Dining with the Ghosts of Sarah Bernhardt and Alfons Mucha

Hotel PARIS Praha

The lobby of Hotel Pariz, Prague

For the jlcollinsnh family, so far 2013 has been a very good year.

The house is finally sold, freeing up some capital. The stock market has been on a tear. Our daughter had her milestone 21st birthday April 1st.

Unfortunately, for that last, she’s in Rennes, France and we are in New Hampshire.

While we missed the actual day, later that month we did have the chance to meet up with her for a week in Prague. With all we have to celebrate, we decided to add a little luxury to this trip. The fact that we had only a week — usually we are stretching our travel dollars over a month or more — and because Prague is one of the least expensive cities in Europe, this seemed the time.

If, like we were, you are ever looking to splurge on a trip and you need a recommendation on places to do that in the great cities of Europe, my good friend, world traveler and fellow motor-biker, Barry, is your man.

Until he retired a few years back, Barry had a business bringing people from around the world to the great Universities of Europe during their off seasons. They’d come for a series of lectures given by the finest professors (who were of course also in their off-season) of the featured college, fine dining and luxury touring. A bit like a grander version of our own planned Chautauqua.

On his recommendation we stayed at the Hotel Pariz and a fine choice it was. This gorgeous old-world style hotel is in an elegant old building right in the old town center.

Adjoining the hotel is the Sarah Bernhardt Restaurant. This Sarah Bernhardt being the “Divine Sarah,” the French stage and early film star and “the most famous actress the world has ever known.” At least in the late 1800s and early 1900s when she was setting the world’s heart aflutter.

Her connection to Prague is the Czech artist Alfons Mucha who created many of the famous posters promoting her and the productions in which she stared.  Heres’ one:

sarah bernhart

Back here in the 21st century USA, a person’s 21st birthday is a bit of a milestone. Among other things, it marks the legal drinking age. That in mind, part of our plan for this trip was to take our daughter out to dinner for a belated birthday celebration featuring some fine dining and to maybe share our first legal bottle of wine together. So I was on the hunt for just the right place.

Like the hotel itself, the Sarah Bernhardt Restaurant is dripping in old world elegance. One look was enough to confirm the setting was just right. But that, of course,  is only part of the program.

Poking around the restaurant and its menu I noticed they offered a six-course Tasting Menu with wine pairings. I’m a sucker for good food and a believer in letting the chef serve what the chef thinks best.

And I’m a sucker for good wines but, short of red with meat/white with fish, lacking in the knowledge and skill for effective pairings. I’m more than willing to place this too in more capable hands.

In short, I’m a sucker for letting those who know better do it.

After considering some alternatives, one fine afternoon I stopped by and made a reservation for 8 pm the coming Friday evening. It was then I got the first hint this would be a special evening.

The maitre d’ didn’t just scribble our names in his little reservation book. Rather, he gave me a tour of the dining room suggesting which tables we might best like to be set for us. I chose one by the window.

Hotel PARIS Praha 2012

Our dining room that night

While the Tasting Menu first caught my eye, faced with an intriguing selection of entrees and appetizers we are nothing if not thorough in our menu due diligence. But in the end, as I suspected it would, the tasting menu got the nod. If you’ve clicked on the link it is not hard to see why.

In addition to letting the chef choose what he considers his best, it also leads us to try things we might not ordinarily choose. Especially the wine pairings.

As I mentioned above, in this I claim no skill. But I know what I like. Still, like everyone, the range of what I like is limited to the range of my experience. And since the range of food and wine pairings is virtually unlimited it pays to have an open mind and palate. Let me offer two examples:

I don’t care for sweet wines and the Cypres de Climens 2007 served with our second course is as sweet a wine as I’ve ever encountered. My first sip gave me pause. Yet, paired with the duck foie gras as it was, nothing could have been more perfect.


Jawbone Canyon Road in the Mojave Desert

I do like dry white wine, but my first sip of the third course Riesling, late harvest 2010, Mikulov, Reisten Valtice made the Mohave Desert seem a tropical rainforest in comparison. Paired with the zander, it’s the obvious choice.

