Thursday, August 15, 2013

A Visit To Steirereck

One of my favorite things about traveling is enjoying the food from different parts of the world. The most memorable experiences for me are centered around what I've eaten and who I've shared those meals with (i.e. hawaiian pizza and llama pizza at a place in Uyuni, Bolivia).
After I booked my ticket to Vienna, I was researching restaurants and came across Steirereck, listed as #9 in San Pelligrino's list of best restaurants in the world. I knew this meal had to be the focal point of my afternoon, so I booked a table for lunch (before I even booked my hotel or anything else!).

I didn't know what to expect - all the sites I read claimed that this restaurant was "neo-Austrian" and the chef Heinz Reitbauer sources many of the menu items from his own farm. I didn't really know what neo-Austrian is, but I was excited to see what it was all about.

I was offered a selection of beverages as soon as I was seated, naturally, I selected a glass of champagne.

This restaurant had by far some of the most creative presentation of dishes I've seen. You'll see as you scroll through this post. First up, the amuse bouche, a spear of asparagus that was dried out (sort of) and crunchy.

There were two menus to choose from, the tasting menu, or a la carte. I went with the tasting menu (and wine pairing).

Here's a sneak peek view of dessert...

Another amuse bouche - salmon in sesame seed. The "salt" looking stuff you see below isn't actually salt, and now I'm cursing myself for not actually jotting down what it was. It was some vegetable that was ground up into fine powder.

Then a waiter came by with the bread trolley. Ohhhh emmm geee. I had a piece of bacon bread and a piece of some kind of rye bread. And look at the presentation of the butter!

Here were all the glasses for my wine pairing. Let's note that at this hour, the restaurant was filled with older couples and business men, and then me, by myself, drinking seven glasses of wine at 1pm.

With every dish, the server brought out a place card describing what I was about to eat. I found this to be a very nice touch, and, also, incredibly helpful as I am now writing this post about a month later.

I had no idea what Malabar Spinach was. I am used to eating the baby spinach that comes in the bags for $1.99 at Trader Joe's. Malabar Spinach (it sounds so exotic) is grown onsite at the chef's farm, and according to this article, it is not even really spinach, but rather, another green that withstands growing in summer heat a lot better than other greens such as arugula or real spinach.

I remember this dish to be bursting with another set of distinct flavors and textures. There was crunchy-sh but soft (green almonds, chewy (lovage), acidic (vinaigrette) and meaty (marrow).

Did I mention the top notch service? I looked around at all the tables and everyone seemed to be ordering a particular dish that had a box and something poured into it. I asked my waitress what it was, and she told me it was a char cooked in beeswax, which is one of the restaurant's signature dishes. I had failed to order this, and I think she could see the disappointment (read: fear of missing out) on my face, so she offered to include it in between one of my courses.

The waiter brought out this box looking thing, placed the cod in the middle, and poured warm beeswax over it.

I patiently waited for the beeswax to harden. The waitress informed me that the wax is reused to make candles for the restaurant. How is that for green living? 

Now what happens?

After about 15 minutes, a waitress came back to my table to remove the char from the beeswax. You can see it was cooked very medium rare. Then, she whisked it away to the kitchen to prepare it into my next course.

I didn't pick up any beeswax flavors in the fish itself, I think that was more a method to cook the fish. It was served with a honeycomb looking ravioli, filled with sour cream. Again, more bold flavors that I had not experienced anywhere else. 

I wasn't quite sure how weird it would be to have a seven course meal by myself, as I mentioned, I normally like sharing experiences like these with friends or family. I found a way to keep myself entertained (other than taking selfies of myself and sending them to various friends). The restaurant gave me a Relais & Chateaux book that I flipped through for most of my meal, highlighting beautiful properties and restaurants around the world.

My third course was the barbecued sturgeon with kohlrabi, quinoa, and elderberry. The glaze on the sturgeon was fork licking good (as this was not an appropriate place to be titled finger lickin' good). I liked that the flavors in the glaze were a mix of sweet and tangy. Do you see that translucent disc shaped thing? I think that was the kohlrabi, I don't remember having kohlrabi before. I also don't remember ever having quinoa served at a fancy restaurant. My quinoa dishes usually involve trader joe's cilantro dressing and sliced grape tomatoes. I think this might be the "neo" part of "neo-Austrian" cuisine, since quinoa is a Peruvian food.

The tree spinach was one of my least favorite dishes. The gnocchi was tasty, but the spinach stuff, just not up my alley.

Then it was time for the guinea fowl. I actually ordered this purely for the jerusalem artichokes, since I've read a lot about those, but never had them either. You can see I was doing all kinds of experimenting with this meal. Yet again, the chef married a spectrum of flavors - sweet, sour, tangy, crunchy, soft, chewy, into one amazing dish.

Now it was time for the cheese cart. I think this is maybe one of my favorite parts about fancy schmancy restaurants. Remember Le Louis XV? I can stare at the cart, and really, the options are endless. It really just depends on how much room I have left in my stomach.

Those are pumpkin seeds along with my assortment of cheese.

Then I ate a whole plate of flowers for dessert. I felt like my dog Cooper. Underneath, I found passion fruit cream.

I have never had an entire plate of flowers for dessert, so this definitely wins yet again for the novelty factor. The passion fruit cream, along with the ice cream, were the perfect end to a decadent meal. Both were light, airy, and had a hint of sweetness, but not over whelming.

Then this dessert tree thing happened. I don't remember what these last mignardises were, other than calling it a really fancy version of fruit roll ups ( see the red stuff hanging? fruit roll ups.).

Even though I was dining solo, I really enjoyed spending most of an afternoon doing my favorite thing (eating and drinking). This was basically two meals in one, as I was too full to eat dinner at night. The service is top notch, as one would expect, and the food is also unique. Definitely worth checking out if you are interested in a splurge meal in Vienna!

The lunch time seating was not very busy, but I would recommend making reservations, I did so via email about a month before I arrived.

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