Bistro Bohem

Eastern European

Editorial Review

The Shaw Guide

Coffeeshop by day, comfort food by night, Bistro Bohem feels like a warm blanket -- which, incidentally, they'll provide for you if you want to sit out on the patio on a chilly evening.

The Czech-influenced menu will fill you up with cold-weather European comfort foods, like goulash, schnitzel and a rotating selection of pierogi filled with ham or kale, maybe, but always smothered in a decadent cheese sauce. While most of the menu is rib-sticking fare, you can eat lighter with salads and grilled sandwiches.

In daylight, the restaurant's adjoining Kafe Bohem serves up Kaiser Melange espresso and apple pastries; after dark, Bohem's bar slings Czech beers, Austrian wines and mixed drinks perfumed with cinnamon-hinted Becherovka Czech bitters. Within the small restaurant's softly lit, Art Nouveau-accented walls, guests will want to lean in close. Even without the blanket, it's not hard to get cozy.

-- Maura Judkis

Tom Sietsema First Bite

Escaping stress with a plate of schnitzel
By Tom Sietsema
Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Back when he was a banker, Jarek Mika says, he would unwind from the stress of his job by cooking. “It was my escape,” says the Prague native, 34. He invited friends over to eat his meals, sometimes as many as six courses, until “I couldn’t find anyone to eat my food anymore.”

After almost three years of soul searching, including two semesters of culinary training at the Art Institute of Washington in Arlington, Mika made the logical leap and opened Bistro Bohem in March. The corner restaurant in Shaw is a tip of the hat to the food he grew up on in what was then Czechoslovakia: pierogi, bratwurst, sliced cauliflower seasoned with caraway seed and a beef goulash that I like best for the bread dumplings that absorb the brick-red gravy.

Order the freshly made potato chips at the peril of your appetite. Once you start dipping chips in the paprika mayonnaise, it’s difficult not to empty the basket.

One entree races ahead of the pack. Chicken schnitzel manages the neat trick of tasting light and juicy beneath its puffy golden coating, a fine blend of baguette crumbs and panko. The dish is accessorized with a creamy scoop of potato salad that rivals the schnitzel for a diner’s attention.

The trim restaurant (formerly the Moroccan-themed Pyramids) is a mere 35 seats right now, but Mika plans to triple Bistro Bohem’s size once he expands into the empty storefront next door. The addition will serve as a cafe and pastry source by day and a dining room by night.

Bohem is a reference to both the historic central European country and “the Bohemian lifestyle,” Mika says. The restaurateur came close to christening his restaurant Republika, a nod to the First Republic of Czechoslovakia. But a mini focus group (chiefly his architect) nixed the name for a very Washington reason: Mispronounce Republika, he figured, and it could be misconstrued by Bohem’s constituency as favoring a certain political party.