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Vienna weekend, medium sized report

Just returned from a trip to Vienna last week and learned a few things: the Naschmarkt is one of my favourite places on earth, the Blaue Bar in Hotel Sacher serves one of the best Negronis going and the cafes in the middle of the museum quarter are a great place to drink beer, eat snacks and wait out a thunderstorm.

We started the trip with a visit to Anna Sacher for my wife's birthday and each opted for a different 6 course tasting menu with wine pairings. I had the menu Anna Sacher and my wife the Innovativ, I'll really only speak for the key dishes I most enjoyed and give my thoughts on how she enjoyed hers. The aspargus vanilla-cruller w/ smoked goose liver was like a cold heavenly pillow of creamy goodness, with goose liver. I wasn't sure what to expect with this dish but was it ever outstanding, so much vanilla in the cold creamy "cruller" and with finely shaved goose liver on top to add the umame quotient it required. Then the rabbit lobster cabbage noodles with lovage, I really didn't expect the "noodles" to be cabbage, I thought they would be some kind of cabbage infused noodle but I was wrong. The combo of the rabbit, lobster and cabbage sounds odd but they went together beautifully in a very rich and fulfilling dish, the only complaint was the lobster was a bit overcooked and chewy. My wife really enjoyed her meal as well and the two raviolis stood out the most. First the tomato essence spiny lobster raviolo with chervil was a soup that exploded with tomato flavour when the "bubble" of tomato essence was broken, a great taste and surprise. Then the halibut hollandaise ravioli with cherry caused a deep silence while it was consumed, they cherry was not an obvious choice in this combination but very well received.

All in all Anna Sacher is an outstanding restaurant in formidible surroundings, the art on display in the dinning room was beautiful as was the overall ambiance. The only draw back I felt was the service, it did not "wow" me as the food did and at times was sloppy. I was also disappointed we were not reminded what the dishes were that were served, generally each course was just placed in front of us and the server backed away. With six courses, and wine, the reminders would have been appreciated as we had to refesh our memories from the online menu when we got back to the hotel. Even with this and the expense it was most worthwhile and I highly recommend Anna Sacher to anyone looking for a high end dinning experience in Vienna.

We didn't take the breakfast option at the hotel but also didn't expect to find so little around our hotel that was open on a Saturday late morning. We ended up for early lunch at Mullerbeisel (Seilerstatte 15), but this is not a place to recommend or return to. We kept it as simple as we could as it was our breakfast and had soup (creamy garlic and broth with pancake noodles) and smoked salmon on toast. Nothing great here, the place was packed with a bus tour shortly after we arrived and I think that must be their bread and butter.

After reading other reviews of Gmoakeller, and it was only 100 meters from our hotel, we did go there for an early dinner before the ballet. I had my only Weiner Schnitzel of the trip here, saved the dish for this location as I believed I'd be getting something very special. To be honest it wasn't a favourite, the breading lacked texture, the meat a little chewy and I'm sure it was deep fried not pan fried. I still hold the best WS I've had in the last 2 months is at home in Brno, CZ at the Austro-Hungarian restaurant Hansen (details here if you do a "find" for Hansen - http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/783909). The ambiance of Gmoakeller was beautiful and as traditional as others have mentioned, the WS won't keep me from returning here next time I'm in Vienna.

On to the Naschmarkt...

This is the kind of place I dreamed about living in India the past year and a half: a cornucopia of packed restaurants with happy diners and wonderful smells; produce that demanded to be eaten; deli products that would not all fit into my bag; top notch butchers and a quirky flea market/boot sale to top it all off. We had our two small meals here at Chi (Vietnamese) because we've missed Vietnamese so much since we left home a while back. They had our favourite Goi Cuon (summer roles with shrimp) and a Pho that smelled divine but tasted like a small slice of beefy noodley heaven. I can't complain about anything here, the place was tiny but the service and food excellent, I'd like to pack the place up and bring it to Brno so I could eat there every day. After this we went around the corner to Hella Gruber (fish market) and had the Euro 2.50 oysters another poster mentioned, they weren't cheap but after a total oyster derth for the last year and a half they hit the spot with a very nice (and unknown) local white they were pouring. I do prefer my oysters on the smaller side, and these were not, but they were still very fresh and left nothing but smiles on our faces.

