I’m back from my spur-of-the-moment weekend in Vienna. No recipe today, but there’s a sachertorte in our future. Once I translate a few recipes from German.
If you’ve never been, then let me tell you – Vienna is a walkable elegant city. Perhaps the most elegant city I’ve ever visited.
In that shine your shoes, brush off your coat, adjust your tie, comb your hair, and don your hat before heading out into the light drizzle sort of way. The kind of city that holds open the door for you as you pass through.
Alyson and I snagged an amazing room on the Ringstraße, the road that encircles Vienna’s central district. If you’re wondering how to pronounce “Ringstraße,” I can assure you that it’s not “Ringestrabe.” Despite what our taxi driver told us, that beta-looking letter is not a “B.” It’s a double-S.
While we’re on the topic, let me just say that we did not have much taxi luck in Vienna. After we walked to Alef Alef in the former Jewish ghetto and found it closed from Thursday to Sunday, we hailed a taxi to take us to Simchas. When we gave the driver the address, he shook his head and pointed to the bridge in front of us. “Just go across the Danube and the restaurant is straight ahead. 10 minutes.” He was the only taxi around, so we walked across the river. And kept walking. And walking. We walked one more block. And then we found another taxi to take us the next two meandering miles.
We visited several cathedrals and a museum and went to a concert (though we were dissapointed that “The Cat’s Duet” was missing from the program). Then we spent the rest of our time eating (and a little requisite shopping). There’s a fabulous line in a book I read a few months ago that could not be closer to the truth, especially in Vienna: “The only reason I travel … is for an excuse to eat more than usual.”
I was determined to taste as many sachertortes as possible. For the record, my favorite one was the first one I tried – that very one staring at you. It was not particularly sweet, hit the right level of denseneess without being dry, with just a subtle layer of apricot beneath a thin, dark, rich (sounds like a pretty good date to me) coating of chocolate.
Anyway, our days went something like this:
Drag ourselves out of bed.
Coffee and pastry for breakfast, at a kaffeehaus chosen the night before. (It’s no wonder that the French refer to pastries as ”viennoiserie.”)
After breakfast, wander around and see a site or two. After about two hours, one of us would say, “are you hungry yet?”
The other one would say, “no…but I want to eat anyway.”
And so we did.
The afternoon? A repeat of the morning.
And then after dinner, plan where to have breakfast the next morning.
One morning, I woke up early and broke tradition: rather than going to our previously-agreed-upon cafe, I asked our hotel receptionist to recommend the best place for coffee. She said to skip the well-known places, walk down a side street, and find a small, old, dark cafe with a grumpy waiter. I landed at Cafe Frauenhuber and drank my coffee a few tables away from that lovely gentleman you see at the beginning of this story.
And one morning, we skipped the kaffeehaus all together in favor of a French cafe across the street from our hotel. I noticed it our first evening, drawn to the long communal table that I glimpsed through the window.
I was very excited to strike up a conversation with the strangers on the other side of the vast table. If I ever open a restaurant, I’m going to call it “à table” – just like that, without caps with a little bit of a French-English pun. It will be grounded around a huge table, maybe two. It will get crowded at times – just the way I like it. And you’ll make fleeting friends with strangers. Maybe not so fleeting. But that’s all a dream right now.
In between cafes, we wandered out to Naschmarkt – once we heard how it was pronounced – nosh market — how could we miss it?
Apparently Vienna is the cool place to go these days — at the very moment we were in town, the New York Times ran a segment about spending 36 hours there. And, before the rest of the Times-reading world flocks to it, I managed to get a seat at Motto em Fluss – their newly-discovered and recommended bar/lounge/restaurant built atop a ferry station on the Danube.
I spent my last day in Budapest, just a 2 hour drive from Vienna. That story to come.