I know of at least three oenophiles who read this blog and I sincerely hope they’ll each weigh in with their thoughts on these and the other wines we enjoyed that evening.

Let me just add that the Chateau Camensac, Grand Cru Classe 1999, perfectly matched to our main course, was as good a wine as has ever passed my lips. And, thanks to a career that entailed rather extensive business entertaining and more than a few oenophile friends and skilled sommeliers, I’ve downed some pretty primo swill in my time.

That same career and its attendant expense account also has gotten me a seat in more than a few of the most highly rated restaurants of their day. I’ll say now, this meal easily ranks in the top five. In fact, the only reason I don’t place it firmly in the #1 spot is that I’m not sure my memory can still do justice to the other contenders.

My daughter has no such problem. Somewhere about three-quarters of the way thru, she sat back and said, “This is the best meal of my life.”

I said, “When you are 80 you very well might still be saying the same thing.”

But a beautiful setting, exquisite food and exceptional wines are only three of the pillars needed. Service is the fourth, and in many instances the one most likely to fall short.

  • A great restaurant isn’t going to open its doors until the room is perfect.
  • Great wines are as close as a great supplier and a fine cellar.
  • A great chef will let nothing out of the kitchen that falls short of the standards that built his reputation.

But most often if there is going to be a weak link, the table service is it. It is here I have a couple of pet peeves. Well, OK, many more than a couple but I’ll only bore you with these few basics every server should know and every diner should expect:

  • Serve everybody’s course at the same time. And, no, saying “Opps the kitchen got this out faster than I expected!” doesn’t make it better.
  • Don’t remove anybody’s plate until everybody has finished the course. And, yes, I know waiting is less convenient for you.
  • Don’t bring out a new course until your diners have finished the one before. And, no, saying “Opps the kitchen got this out faster than I expected!” doesn’t make it better.
  • Learn what the placement of silverware on the diner’s plate means. And, no, saying “Opps I thought you were done.” doesn’t make it better.

If you are going to presume to open a premium restaurant and presume to charge premium prices, for pity’s sake take a moment to train your serving staff. And, yes, this includes the bus boys.

Ok, I feel better now.

But not as good as I felt that evening watching our two master waiters ply their craft. Like any great art, Richard and Pavel were a joy to behold. So impressed was I, at one point I beckoned them over so they could hear me say to my daughter:

“For the rest of your life remember these guys. Tonight they have set the bar against which you can measure all future dining experiences.”

Yes, I was well into the wines when I presumed to do this. But I stand by the statement in the cold light of day and after a few weeks to consider it. They were that good.

As if this all were not enough, with the bill came complimentary tickets to:

alpons mucha

Alfons Mucha Museum

Just about this time last year, Mr. Money Mustache kindly invited me to present a guest post on his wildly popular site. In it I make the point that, for me, it has never been about “retirement.” It has been about having F-you Money and the freedom it brings. It is about having options.

Throughout this blog I urge you to save 50%+ of your income and to invest it in simple, low-cost index funds. Doing so buys you the most valuable thing money can access: Your financial freedom. But achieving this is just the beginning of a much richer life. As your money continues to grow along with it a whole new world of options and indulgences opens up.

In this interview The Mad Fientist explores with Paula a concept she express so well: The point of choosing to shepherd your money wisely is not deprivation. It is so you can, as her blog is so well titled, Afford Anything. Not everything maybe, but anything.

Being able to travel to Prague for a week to meet my daughter and to enjoy with her an exceptional meal with some exceptional wines is one of the indulgences that gives me great personal pleasure. In this post is another.

Your choices likely are different. Maybe you’ll share some in the comments?


Speaking of indulgences, this week I am visiting Cleveland and in the process checking off #7 in my plan for 2013.

Last night, in fact, was the much-anticipated dinner with The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. With the exception of one 47-year-old naif, they are all geezers like me. Not a single one retired, but each with their own F-You Money. This they have accumulated mainly in the operating and sometimes sale of the various businesses they have launched.

