Yesterday was my birthday, and my boyfriend was generous to take me to Danube to celebrate. We arrived at 8:45 for our 9 PM reservation and were immediately seated once we arrived in a comfortable two top with a side-to-side (he in a chair, me on the banquette) arrangement. With the exception of a few service issues, we had an amazing meal.
Our server arrived soon after we sat down to ask about water and cocktails. Perhaps it was because we gave two wrong answers (tap water is fine; we'll stick to wine) or perhaps because we looked younger and less monied than some of the other clientele, our server treated us with a snooty attitude. He only warmed up slightly later in the meal, after he saw that we were going to order a lot of food and wine. One of our strange conversations pre-ordering was my question about the seasonal chef's degustation menu, which the tasting menu noted, on the bottom of the page, was available upon request. When I asked about the seasonal menu, the server told us that the 9-course menu was too much food and that the regular tasting menu would be fine for us; then he turned around and walked off.
My boyfriend and I each ordered the regular tasting menu with wine pairings. I'm afraid that I don't remember much about the pairings except that they were all (or at least almost all) Viennese wines. Our server gave us an opportunity to taste each wine before committing to it, but we were both quite pleased with our selections. We started off dinner with a sparkling wine, then moved on to two whites, a red, and then dessert wine. As I had heard from others who have been to Danube, the pour on each of the pairings was quite generous (at least 2/3 of a glass in most cases), so I wasn't able to finish every wine and still ended up pretty tipsy by the end of the meal.
Now, on to the food. We started off the meal with an amuse bouche of chilled asparagus soup. This was light and summery, but didn't wow me at all. We also were presented with the bread basket. I don't remember all of the choices, but I ordered the pretzel (crispy but soft on the inside, great flavor) and my boyfriend ordered a cheese bread that he really enjoyed.
My appetizer was the waltz of appetizers. I don't have a copy of the menu, and my memory is failing me, but to the best of my recollection, I had: a salty (in a good way), crispy sliver of trout (skin on) on a cracker (loved this); three small slices of foie gras served cold (my least favorite); a crab and avocado ceviche (very good); and a small column of another creature of the sea topped with caviar (this one was great). My boyfriend ordered the "freshly harpooned sashimi quality bluefin tuna and hamachi with key lime pickled onion, organic roasted beets and horseradish fromage blanc." The fish was incredibly fresh and flavorful. We both loved this dish.
Next up for me was the almond-crusted halibut--the best piece of halibut I've ever had. The fish came over a few wild mushrooms with a two lines of parsnip purée, as well as a fava bean purée. My boyfriend had the lobster, which was ever-so-slightly chewy; unfortunately, not the best lobster either of us had had. The halibut was the clear winner here.
I loved the veal weiner schnitzel I ordered for the meat course. The very generous piece of veal was rich and tender, and I loved the light, puffy breading on top. The schnitzel came with ligonberries, cucumber salad, salad and "Austrian crescent potatoes." Everything, down to the salad dressing, was delicious, and I really loved the sweetness in the potatoes. My boyfriend ordered the NY Strip loin, served sliced with a small piece of foie gras on top (I ate, and loved this). The steak was a great piece of meat perfectly prepared, and I couldn't stop sneaking forkfuls of the mushrooms it came with.
As a palate cleanser between courses, we received an elderflower gelée with sour cream gelato whose tartness was a perfect break between our generously-portioned savory courses and our soon-to-come rich dessert experience. Because the restaurant was clued into my birthday, I got a card on a silver platter saying thank you for choosing Danube to celebrate, as well as a complementary dessert with a candle and the obligatory happy birthday in chocolate. My complementary dessert was, I believe (no one told me one way or another), the "Topfenpalatschinken," a huckleberry crêpe cake served with a huckleberry-sour cream sorbet (swirls of maroon and white) and topfen ice cream. I really liked, but didn't love this dessert. It was a little too earthy and not decadent enough for my taste.
We also received one of each of the desserts on the tasting menu, the hazelnut soufflé was given to my boyfriend and the peach tart with phylo crust was put in the middle of the table since I had my birthday dessert in front of me. The hazelnut soufflé was wonderful. The peach tart would have benefited from a more substantial crust. It was very good, but fairly uninspired. This was unfortunate because our server had gotten our dessert order wrong. As we ordered at the beginning of the meal, he had asked if we wanted one of each dessert, and I said, no, that we both wanted the soufflé. Apparently our snooty server didn't care or wasn't paying attention. I already had 2 desserts and didn't want to wait for another soufflé to be prepared, so I wanted to let it go. My boyfriend didn't agree and spoke to the maitre d' when I was in the restroom. He offered us a complementary dessert, but we had already eaten too much, so he generously took $20 off of our tab to compensate.
After dessert, we had some pretty ordinary petit fours, your usual macaroon, truffle, chocolate tart, jelly candy, etc. We also each had a small slice of black walnut cake, which was pretty boring. And, on the way out, we got a lemon tea cake from Bouley Bakery (I haven't tried this yet; I don't think I'll be able to eat for another couple of days!).
So, overall a fantastic meal, with dessert and some elements of service being the low points. The kind and competent people who actually brought the food and the accommodating maitre d' luckily made up for some of our server's glitches.
I am afraid I may have neglected to post about my dreadful Danube experience a couple months ago which centered on a changing cast of waiters who solicited but could not answer basic questions about the food and wine and didn't volunteer to find out or send some one over who could. (eg: Q: 'Can you tell me about this gruner? A: 'It's a white wine from Austria' . Q: 'Can you be more specific-- Wachau? Kremstal? I am interested in a smaragd'. A: 'The wine is a gruner veltliner, it is from Austria '. And so on). They were as unresponsive about the food and simply repeated the information on the menu when asked to elaborate. They were weirdly supercilious about their ignorance, too, as if we were out of line in asking questions in the first place. I have to say that I wonder if we didn't merit some of this disdain--particularly with respect to the wine and their obvious reluctance to engage the sommelier--because we were (still are) both women.
I am repressing other details of the meal beside the creepiness of the room, which remained nearly empty during our dinner (reservation for 7:30 on a Friday) and I have to wonder if the people who voted it as one of the most beautiful rooms in Zagat's for example either established their taste in the mid-1980s or were being facetious. I found it as garish and tired as Schrager lobby. (And no, I am not fond of the Secessionists but that room is a travesty).
I wish I could remember details of the food itself, but perhaps better not. I know that my friend and I were both disappointed, I to the point of embarrassment that I had made the suggestion.
All that said, I fully credit the OP's very different experience of food (if not, alas, of service) at Danube and mean my own recollection not as a rebuttal but a different perspective on a meal this review has brought to mind. Further, I would offer the caveat that I have never warmed to Bouley either, in part because I have found it so perfunctory. It has always felt like a dressed-up restaurant with the soul of a chain, and I experienced that and worse from Danube.
I actually agree with your service and room issues. Our servers didn't give us any information on what we were being served, except for the wine pairings and a couple of random courses (like the pallet cleanser and amuse). And I didn't much care for the room, but my seat was comfortable. The food and our good mood made dinner special for me, though.