By Philip Vidal
“Wien, Wien, nur du allein
Sollst stets die Stadt meiner Träume sein!”
Like this classic song goes:
“Vienna, Vienna, you alone
Should always be the city of my dreams!”
Vienna has long been in my dreams, and on my bucket list. Long, long ago, when the Mayfair Regent Hotel occupied 189 East Lake Shore Drive, an Austrian pianist tickled the ivories in the cocktail lounge. He was always delighted when I would ask him to play “Wien, Wien, nur du allein”
I am old-school and keep clippings about places I would like to visit – and I had a thick stash on Vienna. The oldest article dated from the November 1980(!) issue of Food & Wine magazine, and was entitled “Vienna, A Taste for Adventure,” which I am reprising here as the title of this article. Going through my pile of clippings, I noticed a definite emphasis on restaurants and food. And pastry, which immediately attracted my attention as I have a sweet-tooth (Naschkatze). On that basis alone, I decided that a trip to Vienna would be a pastry pilgrimage.
The chance arose to meet my Bavarian cousin, Dr. Josef Wolf and his wife, Dr. Brigitte Wolf, in Vienna for a short, four-night trip in June, so I seized the opportunity.
There was no doubt where I would stay… the Hotel Sacher of the eponymous Sachertorte. Indeed, there was a piece of Sachertorte on the nightstand when I checked in. There was also a three-tiered tazza in the sitting room with fruit, pastry, and more pastry that was replenished and augmented daily. Truly a dream come true.
When visiting a city, some people plan their stay around how many plays they can attend, or museums they can see. I count how many restaurants I can visit. Here are the restaurants I visited in Vienna and Burgenland, along with recommendations.
My flight arrived in Vienna at noon. Lunch was set for 1:30 PM at DO&CO Albertina, a short walk from the Sacher. DO&CO Albertina has a beautiful terrace overlooking the Burggarten, but it was beastly hot and humid that afternoon, so I moved inside. DO&CO has something for everyone. Light dishes, sushi, more substantial entrees, and of course a wide array of beautiful pastries and desserts. I had an entree salad and a glass of gemischter Satz, local blended table wine.
That evening I walked to Plachutta (Wollzeile 38) to have dinner with my cousin and his wife, who I hadn’t seen since they visited Chicago in 2014. He had suggested that we dine at the Wollzeile branch of the mini-chain of Plachutta restaurants. It had cooled down by dinner so we ate on the terrace. Plachutta is famous for its Tafelspitz (boiled beef, a favorite dish of Emperor Franz Josef). Sometimes boiled meats are dry, but Plachutta’s beef was a moist revelation. The portions were huge, and I devoured everything in front of me. My cousin ordered a delicious Austrian red wine, which we enjoyed as we planned the next three days.
Despite a large dinner, the next morning was a blank slate. Breakfast at the Sacher was astonishing. The bread selection was immense. There were easily thirty different breads and pastries. Likewise, the selections of coffee, a Viennese specialty, were numerous. I selected a Mélange, which is similar to a cappuccino topped with whipped cream. Pastry is also often topped with whipped cream (Schlagobers). I have had a fondness for whipped cream ever since my German grandmother, who thought I was too skinny as a toddler, used to serve it to me straight, to fatten me up. This early training stood me in good stead in Vienna!
Anxious to see the sights, I walked to the Museum Quartier and hit a few of the many superb museums. Having worked up an appetite, I marched straight to Zum Schwarzen Kameel (Bognerstrasse 5), Vienna’s oldest restaurant, founded in 1618. The restaurant is noted for having a dining room with original Jugendstil décor, and is justifiably famous for its ham (Beinschinken). When I was there, it was white asparagus season, so I had the featured combo plate: white asparagus with hollandaise sauce and ham. It was also rhubarb season, and I had a light dessert of poached rhubarb.
The concierge at the Sacher recommended a restaurant near the hotel, Zum Weissen Rauchfangkehrer (Weihburggasse 4), which worked out well because it rained that evening (and happily cooled things down). I arrived at the restaurant before my cousins and was a little dubious because it seemed that most of the patrons were non-natives. We were ushered to booth #1 with a picture-postcard view up a medieval street with the Alter Steffl (Old Stephen Tower) of St. Stephen’s Cathedral taking up the background. The food and service were superb. Perhaps it’s a cliché, but I had Wiener Schnitzel, again washed down with a terrific Austrian wine. After dinner, I stopped by the Hotel Sacher’s intimate Blaue Bar for a post-prandial drink. Even though Vienna seems to float on a sea of Aperol spritzes during the warm weeks of summer, I ordered a martini made with an herbaceous, junipery Austrian gin.