As we can't get much, if any, lamb here in Brno I stopped at one of the many butcher shops. After quite a bit of pantomime, pointing at parts of my body that I wanted the lamby equivalent of I did walk away with an expensive but very tasty bag of lamb (had the shanks last night braised in red wine and mushrooms with feta, roasted garlic mashed potatoes). The mushrooms for the braise were from one of the produce vendors who had a nice stack of chantrelles (my assumption) and morrels. We also got several containers of olives, deli meats and cheeses to fill the cooler for the return trip home. The only places we missed in my opinion were the sauerkraut/pickle vendor that I will return to next time when the cooler isn't so full and some of the beef the butchers had... great looking standing ribeye roasts and t-bones waiting to be cut.

I don't remember the place we stopped last in the museum quarter, after some heavy duty museuming, but it was on the far left side of the quad. I liked the ambiance in this little area, hipster bistros, with equally hipster staff cooking and serving. It could have been horribly pretentious but it wasn't, simple but beautiful burgers, plates of sliced salamis, proscuitto, hummus, olives and sandwiches. A great place to watch people and wait out a thunderstorm while enjoying a few beers and snacks.

My first real visit to Vienna was a great experience and as we're only a couple of hours away we'll be back, often, and I hope to experience more of what the city has to offer.

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  1. Sounds like a great weekend! Wish we were only a couple hours away!

    When you say "we've missed Vietnamese so much since we left home a while back" where are you referring to? We had a pretty interesting day in Sapa in Prague, so I'm just curious.

    1 Reply
    1. re: kukubura

      Back home in Calgary, Canada Vietnamese restaurants are ubiquitous and on almost every corner. We would normally have either Pho, Bun, Viet omlette or Bahn Mi at least once or twice a week before we left.

      Brno's Vietnamese scene is very small and lacks the quality of the food we had in Calgary and Vienna. For example the Pho I had in Brno had a very watery broth with almost no beef taste to it and very little evidence of the spices I would normally expect (corriander, star anise, thai/viet basil, etc...). So far we've only found 3 restos here so there's not much competition, with luck more will open and they'll have to sharpen up their broth to compete.

    2. Ella's Cafe Bar Restaurant - Judenplatz 9 - 10

      We had one night in Vienna after an airport pickup and a hectic day, so Ella's falls into the category of "stumbled upon". We went out the front door of the hotel and figured we'd walk for 15 minutes and see if anything looked good. After submling into Judenplatz and contemplating the 5 choices we could easily see Ella's seemed to fit the bill of busy, funky and smelling very good (lots of seafood on offer).

      I started with the seafood soup and my wife the basil foam soup with mozzarella wonton. The seafood soup was without a doubt one of the best I've ever had, the fish was beautifully moist and flakey, the shell fish not over cooked in the least and the broth a delightful tomato base. My wife also really enjoyed the basil foam soup and the fried wontons that were served on the side so they wouldn't get mushy.

      Next up my wife had a shrimp curry and I had the pita burger. The burger was excellent except for the pita, they had cut two round pieces out of a pita bread and used those as the "bun", unfortunately they could not handle the burger and disintegrated after 2 bites. But, the burger and it's constituent parts were excellent and I enjoyed it thoroughly. As well the shrimp curry was great, the shrimps not overcooked and a very generous size.

      We had a bottle of a local Vertliner that had a wonderful flowery nose, crisp apple taste with elderflower notes, sorry didn't get the name on the label.

      Great experience at Ella's and if we're back in the area again I'm determined we'll stumble in again.

      3 Replies
      1. re: vanderb

        Was this from a return visit? Looking forward to more trip reports. Try to hit a heuriger next time. I love the idea of drinking the wine straight from the producer along with their traditional foods.

        1. re: kukubura

          Yes it was a return trip, didn't want to start a new thread and clutter things up. I would like to get to a heuriger as well, but will most likely hit one in Lower Austria when we're driving around on weekends.

          Only challenge is the Czech zero.zero alcohol limit for the driver, ie: zero tolerance. Have to be very careful when coming back over the border from Austria.

          1. re: vanderb

            I feel like my blood alcohol level goes up automatically whenever my plane lands in Vienna international.

      2. New report from last weekend...not a total success for new and interesting in Vienna, at least not for me. We did settle on Phoenixhof for Saturday night dinner instead of Chinese, and then Phoenixhof cancelled on me that morning stating government restriction... not sure what that is/was.

        We had Friday lunch and Saturday breakfast at our favourite Vietnamese Kitchen in the Naschmarkt, not the big Saigon place but the tiny little one with 7 or 8 tables. I just can't get enough of the Pho they make there and it was a treat to have it for breakfast again, as it should be.

