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(2013 - Winter Issue)


On my first trip to Vienna as a poor student, I lived on sausages and dumplings.

On a trip last December, I enjoyed sausages, dumplings and so many other fine dishes I could write a cookbook. Top chefs have lightened up Austria’s hearty cuisine and borrowed freely from other cultures. They’ve also embraced local ingredients in season, so be prepared for a lot of cabbage, parsnips and wild game if you visit in the fall.

With Christmas markets set to open, the 2013 vintage ready to drink and streets strung with lights, now is a glorious time to visit this graceful city, infused with history and an astonishing range of dining options, from Wiener schnitzel to cool pop-up restaurants. If you fancy acrobatics or a magic show with your gourmet meal, Vienna even has two new dinner theatres: Toni Mörwald’s PALAZZO and Reinhard Gerer’s Teatro.

Along with food, Vienna has experienced a wave of ultra-modern hotels. The spare, contemporary rooms at the angular Sofitel Stephansdom come in pure white, grey or black. The glow from the glassed-in rooftop bar and restaurant 18 floors up—high by Austrian standards—welcomes travellers in from the cold while offering a dramatic view of the city. Straight ahead is the spire of St. Stephen’s Cathedral (Stephansdom), with its ornate tiled roof. Pointy spires also rise from the gothic city hall, or Rathaus, and a giant Ferris wheel towers over the Prater amusement park. In the distance are the green Vienna Woods, where I first tasted Austria’s crisp white grüner veltliner in a leafy wine garden.

A Cornucopia of Flavours

We dined that evening in the long sleek ferry terminal to Bratislava, five minutes from the hotel across the Danube Canal. The bar at Motto am Fluss (am Fluss translates as “on the river”) wasfestooned with giant red amaryllis blooms. After cocktails, we settled into a table next to floor-to-ceiling windows that appear to almost touch the river. Motto’s chef enjoys playing with untraditional flavours, so you’ll find lake perch with yuzu, Japan’s aromatic citrus, and monkfish sprinkled with Sichuan peppercorns. But much of the menu is stocked with fall flavours, from pears, cranberries and beets to savoury treats such as chestnut ravioli with Jerusalem artichoke foam.

During the day, coffee and cake fuel the Viennese. Demel, one of the city’s most famous pastry shops, built its reputation producing sweet things for kings and emperors. We followed our guide upstairs, passing young pastry chefs bent over their work behind a glass wall, to a quiet café where we were able to relax and take our time choosing a slice of cake and a cup of rich hot chocolate (heisse schoklade). Austrians also prepare coffee 20 different ways, but cappuccino and caffe latte are well understood.

Some Wiener (Viennese) specialties simply refuse to go out of style. Chef Stefanie Herkner’s new hot spot Zur Herknerin serves rib-sticking dumpling soup, goulash and stuffed cabbage. Then there’s modern, neutral-toned Plachutta’s Gasthaus zur Oper, a block from the stately opera house. The family-owned business, which runs six restaurants, promises authentic Wiener schnitzel made with the finest veal, breaded and fried until crisp and golden. Look for the simple recipe and how-to photos on its website.

According to legend, an Austrian field marshal brought the famous recipe from Milan to Vienna in 1857 and caught the attention of the emperor. A dinner plate arrives with two flat tender schnitzels, each the size of an outstretched hand, topped with a lemon wedge and accompanied by a dish of warm potato salad glistening with oil and vinegar. We ate the whole thing and still had room to share an order of Kaiserschmarrn, pieces of cut-up pancake, like puffs of French toast, showered with icing sugar and eaten with a dab of plum jam.

To celebrate the holidays, curtains of light decorate Karntnerstrasse and other wide pedestrian shopping streets. Even Vienna’s city hall becomes a fairyland of lights as it hosts one of the city’s Advent markets. If you plan to shop, try a weekday afternoon when you can get close to the wooden huts. By evening, the crowds move in to drink mulled wine and party. Everyone was having fun, but our table beckoned across the street at Vestibül in Vienna’s handsome Burgtheater.

In the mid-1800s, Emperor Franz Joseph’s carriage drove right into the entrance of today’s restaurant. The marble hall beyond, where locals and visitors dine in splendour, gave the VIPs a place to entertain guests and a secret door to their private box. Service can be as dramatic as the space itself. A server poured lemon-infused olive oil from a stainless steel cruet into a dish from 60 centimetres above the table. Vestibül’s chef-owner Christian Domschitz gives traditional Austrian fare a contemporary twist. In October, he featured a saddle of wild boar with pumpkin, chestnuts and bacon. But his most famous dish is Hummerkrautfleisch, a traditional cabbage dish topped with untraditional—and often Canadian—lobster. Vestibül’s daily prix-fixe menu offers three or four courses.

We couldn’t leave without tasting Vienna’s favourite street meat at Bitzinger’s near the Albertina museum. This unpretentious würstelstand attracts everyone from late-night party-goers to wealthy opera-goers dressed in their finest. The menu is long but delicious, and available from 8 a.m. to 4 a.m. Choose a spicy Bosna, long veal Sacher Wurstel, spicy smoked Debreziner or a cheesy Kasekrainer, washed down with draft beer, wine or Champagne.

You definitely won’t go hungry in stately Vienna, with its delicious blend of old and new.

Travel Planner

Air Canada and Star Alliance partner Lufthansa offer service to Vienna from various Canadian gateways. For more information on Vienna, visit vienna.info.

Bitzinger’s Würstelstand: bitzinger.at Demel: demel.at

Gasthaus zur Oper: plachutta.at

Motto am Fluss: motto.at/mottoamfluss

Palazzo Gourmet-Theatre: palazzo.org

Sofitel Stephensdom: sofitel.com

Teatro: teatro-wien.at

Vestibül: vestibuel.at

Zur Herknerin: zurherknerin.at

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