Vienna is a walkable city, and the Hotel Sacher is centrally located. In addition to the culinary delights of Vienna, I wanted to see its many architectural treasures. I made a beeline for the Secession Building to visit the building itself (which is being restored) and Gustav Klimt’s “Beethoven Frieze” inside. Farther down the street were two of Otto Wagner’s apartment buildings with beautiful Jugendstil facades. I meandered through the Naschmarkt across the street. It’s the city’s oldest food market. It was wonderful to wander past food stalls selling all kinds of local and international foodstuffs. It also has restaurants, but I had reservations for lunch at Salonplafond, the restaurant in MAK, Museum für Angewandte Kunst/Gegenwartskunst (Stubenring 5). And you guessed it, the featured luncheon offering was white asparagus, so I had it again with hollandaise and ham, washed down with a crisp Austrian white wine.
After viewing MAK’s incredible collection of Austrian decorative arts and a “Post-Wagner” exhibition that included some decorative metalwork from Chicago, I stopped for an Aperol spritz at the Loos American Bar, a jewel box of a bar designed by Adolf Loos in 1908. I was meeting my cousin and his wife at the Musikverein for a Mozart concert in the Goldener Saal that evening, and we decided to make our own dinner plans. My friend Sarah Ames recommended Meissl & Schadn, in the Grand Ferdinand Hotel (Schubertring 10-12), which is very close to the Musikverein. Meissl & Schadn is famous for Wiener Schnitzel. You can even prepare your own in the open kitchen, but having had Wiener Schnitzel the night before, I had calf’s liver instead.
When I visit a city, I always like to get out of the city for at least one day. Josef and Brigitte had driven from their home in Bavaria to Vienna so they had a car. They suggested we take a day trip to Burgenland, a wine region south of Vienna, bordering Hungary. We drove to Eisenstadt and toured Schloss Esterházy, where Josef Haydn was employed. We lunched at Henrici’s, which is housed in the former stables of the Schloss. As far as I know, there’s no relation between the Henrici’s in Eisenstadt and the famous Henrici’s on Randolph Street, which was founded by Phillip Henrici, who was from Vienna. The Chicago Henrici’s opened in 1868 and closed in 1962. It is apparent that the Esterházys must have loved horses because the stables are lavish. I had heard that in addition to meat-centric dishes like Tafelspitz and Wiener Schnitzel, Austria is famous for its fish, so I had pike perch (Zander) for lunch with a local white wine from Burgenland that could compete with a grand cru white Burgundy. After lunch, we drove to Rust, a town famous for the storks that nest there. Indeed, there were storks nesting on nearly every chimney. We took a quick look at the Neusiedler See, a shallow lake surrounded by reeds, before driving back through the vineyards to Vienna.
When I asked friends where I should dine in Vienna, Steirereck (in the Stadtpark) was on everyone’s list. Invariably on the list of the world’s best restaurants, Steirereck itself is pilgrimage worthy. As soon as I knew I was going to Vienna, I made reservations. The meal at Steirereck was the best of my trip. New Viennese cuisine (Neue Wiener Küche) focuses on local produce and products. Steirereck is in a very modern building in the middle of a city park; I walked there from the Sacher and passed by the Johann Strauss Monument. The cheese and bread trolleys alone are worth the price of the dinner. I had grilled goat kidneys with yellow lentils, golden beets and sea buckthorn as a starter, and duck with white asparagus, rhubarb and poppy seeds as my entrée. It was a perfect ending to my stay in Vienna. The next morning, I flew back to Chicago from Vienna on Austrian Airlines. I highly recommend Austrian Airlines. I had pike-perch (Zander) again on the flight home, finished by the onboard chef.
Having had just a taste of Vienna, I’d gladly go back. My trainer asked me to swear off sugar, so I can honestly say that I did not even press my nose against any of the glass cases filled with beautiful pastries at Demel’s, etc. I didn’t even check out the café at the Sacher or Demel’s. I did go into the Café Museum, but only to look at the Loos décor. I’d go back to sample more desserts, have Beuschel (offal stew), Gulasch, Linzer Torte, Nockerln (both the sweet and savory versions). I’d go back to have the little sandwiches at Trezniewski and einen Pfiff, a small glass of beer. I’d go back to while away an afternoon at a café, like Café Central, Café Landtmann, Café Schwarzenberg or Café Hawelka. And to try a Beisl or two, simple restaurants serving traditional food….Gmoakeller, Fuhrmann, Weibel and zum Herkner.
Let me close by giving special thanks to: My cousin, Dr. Josef Wolf, and his wife, Dr. Brigitte Wolf; Ann Grube; Matthew Smith; Sarah Ames; and Austrian-natives Peter and Susanne Sedlmayer. Their guidance made my trip memorable.