        Dinner on Friday was determined to be a fish night to make up for the lack in Brno, but I don't think we chose well. We were still in the Naschmarkt after lingering over some very nice Grunner Veltliner and buying non-perishables to take home, so we went to Strandhaus. The menu looked good, the place was packed and food was flying out. Unfortunately the way the fish was cooked tainted the experience for me. Everything was "fried/grilled" on a plancha, which resulted in all the fish tasting pretty similar. The fish was fresh and the service, after an initial problem finding our waiter, was good and attentive. Too bad they aren't using different methods for cooking their seafood so it doesn't all taste the same. Next time I want seafood in Vienna I think I'll go back to our "stumbled upon" find, Ella's on Judenplatz, far better cooking technique and flavourful options.

        We skipped lunch on Saturday after the tasty, tasty Pho and Goi Cuon for breakfast as we were deep into museum/gallery territory and didn't need the break. After finding our Phoenixhof reservation cancelled we lost our initiative and stayed at the Museum Quarter for an early dinner at Halle. We've previously had a beer here and found the atmosphere funky and the food attractive, dinner didn't disappoint. We started with the cheese plate for two which had massive amounts of excellent blue, goat, tallagio and grana padana cheeses, with a small basket of bread. Great cheese, excellent quantities and nothing to complain about. We followed it up with a cheese burger and club sandwich as they were very popular and a lot of them were being served. Again, both were great and the burger was really very large. The only complaint I'll make was the lackluster overly dressed coleslaw that accompanied both sandwiches.

        On Sunday morning we thought we'd be able to return to the Naschmarkt for another Pho, but failed to read the "Closed on Sunday" signs on pretty much everything in the markt. Not sure where to turn, as nothing was planned, we returned to a place a few doors down from our hotel, Martinjak. There were quite a few people on the terrace so we figured it couldn't be too bad. Big downside was no "breakfast", so we ordered a soup, an apple struddle and a Tyrolean cheese and meat plate. The struddle and soup were good, nothing special but nothing bad. The Tyrolean cheese plate was very good and piled high with proscuitto, boiled ham, liverwurst, lard with bacon flecks (OMG good but my heart kicked me twice to say "no more"), several cheeses and a very small assortment of pickled veggies. I really enjoyed the plate, especially the liverwurst with fresh horseradish.

        So, as I started with, nothing too adventurous but still a great weekend away.

        5 Replies
        1. re: vanderb

          Thank you very much for sharing your mixed experience.

          I strongly agree with your feelings about the Strandhaus restaurant. This place, as well as most others (Nordsee, Nautilus) in the same area, are below average. The only exception is the Umar restaurant, but this is usually crowded with regulars and very small to begin with...

          For anyone interested in fish there are only a few places, and none of these is inexpensive, since the sea is quiet far away. People say that the fish restaurants on Marc Aurelstrasse (Aurelius, Kornat, Le Salzgries) are the best you can get in town.
          http://www.le-salzgries.at/
          http://www.kornat.at/
          http://www.aurelius-wien.at/

          I also agree with your preference for the small Vietnamese By Chi on Nachmarkt.
          http://www.falter.at/web/wwei/detail....
          By Chi is much more authentic than the newly reopened Pho Saigon, which is having the usual fate of a too much success: a rapid loss of quality....

          Not quite far from the Naschmarkt on Gumpendorferstrasse 91 is a great Thai place, the Thai Isaan Kitchen. Open every day, but only Monday to Saturday for lunch.
          http://www.lokalfuehrer.at/?site=deta...

          Getting breakfast is not as difficult as you found it to be: just go to a Kaffeehaus. Some of them serve breakfast starting 3 a.m., like the Cafe Drechsler on Naschmarkt.
          http://www.cafedrechsler.at/en/home.php

          Sunday brunches are also very popular. There are so many, it is hard to list all of them, here is just a hint: http://www.wien.info/en/shopping-wini...

          1. re: Sturmi

            Sturmi, any insight into the "government restriction" situation at Phoenixhof? Maybe an annual inspection or something? Very mysterious.

            1. re: kukubura

              I am as perplexed as you are. No idea what has happened, would have to call and ask. Since they do not know me, I am not sure what they would be ready to tell...

              Maybe they just had a closed event, some private celebration ??

            2. re: Sturmi

              Sturmi thanks for the fish restaurant recommendations. I'm back in Vienna Sept 4th for one night, before flying to Gozo, no one has replied to my post for Gozo :-( . Marc Aurel Stasse is a little far from our hotel that night but if we're up for the walk we'll head in that direction.

              I'll work on my skills for getting breakfast in Vienna, so far only hotel options have been "easy". I was in Bangalore, India for a year and half before this, where the Sunday buffet is king, but I really just don't care for buffets no matter how high end the attempt is.

