzled over the top for some extra flavor. The huge heap of potato salad that shares the plate stands up to the challenge, with sizable chunks of potato and not too much mayonnaise. The dish is an absolute star and is a reason in itself to head to Bistro Bohem.
The other dinner plates I tried were a bit more of a mixed bag. The “Delicately Sauteed Cauliflower” – which tastes almost like cauliflower with rye bread thanks to the dish’s generous helping of caraway seeds – was a tasty plate of vegetables, but became a bit boring after the first few bites. The potato pancakes with chicken got those two pieces spot on, but I expected, and didn’t get, some spice from what was labeled a creamy paprika sauce. I’d call both these dishes very good but not amazing; I wasn’t disappointed, but wasn’t as blown away as I was by the Chicken Schnitzel.
Overall, Bistro Bohem is clearly one of the better restaurants in its neighborhood (and in my opinion far ahead of its across-the-street neighbor Shaw’s Tavern) and states its case as a must-visit spot for people from all over the district. My only regret was not trying one of the delicious-looking sausages I saw delivered to a neighboring table. It’s a good thing there’ll definitely be a next time.