My pal Dennis both hosts and organizes this evening of fine dining, excellent wines and wide-ranging conversation.  My thanks go out to him for it. We meet at a rustic fishing club tucked in countryside somewhere east of the city. Rumor has it that we are each hooded before being driven to this secret location. This is, of course, nonsense I can neither confirm nor deny.

Holding the event at this private club of his has two advantages for me:

  1.  I am unable to pay.
  2. For me to reciprocate, Dennis has to travel to NH and track me down. And that provides another evening of good food, fine wines and interesting conversation.

So get yourself back out here, Dennis. My turn to buy. Same goes for you other guys!


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    • jlcollinsnh says

      That is one of the great and grand hotels here in NH, built around the turn of the last century.

      I’ve been to it, but never to stay or dine. Too bad as I believe it is closed at the moment and, last I heard, its fate is uncertain.

      As it happens, I also used to be neighbors with a guy who wrote a mystery novel set at the hotel. I don’t believe it ever enjoyed much readership, but for awhile he had a deal with them to have copies placed in the rooms.

    • Shilpan says


      Being a hotelier, I feel sadness when I see a historic hotel closing the doors. Hotels are like houses — so many memories tie with each hotel especially well-known hotel.

      Last four years have changed our world for sure.

      • jlcollinsnh says

        there is, or at least was, talk of reopening it. I can only guess, but it must cost a fortune to refurbish and maintain these places.

        Hey, Shilpan, a new project for you?

        They did that very successfully with this same vintage place:


        We have stayed here and it is a treat. Old style elegance and excellent dining. In fact our daughter waitressed there a couple of summers back.

        Word is that it is haunted and was the inspiration for Steven King’s Colorado hotel in his novel: The Shining

        • Shilpan says

          That’s a beautiful hotel. I am wondering if you need to write an article about what you should look for when investing in a commercial property. 🙂 There may not be many interested in the tidbit, but it’s interesting to those who want to invest in a hotel or a Bed and Breakfast.

          In fact, Bed and Breakfast is a great way to semi-retire and still enjoy meeting nice people, not to mention that you can live free and make some money: best of both world in my humble opinion.

          • jlcollinsnh says

            Perhaps, but I know absolutely nothing about investing in commercial real estate.

            You, however, do. How about you write it and I’ll read it? 🙂

            We actually thought about a B&B at one time but concluded it was too much work and I lack the handyman skills one needs. Then we thought about a business operating B&Bs short term for owners that wanted to take some time off. I figured this would eliminate repair work and prevent us from being tied down in one location while providing the ability to live and travel to cool places meeting interesting people.

            But when the dust settled our final conclusion was that we are better guests than operators. 🙂

          • jlcollinsnh says

            hope you also agree to write that post on commercial RE investing. Now you’ve got me excited about reading it!

  1. RobDiesel says

    I like the idea of a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Besides being humble in the name, gathering the very few of my personal friends who are fiscally savvy for a semi-annual fine-dining (or whatnot) event somewhere exciting sounds like a brilliant way to pat ourselves on the back for our decisions earl(y/ier) in life.

    Your comments on learning manners and silverware positioning reminded me of a conversation on the subject from last week. During an informal lunch, a few of us discussed that we actually have manners, despite our display.
    Elbows on the table, forks turned the wrong way, not using the knife to cut the food (it was tender enough to be sliced with the edge of the fork) and ill mannered use of the napkins.

    Several of these displays probably had my dad twisting in his grave, but in a downscale eatery with friends and nobody to impress, we were overly casual. I suppose the key is to not only know HOW to display proper manners and upbringing, but also know WHEN to display it.
    Though my dad would have argued that you always display it, even if you were to dine alone. hah.

    Alas, I need to get back to the grind to angle for a job that makes me happier and earns me more get-out-of-the-rat-race F-U greenbacks.

    Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work I go.

    • jlcollinsnh says

      It is great fun.

      As for manners, I’m more in your camp than your dad’s. But then my mother would be solidly in his.

      It is important, I think, to remember that manners exist to make our social interactions easier, more pleasant and more comfortable, not less, and certainly not so the fussy have a stick to beat others with.

