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Sunday, April 30, 2006

21st Century Tortilla


S adds the foam to a "tortilla"

I've never had the pleasure of dining at El Bulli, currently considered (if you agree with Restaurant magazine) the world's best restaurant. That said, I've long admired Ferran Adria, the crazy mad scientist chef-owner who spends half of each year in a laboratory experimenting on new cooking and food preparation techniques. In 2001, I was lucky enough to attend a pretty amazing cooking demonstration put on by Adria, his brother, and another one of his chefs. Over two hours, he wowed an audience of food media, chefs and other industry professionals with his very unique brand of culinary magic. After the demonstration, I was even luckier. My wife S and I got to meet Adria and spend 15 minutes asking him as many questions as we could think of.


You can see how enthused Ferran was to meet me

As I mentioned a few posts back, I was recently inspired to attempt one of Adria's creations, what he calls his 21st Century Tortilla. The recipe comes from The Cook's Book, a large and impressive book edited by Jill Norman. Each chapter is written by a different and famous chef. S bought this book largely because of Adria's chapter on foams. Other great chefs that contributed to this book include Peter Gordon, Pierre Hermé, Charlie Trotter, Greg Malouf, and David Thompson.

Adria's foam techniques depend entirely on a specific piece of equipment, the siphon. Adria recommends using the 0.5 litre iSi Gourmet Whip. Others similar siphons aren't as versatile because (according to iSi and Adria) they can't accept warm (or hot) liquids. For the past few years here, the iSi Gourmet Whips were available in Robinsons, one of Singapore's larger department store chains. However, when I drove down to pick one up, I was shocked to discover that Robinsons was no longer selling them. In fact, as I called every kitchen supply store in town, I learnt that no one was stocking them any more. At one store, however, I spotted a Kayser Gastronomie siphon. And while I wasn't sure it would work equally well, after a quick call to a chef I trust, I decided to give it a try.

(Incidentally, I've since discovered that you can buy the iSi Gourmet Whips directly from their distributor here, Butler-Mason. Check out their website at www.butler-mason.com. I've already ordered a new Gourmet Whip from them.)



Some of the ingredients you'll need

Adria's 21st Century Tortilla is composed of three main things, caramelized onions, sabayon and potato foam.

Caramelized Onions
250g onion, julienned
85g (3oz) mild olive oil
100ml (3.5 fl oz) water

Fry the onions gently in the oil, stirring continuously for about 20 minutes until golden. Drain off the excess oil and add a little of the water. Cook until the water evaporates. Repeat the process for about 20 more minutes until the onions are the texture of jam and the colour of caramel. Season with salt and set aside in the pan to reheat later.

Sabayon
2 egg yolks
30g (1oz) boiling water
Place the egg yolks in a bowl, beat with a hand whisk and add the boiling water in a thin stream. Beat vigorously over medium heat until it emulsifies. Season with salt.

Potato Foam
250g (8.5oz) potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
125ml (4.5oz) single cream
35ml (1 fl oz) virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
Place the potatoes in a pan of cold water, bring to the boil, and cook for about 20 minutes until soft. Drain, reserving 100ml of the cooking water. Place the cooked potato and the water in a blender. Purée, adding the cream little by little. Follow the same procedure with the oil until you have a smooth emulsion. Season with salt. Strain, then fill the siphon using a funnel. Load the air using two chargers, shake, and keep warm in a bain-marie at 70ºC (158ºF).



Make sure you strain the emulsion into the siphon

To serve, reheat the onion in the pan. Place a teaspoonful of onion in a martini glass, followed by one of the sabayon. Finish with the warm potato foam and drizzle with olive oil.

Making this has been surprisingly easy. And it tastes delightful. The texture is beautiful--light, creamy and rich all at the same time. I found that adding some chopped up bacon to the onions added an extra (meaty) dimension to the dish that I really like. Having made this, I'm pretty excited to test the other foam recipes in Jill Norman's book. Plus, I've just gotten a little espuma (foam) book from iSi. This is going to be fun.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Now serving brunch



It’s Wednesday, which for foodies who like to plan ahead means it’s time to think about where you are going to eat this coming weekend. And while I know S and a whole lot of other friends are going to kill me for leaking this juicy little bit of information, I just can’t help myself. (I’ve never been able to keep good gossip to myself.) The fabulously cool PS Café, which was recently lauded in Time magazine, now serves brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. Further, from what I’ve been told—and I could be wrong—they are not taking reservations for this weekend, daytime service. Which means waking up dreadfully early to score a seat or patiently standing around waiting for a table.

S and I checked out the brunch last weekend. Fortunately, it looked like only a handful of regulars and friends knew about it (they only began the brunch service the previous weekend). Which meant that not only was getting a table at 11am not a problem but also that we recognized quite a few of the people in the room. Anyone who has been to PS Café for dinner knows how beautiful it is. It’s a gorgeous glass-fronted one story structure, with a lovely terrace overlooking greenery. I have to say that it’s even prettier during the day. The large glass panes let in lots of sunlight. It's the perfect ambience for lingering over coffee, good food and one of the many cool fashion or design magazines available from the bar.




The menu is small but good, offering a dozen or so brunch specials. S and I were quite boring. I ordered scrambled eggs with Danish bacon, homemade baked beans, roasted tomatoes, and buttered toast. While the eggs could have been just a tad runnier, it was delicious. S had a bacon and egg sandwich, which is pictured above and as you can see does not just have bacon and eggs but some other wonderful things in it. In addition to these two egg dishes, they also serve a delicious sounding poached eggs dish, an onion and cheese flan which I’m going to order on my next visit, their signature spaghetti Bolognaise, and a few other tasty dishes. While I stayed boring and washed my food down with coffee, S ordered an interesting and lovely longan tea, made with black tea and dried pink longans that the owners hand carry from Northern Thailand.

