Date Night: Koliba, Czech Food in Astoria
Koliba isn't for the squeamish. Among the ceramic plates, wooden statues, and ceremonial axes adorning the walls are stuffed animals, including deer, boar, and pheasant. Their furry carcasses are somewhat at odds with the overall homey atmosphere of this Czechoslovakian restaurant in Astoria.
We loved the lángos ($6), the Czech version of garlic bread, big enough to use as a sled. An airy loaf gets deep fried, then smothered in garlic oil and cheese that melts tableside. Inside, the bread resembled a popover, with a similar lightness and chew. The garlic arrived first via smell, then snuck up in waves as bite followed bite.
To make traditional dumplings, fresh white bread (more on that in a second) is torn, batter-dipped, and popped into the fryer. To make dumpling cubes with eggs and pickles ($6.75), the dumplings are mixed with gently scrambled eggs. The sour snap of the pickles contrasts sharply with the mushy warmth of the dumplings and eggs, keeping the dish from feeling too much like a hangover breakfast. A special word must be said about the bread that came as a side with our meal, and which we couldn't stop eating: it was as soft as spring grass, as plump and squishy as a baby's bicep.
For our first entree, we tried the combination pork platter ($13.75). Of the two preparations, the roasted loin might be considered delicious if you got it on an airplane, or after a long fast. The smoked pork, in contrast, echoed pastrami, and was tender enough to flake with a fork. In the red cabbage and sauerkraut sides, sweet and sour played like two puppies.
Gazdovsky tanier ($15.75) consisted of spaetzle and boiled pirohy. Made from fluffy sheep milk's cheese, the sauce possessed an alfredo-like consistency and sharpness. The perfectly formed pirohy had two faint ridges; their pillowy paunches opened to reveal a lightly salted stuffing of potatoes. To prevent carb overload, the kitchen thoughtfully added a dusting of tiny bacon pieces.
We left Koliba mildly befuddled, not by the service or the food, but because all the blood had left our brains to assist in digestion. Do not eat here if you have to multiply fractions, operate heavy machinery, or perform any other task that requires brain power and hand-eye coordination that night. Otherwise, skip breakfast, belly up, and enjoy. Koliba is best for: a lazy date.