      When you are sitting around drinking beer and eating wings with your pals, yer gonna have to put up with elbows on the table occasionally. At least if I’m there. 😉

      My rant was aimed more at restaurants that happily charge for a fine dining experience but can’t be bothered to train their staff as to what that means.

      Have fun at work!

  2. Mad Fientist says

    Sounds like a great trip, Jim. Quite a different experience from the one my girlfriend (now wife) and I had when we visited Prague. We were both living in Scotland at the time and we decided to take a trip there for a long weekend. It was our first trip together but for some reason, I didn’t book a hotel beforehand so we turned up in Prague after 11pm without anywhere to stay. I tried to impress her with my negotiation skills, haggling for a great price on a last-minute room, but failed miserably multiple times (we realized the next day that I had tried getting a room in one of the nicest hotels in Prague for less than you’d get a hostel bed for). We eventually found a really creepy, empty hotel to stay in that looked like a scene out of The Shining. It was a slightly scary but very memorable and fun trip!

    The dinner you described reminds me of the dinner my parents took me out to when I graduated college. It was my first wine-tasting meal and it was definitely one of the best meals I’ve ever had. The excellent food, multiple courses, ample amounts of wine, and great conversation made that night one of my fondest family memories. Those memories are definitely worth the price my parents paid for that meal and it sounds like your nice meal in Prague was also worth every penny!

    • jlcollinsnh says

      It was, MF…

      and Mrs jlcollinsnh and I have had many others more like your Prague experience. ONe day I’ll have to write about getting thrown out of our hotel in India and the intensely roach infested dump the police hauled us off to.

      Or maybe our pal Trish will chime in with the story….

      The meal was worth every penny and many, many pennies were required! But we’ll all remember it long after the shine on those pennies would be gone.

  3. Barry Brooks says

    Looks as if you really enjoyed the Pariz, I’m so glad, as you now know it is a special hotel, a ‘grande dame’ palace especially if you appreciate real Art Deco, and the Belle Epoque artists like Mucha who were so influenced by what was coming out of Paris during that era. The Sarah Bernhardt Restaurant has always been good and I would make sure that my groups enjoyed a meal there.

    Don’t know if you visited the ancient Karolinum at Charles University (founded by Charles IV) a few blocks away, but that setting is where we used to have our lectures, exactly where Jan Hus, the 14C priest, philosopher and reformer, gave his!

    Good old Charles IV imported the Cabernet Sauvignon grape from France over 400 years ago and today some of the best red wines in Europe are from the Czech Republic. Did you have a chance to dine at the Restaurant Bellevue with its amazing food and view of the castle all lit up at night?

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Hey Barry…

      Glad you showed up. The Pariz was a great recommendation! Thanks again.

      We did try to get into the Restaurant Bellevue but no luck. It was booked solid the whole time we were there. Next time!

      BTW, any thoughts/insights into the wines we enjoyed that night?

  4. Giddings Plaza FI says

    Mr. Collins, another excellent post. Reading about your “f-you” money a couple years ago is one of several inspirations that put me on the road to financial independence. And you are right on that FI is about living life the way you want, including fine dining in Prague! Thanks.

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Thanks GP!

      I’m always a bit concerned when I put one like this up as it is a bit “off topic” from the financial posts. Nice to hear people make the connection!

      And I am very, very pleased to hear the money posts have proved inspirational in your personal journey!

  5. Trish says

    Jim mentioned the “roach-infested” hotel we were hauled off to by the police – somewhere in India – after a mild altercation with a hotel owner….

    We called it the “wildlife motel” – for a reason.

    JIM! Those were not roaches! They started with the letter “R”, but were much larger…
    Ah, the worst episodes make the best stories!

    That was my first trip to India. A long time ago. These days, I don’t think I’d even consider complaining about not having any water in the first hotel! Other than that, it was pretty nice – and we didn’t have to share the room with long-tailed creatures.

    • jlcollinsnh says


      Did we have seperate rooms? I don’t remember rats unless they were the kind that crunch when you step on them!