              1. re: vanderb

                There's nothing easier than a Viennese coffee house. The only risk is that you're so relaxed that you end up sitting there all day and forget to do whatever else you had planned!

          2. Made it back to Vienna last weekend for the Christmas markets and a pre-Christmas break from work.

            Dinner after a hair raising drive on Friday night was at our favourite Vietnamese place in the Naschmarkt, Chi. No surprises here, except we almost didn't get one of the 4 tables (eek). Great Pho and completely satisfying summer rolls. From here we strolled to the Maria Theresa market to have a Gluwein and get a peek at what awaited us the next day. I was at first shocked by the cost of the Gluwein, until I understood it included a "rental" fee for the mug and we'd get it back when we returned the mug. I liked this environmentally friendly approach, but missed the opportunity to take my wine to go as I wasn't too interested in collecting mugs. We also had a post dinner Kasenockerl as it looked and smelled so good. I really enjoyed it, more so than the Slovakian hlusky with sheep's milk cheese we tend to get in this part of the CZ. The cheese was obviously of a harder variety and the crispy topping sprinkled on was a great texture addition.

            Breakfast on Saturday was at the Rathaus Xmas market and was intended to be some Kasenockerl as we figured it would be at every market. As we didn't see any that caught our fancy at the Rathaus we opted for a couple of nice bratwursts with buns and a side of pomme frites. The brats were great but the real business appeared to be the kolbasa. We held off the kolbasa as that's pretty much all you get up here in CZ.

            From here we headed to Freyung for the market and quickly realized this is where breakfast should have been done. There is a great little organic/bio food markt across the street from the main Xmas market. We loaded up on fresh salsicca, stinky cheeses and a couple of mugs of orangenpunsch and the apple punch who's spelling iludes me now. No "rental" on the mugs here, just a promise to return them to the booth we got them from. The orangenpunsch was very good and warming, I really never thought hot orange juice with rum and spice would work for me but did it ever.

            From here we headed down the street to the Am Hof Xmas market, which had some of the coolest stuff to buy including an antique jewelry/watch/odds n'ends vendor or two. Another orangenpunsch at the massive charcuterie stand was in order, sadly breakfast was still holding out as this stand had the most amazing looking sandwiches, brats and kolbasas and smelled (to a carnivore) like heaven.

            From here we circled back to Maria Theresa Xmas market as it was quite chilly and the walk to Karlzplatz and back to the hotel seemed a bit daunting at the time. We relaxed, had a glass of wine and then headed to Phoenixhof (finally) for dinner. I made, and was able to keep, a reservation this time and we were greatly pleased by our dinner. I had the Phoenix Schnitzel stuffed with feta, ham and garlic (lots) and bowl of the soup with pancake ribbons. My SO, the soup with liver dumplings and the Brunner Schnitzel with ham, cheese and peas. Everything was outstanding, the broth for the soups rich and flavourful and the schnitzels were tender and moist... obviously a very experienced hand in the kitchen. This was the best schnitzel I've had outside the much lauded (by me) Hansen restaurant in my current home town of Brno, CZ.

            One additional thing we noticed and greatly appreciated was that most restaurants on the same street as Phoenixhof appeared to be non-smoking, numerous people huddled outside in the cold, just like home. I wanted to ask Sturmi if there is some new legislation coming to ban smoking in restaurants or if it's just a weird occurance on this street? There were some signs up about being "rauchfrei", which at first had me thinking of roaches and caused a couple of seconds of concern, until we looked harder at the signs and the symbol on them and figured it out (my German is only slightly better than my Czech language skill).

            Next day we suffered a miserable buffet breakfast at the hotel as we wanted to get going at a decent hour. We headed to the Belvedere for their Xmas market and tour of the galleries. The Belvedere market was lack luster, we managed a bag of hot roasted potatoes and two bags of roasted chestnuts (currently resting in the freezer waiting to be turned into chestnut, leek and apple stuffing for Xmas dinner).

            Another great weekend in Vienna, we'll be back for the New Year's Eve weekend, I may try for another reservation at Phoenixhof for Dec 30th. Another Sturmi question... I'm assuming there will be a ton of street food on New Year's eve in the main Innerstadt pedestrian area and we can likely gnosh our way through the evening as we stroll, is this accurate? Is there another area of town you can recommend for good NYE fun (not looking for clubs/disco type environments)?

            Danke

            3 Replies
            1. re: vanderb

              Awesome report! Glad you finally made it to Phonixhof and that it lived up to (my) hype!

