Vienna, Austria The day is sunny, and we are much more energetic. We stepped out to do a stroll through the center of the city and to reacquaint ourselves with our favorite spots.
First of all, a look around our neighborhood, including the building we are staying in. It has a painting on the outside, and is conveniently located above L’Occitane en Provence, for all our lavender needs. We also saw the building where Billy Wilder lived, along with some of the lovely corners just around the corner.
We soon arrived at St. Stephen’s Cathedral, built in 1300 – 1450, with its wonderful patterned roof. This is the true center of Vienna. The area in front of it was packed with tourists and other wanderers. Clearly, the lid has blown off the travel backlog and everyone is back in motion.
You can enjoy some wurst, a Big Mac, chocolate, pretzels, or a carriage ride in front of the Holy Trinity plague column, commemorating Vienna’s survival of a devastating bubonic plague outbreak in 1679.
All roads — in our book — lead to our favorite eating place in Vienna, Demel. We are saving our visit there for a later day, but were careful to observe the crowds piling in at 11:00. It also happens to be on the way to the Hofburg Imperial Palace, fit for an emperor and empress, many of whom probably got takeout from Demel.
Next door is the Spanish Riding School, home of the famous Lipizzaner horses. We saw them train on our last visit, and this time we’ll see them perform. In the meanwhile, we watched them peak out of their stables, getting ready to show off.
It was time for a break, so we went to our other favorite place, Café Central. We had the place to ourselves when we last visited in 2017 — but that was in a very cold January when only the most intrepid (or foolish) tourists were in town. Today, however, there was a line, and we got put into the overflow room, not shabby by normal standards, but not the magical front of house we were used to. But tea and a sweet made up for any snubs. We will be back!
Another culinary landmark is Café Sacher, home of the Sacher torte, chocolate covered with more chocolate. We’ve already sampled it once in this lifetime, so no need to stand in line again.
Don’s Food Corner
Two blocks from where we are staying is a restaurant called Griechenbeisl. This is Vienna’s oldest restaurant, dating back to 1447. It has served such luminaries as Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, Strauss — and now us. Among its many vaulted and wood paneled rooms is one featuring walls autographed by some of the luminaries of the past, including Mark Twain. Supposedly this room is now a national treasure and no further autographs are permitted.
The restaurant still serves traditional Viennese dishes in a somewhat formal atmosphere. (Cloth tablecloths, cloth napkins, and uniformed waiters.)
We had high expectations.
To start, I ordered a bowl of consommé with a semolina dumpling. The broth was fantastically clear (and I assume it was homemade). Tiny, tiny, tiny diced pieces of carrot and turnip floated along side the dumpling. It was like no other “soup” I’ve ever had. I thought the dumpling overpowered the whole dish, but it could indeed have been the traditional approach that was promised.
Jo had a soup that was described as “cream of potato.” It didn’t seem creamy in the sense we know it. It was not a smooth soup, rather a heavy broth with lots of tiny diced vegetables (left over from my consommé?). It was entirely acceptable, but nothing outstanding.
For our main courses, Jo embarked on her Wiener Schnitzel Tour of Austria. It was served with a side of cold potato salad, Viennese-style, which was, in the case of this restaurant, similar to what we would call German potato salad, but with a lighter dressing than what we would encounter in American-German restaurants.
Jo was somewhat disappointed. It didn’t live up to the memory of other schnitzels that she had here the last time we visited. As such, she could only give it a B+. The ratio of breading to meat weighed too heavily on the breading. (Perhaps we should have warned the kitchen that a schnitzel expert was in their midst. Maybe they would have been motivated to up their game.)
I went for boiled beef, Viennese-style. This classic dish is considered the ultimate expression of Viennese cuisine. It was a favorite of the Imperial Court and thus favored by the court’s subjects as well.
This was served with considerable flare by the waiter at the table from a pot that apparently the beef was boiled in along with various root vegetables. The beef, along with a section of beef bone with marrow, and the vegetables were transferred to my plate and then the cooking broth was ladled on top.
A side of fried potatoes came with it as did servings of horseradish sauce and a sour cream sauce. The beef was tender without being particularly flavorful. You needed the horseradish and/or the sour cream to perk things up. Researching this Austrian national dish on the internet, I saw that in its classic form it looked exactly as it’s presented here. As lovingly prepared as it appeared to be, I won’t be trying to replicate this back home nor will I order it again. Maybe Mark Twain would have liked it. The rest of the country evidently did.