08 March 2011

Vladimir's Czech Restaurant

A few years back my friend Sourav and I were out at Point Reyes for a day of getting sand blown at us and looking at elk from a very far distance.  It was a nice day in the country, and being peckish from our trek, we decided to stop in Inverness to grab dinner rather than wait till we got all the way back to civilization.  Inverness is a little salty burg along the Tomales Bay, and therefore right on top of the San Andreas fault.  The last thing we expected to find there was a Central European hunter's delight restaurant!  Nor anywhere within a 100 miles of the California coast for that matter (on account of the hippie-ness, we supposed in our East Coast-based presumptions about California).  But Vladmir's Czech Restaurant turned out to be just that.

So we drove up, went in, and sat down.  Upon inspecting the menu we found there were exactly 6 choices.  All $25, all fixed plates.  Sourav got the duck, I got the rabbit.  I think that day the other selections were golden hind, basselope, aurochs, and coelacanth.  I forget.  In any case we both got exactly the same potato and same veggie with our fleisch.

And, all praise unto Wotan, was it lecker!  (I shall use German words, primarily because I don't know any Czech).  I've only had rabbit a few other times in my life, and don't remember being particularly impressed with Foo Foo stew, no matter how good a job Glenn Close did in promoting this other white meat back in the 80s.

Rabbit does not really taste like chicken; it tastes like chicken-flavored mammal.  My memory is vague to be honest, but I remember being quite pleased with the half a cottontail carcass I was presented with.  There was definitely some wood or charcoal involved in the roasting of this lagomorph, as was the case with the veggies.  The potatoes I don't remember, except that they were complementary to everything else.  Since it was bone-in bunny I got a little anatomy lesson too.  The long, flat muscle meat between a couple of the larger bones wasn't that tasty or pleasant to chew, but there was a fair amount of tender meat in the surface muscles, and I was sated.

All in all, it was very well-prepared, simple, authentic woodland grub.

So now we're full up on God's little creatures, and ready to pay.  We busted out the old debit cards and sallied up to the bar (whence resided the Cash Register).  Here Vladimir says, "Czech or cash only."  To which we said, in unison, "Wait, what?"

Seriously, the guy didn't take plastic of any sort, Visa commercials be damned. 

Granted we had no cell phone coverage out there (in 2006-ish), but we were still hopeful to find some modern trappings.  Northern California, remember?  Dot commers and bankers lurking in every nook and cranny.  Nope no credit cards.  Vlad didn't trust'em.  And we didn't have cash.

Since Sourav was driving, he went off in search of an ATM.  There was one at the grocery store across the street, but it had been broken for some time.  I sat at the bar and drank diet cokes and chatted with Vladimir.  He told me stories about listening to short wave radio when he was a younger man in post-war Czechoslovakia.  He hated communists, as I recall.  But he didn't trust capitalists either.  He was quite an interesting fellow who'd had a chance to do something different in life, and I was glad to have a chance to talk to him.  

At one point he says that since he's opened the restaurant in 1960 he'd only been stiffed on a bill twice.  Since credit cards had become more popular over time, and he was in a pretty remote location, he'd adopted a policy of letting people mail him a check if they didn't have cash.  He said he's received checks from cash-less diner from as far away as Maryland.  No worries to him, he'd only been stiffed twice.  So now he tells me.

Meanwhile it's 30, 45, 60 minutes since Sourav left.  I tried to reach him on the cell phone, but for aforementioned reasons that was an exercise in futility.  Roaming charges do not apply if there's no signal at all.  (This situation may have changed in the intervening 4+ years.)

Vladimir's in 2009
(IJ photo/Jeff Vendsel)
There's a crew of college-aged folks taking up a long table in the middle of the restaurant, I think celebrating someone's birthday.  They were boisterous, and drinking beer out of what had to be a 3-liter glass boot.*  Seventy-five minutes now and no Sourav.  I'm starting to think that I'm going to have to wash dishes and sleep behind the inevitable potbelly stove in the back room.  Finally after a full hour and a half, my South Asian compadre shows up.  I have no idea where he went, but I note for future reference that Vladimir's is 45 minutes from the nearest working cash machine.  The post-tweeners were brewski'ed to a high volume by now, and as much as I'd enjoyed alternately talking to Vladimir and staring at his walls, it was time to go.  All in all, it was a good evening and I got a story out of it.

What brought this memory up was an article I just read, from almost two years ago, that also brought news I hadn't heard.  Sadly, Vladimir Nevl died in the autumn of 2008.  God bless him.  His restaurant still goes, run by his daughter now.  If you are ever out to hike at Point Reyes or kayak on Tomales Bay, stop at Vladimir's and grab a dinner of game meat.  You won't regret it.

*Edit: downgraded boot size after a little looking into it.

No comments:

Post a Comment