              1. re: vanderb

                Hello vanderb,
                Re smoking:
                Smoking cigarettes is still quite popular over here, especially with women and young people. Therefore many restaurant, beisl, bar and cafe owners are opposing a total ban of smoking. Anti-smoking legislation has been present for some time, but the proposed separation of smokers and non-smokers has been quite inefficient.

                Starting January 1, 2011, a new law has now enforced a stricter regulation. Small restaurants can choose whether they are smoking or non-smoking places, larger restaurants have to install a wall between the smokers area and the non-smoking area, and any door in this wall has to stay closed all the time. Many restaurants and beisl have decided to ban smoking, and those are the places you noticed, where people are going outdoors for their smoke. A few beisl, such as Rudis Beisl, are smokers only, but the numbers of smokers are declining, and you might find yourself in a smoke-free ambiente even when a sticker declares the place to be a smokers heaven...

                Re Silvesterpfad:
                On NYE the street food along the Inner City pedestrian area is available in a long row of kiosks all over town, which will serve a large variety of different food items, very similar to what you found on the Xmas markets. There will also be all kinds of music, very loud music, from several outdoor stages, and there will be even more noise from too many firecrackers and fireworks. We avoid this area during NYE at any cost, and this year we go to Venice to celebrate there.

                For more info about the NYE in Vienna read more here:
                Balls, special NYE dinners and other events at theaters, hotels and restaurants (a very complete list !!):
                http://www.wien.info/media/files/silv...
                Silvesterpfad:
                http://www.wien-event.at/fileadmin/da...

                1. re: Sturmi

                  Sturmi thanks for the clarification on smoking in restaurants. Here in the Czech Republic smoking is even more popular than Vienna and there has been no attempt to implement any sort of policy such as Vienna's. Finding a smoke free place here is a very rare treat, finding a place with a no-smoking section is easy but there are no walls so the smoke just drifts into the no-smoking section :-(

                  Appreciate the NYE links and I hope you enjoy Venice, although they are known for throwing some pretty good and loud parties themselves.

              2. Returned to Vienna this past weekend due to some business travel that was cancelled and left me with a hotel room for one night that we turned into two nights.

                Only two new food ventures this time around because we were really keen to hit our favourite By Chi for breakfast both days and we had to return to Phoenixhof.

                Nothing does breakfast for me quite like Vietnamese Pho and a Vietnamese drip coffee, unfortunately they were out of Vietnamese coffee but the Pho was excellent as always. It's also very nice that the owner/hostess always remembers us and knows what we like... even though she must see hundreds of people a week in the Naschmarkt.

                At Phoenixhof I went traditional this time around, clear broth soup with pancake and old school weinerschnitzel. The soup was excellent with just a hint of nutmeg, very soul warming but the schnitzel was outstanding. It was extremely thin, very tender and it did not appear to have been deep fried (although I could be wrong). The dish of potato salad and fresh vinegared veggies was also great with not too much caraway seed (big plus).

                One of the new places was Culinaria Asia EAT (Getreidemarkt 11). We had a hankering for Chinese food and figured we'd find something on the walk from the Naschmarkt to the hotel. Unfortunately we didn't really realize this place was "Pan Asian" not Chinese before we sat down. We had also been walking quite a bit that day so we didn't feel like getting up and going elsewhere.

                We had their steamed dumplings, Vietnamese summer rolls, Siracha duck and Thai green curry with crispy chicken. The appetizers were the best of the dishes, most especially the steamed dumplings that were very flavourful and with a great toothsome quality. The summer rolls were good, but not as good as By Chi's. The duck was flavourful but they couldn't have used much Siracha sauce as there was little to no heat in the dish. The green curry was the biggest disappointment, it was thin and watery with no flavour of coconut milk at all... and too salty.

                We'll give this place a pass next time around.

                On Friday, after cycling back to the Naschmarkt from Schonbrunn Palace, we found ourselves thirsty and in need of snacks so we went to Do An in the Naschmarkt to watch people in the sunshine and sample some Turkish snacks.

                We ordered the large plate of snacks including kofte, borek, hummus, marinated grilled veggies and some very fresh flat bread. Along with several Aperol and Kaiser spritzers, the sunshine and the throngs of people the snacks made a great way to while away a couple of hours.

                On our first night we also went to Cafe Corbaci for a glass of wine after Phoenixhof, this place is in the Museum Quarter at the MuMok end. The ambiance was great with a Turkish tiled ceiling, lots of tables, no smoking and a very enthusiastic older waiter. A great place to stop if you're museum'ing and need a non-smoky indoor place for refreshments.

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