      Maybe I’ve blocked the memory… 😉

  6. Trish says

    Yes – definitely rats. Didn’t want to put my foot out of the bed in the dark!
    Yes, I think we had separate rooms, because I would have remembered companionship in battling the rodents. (To those who don’t remember, sharing rooms with other couples was common when traveling.)
    Strangely enough, we stayed in a BEAUTIFUL but run-down old palace this last November – really extraordinary. And – we left a package of curry Pringles on the table in the room. It was a large room.
    Soon, I heard the folks preparing for breakfast – all sorts of noise! Then realized it was only about 2 am. Found my flashlight – and a load of guilty rodents. So – this time, I just moved the Pringles into the far end of the large bathroom, and – turned on the light. They seemed to hide from the light.
    Shortly thereafter, the power went out – and – the rats came back. Lots of them – probably a dozen or so!
    Didn’t even bother me.

  7. Tom M. says

    Jim –

    Sounds like your daughter is one lucky lady to have had her 21st there. Just reading the menu makes me hungry, and it’s only 11 am.

    As for the wines, the menu listed a sweet Sauternes for the second course. This threw me, but judging from what you said about it being a perfect match, it sounds like they knew exactly what they were doing. And the Haut Médoc you had with the main course is a classic Bordeaux left banker blend – slightly more on the Cab than the Merlot side – making it the right direction for matching with meat. I haven’t tasted it, but Chateau Carmensac has Michel Rolland as their winemaking consultant, and the wines he works with have become Wine Spectator’s pick of the year (including Clos Apalta from Chile). So – looks like you were in good hands as far as wine choice goes.

    I wondered if the ice wine and chocolate combo was a bit of a sweetness OD, but judging from their command of the second course matching, these guys probably knew what they were doing and picked the right level of ice wine sweetness.

    Oh, man, I want that dinner tonight!

    Nice. Glad you guys chose an unforgettable winner for your daughter.

    Tom M.

    • Trish says

      I agree with Tom – that was my reaction, too.
      I’m ready for that meal – right now! And it’s only 9 am!

      Usually a Late Harvest (Spätlese) is sweeter than most other wines, since it’s left out in the sun just a bit longer than the regular harvest, gathering extra sugars.
      So when you said it was dry, that threw me.
      -One of my preconceived notions biting the dust yet again.

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Hi Tom….

      I was hoping you’d offer some wine commentary! Thanks!

      The Sauternes certainly was sweet!

      It was a wonderful evening for all of us. I woke the next day wishing I could do it again. And again.

      Who knows? Maybe Prague and The Sarah Bernhardt is where we’ll finally catch up for dinner with each other one of these days….

      • jlcollinsnh says

        BTW, for those interested in wine, click on the Tom’s name and check out his blog on the subject. Worth a visit even if wine isn’t your thing. You’ll see.

        Or check out his books: http://www.roundwoodpress.com

        Makes me realize I’ve slept way too much in my life!

  8. Nikki Hayden says


    Cary G. recently found out I was heading to Prague this summer and told me to check out your latest post: so glad now that I did!

    Not sure if I will be able to afford your particular trip but you may be responsible for one more tourist visiting a restaurant and ordering a dessert just so she can have a bit of the experience!

    Nikki Hayden

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Welcome Nikki…

      As they say, any friend of Cary’s… 🙂

      What takes you to Prague and when are you headed there?

      You’ll have a great time there and the city is filled with great restaurants that don’t break the bank!

  9. Karl says

    I’ve had a fondness for Mucha ever sense I saw an exhibition of his work at the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh. In fact I have a print of his with Sarah Bernhardt hanging in my kitchen.

    I may have to make a pilgrimage to Prague to check it out.

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Welcome Karl!

      I had never heard of him, although seeing his stuff it was familiar. Mostly likely I’d come across it before but didn’t know what I’d encountered.

      With your already in place appreciation, you’d enjoy the Prague museum and the Sarah Bernhardt restaurant all the more. The city being a delightful bonus.

      I hope you get to make the trip!

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