If you’re a brunch fan, this is a great place to relax and have a great meal. I hate hotel buffet brunches—I consider them a complete rip-off. So, I appreciate the growing number of cafés offering good, moderately priced a la carte brunch menus. Now, if only we can convince PS Café to serve afternoon tea as well.

Brunch orders are taken from from 930am to 3pm on Saturdays and Sundays.

PS. Café
28B Harding Road
Tel: 6479 3343

Monday, April 24, 2006

Dinner for some restaurateurs



This past weekend, S and I hosted a few friends for dinner. We were a tad nervous because these three gentlemen own one of the city's coolest and most popular restaurants. In other words, the meal had to both innovative and very, very good. And because these three prize good, well-cooked simple food over fussy, fancy fare, the dishes we chose to cook couldn't be too pretentious. Dessert was an easy choice. We'd been promising them a sampler of S's superb ice creams for months. For the other courses, we raided our cookbook collection and came up with two interesting starters. As a first course, we tried out a simple dish from Michel Roux's devilishly cute book, Eggs. Any egg lover needs to buy this book. It's pages and pages of egg recipes and egg-based (e.g. pastas, pastries, etc) dishes. We chose to make Roux's baked eggs with chicken livers and shallots in red wine (pictured below).



It's a relatively easy dish. The only time-consuming thing is creating a reduction of red wine (flavored with bay leaf and thyme), chicken stock and shallots. The chicken livers are cut into small pieces and sautéed quickly and seasoned lightly with salt and pepper. The liver is mixed with the shallots and red wine reduction and then distributed into buttered ramekins. An egg is cracked into each ramekin and baked for 10 minutes. Roux recommends serving this with toasted brioche. The dish was not bad. Not fantastic, but pretty good. It was earthy, rich and tasty and a nice way to begin the meal.

Our next course was something simple but spectacular (and something I will dedicate a whole post to later this week). Despite S having bought Jill Norman's The Cook's Book mostly because of Ferran Adria's chapter on foam, we had yet to try any of Adria's rather amazing recipes. For this course, we successfully pulled off Adria's 21st Century Tortilla -- a dish composed of caramelised onions, sabayon and potato foam.




For our third and main course, S and I recreated a dish that we've only just learnt how to make, khao soi. Instead of making this Northern Thai curry noodle dish with chicken, as is usually the case, we served ours with slices of wonderfully tender braised beef cheek. The beef cheeks were braised over low heat for 2 hours and then very, very slowly in incredibly low heat for 8 more hours. For the braising liquid, I used the one recommended for Osso Buco in Joyce Goldstein's Italian Slow and Savory. The khao soi's curry recipe came from the Four Seasons cooking school in Chiang Mai. It was a delicious course and the boys all loved it. P, who is a big fan of khao soi, paid us the ultimate compliment by saying it tasted just like the best ones he had eaten in Chiang Mai. The soft, tender and oh so tasty beef cheek was a wonderful choice of meat and I think what I plan on serving with khao soi from now on.



For dessert, as I mentioned, S had made an ice cream sampler. She served 3 homemade flavours. The first was an abacadabra ice cream, so named because the spice blend she infused the ice cream with is named abacadabra. From what I can tell it has roses, spearmint, cinnamon and cracked black pepper in it. The second ice cream was a gula-melaka coconut ice cream and the third was a chocolate malt. After dessert, S brought out a special little treat she had spent a few days making, chocolate Easter eggs (pictured at the top of this post). She had watched a very amusing video demonstrating how to make this on, of all things, Martha Stewart's website and was rather inspired. First she drained the insides of 8 farm fresh eggs and then dyed them robin blue. She then filled each egg with milk chocolate and after that was cooled, white chocolate, creating two layers of chocolate within each egg. For an added touch of color, she paired the eggs with some lovely chocolate ribbon. It was a fun, playful and sinful final touch to a lovely meal.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Casual chic



I finally got around to having dinner at Graze, the chic new restaurant in Rochester Park. My wife S and most of our friends had gone for a pre-opening tasting while I was out of town, so I'd heard quite a bit about the place before this visit. And despite some mixed reviews from friends, bloggers and readers (who have left comments on a previous post), I was quite excited and hoped that any kinks that the restauant's young and brave owners have had, had been ironed out over the past few weeks.

Some have but some haven't. In general, I'd give the restaurant two very enthusiastic thumbs up. Most of the food we tried was excellent. The space itself is beautifully designed. And the drinks (cocktails) are yummy. The only problem areas are the service and the desserts. The former can be easily fixed and co-owner Yenn Wong, who also owns the JIA Hotel in Hong Kong, tells me they are already working on the latter.




We started our meal with ginger wine oyster shooters with wasabi and cucumber oil. I liked these a lot. Small, refreshing and tasty, they're the perfect way to start one's meal. S paired hers with a super yummy geen apple mojito while I had a glass of a Tasmanian gewurztraminer. For a starter, I had an entree size portion of blue swimmer crab linguine, garlic, chilli with a chilled crab and lemon salsa (pictured below). It was light, refreshing and delicious. And huge. The entree size portion would have been big enough for not just one but two main courses. S had roasted sweetbreads with a peppered onion tart. It was very good. The sweetbreads were cooked perfectly and the sauce, while a tad powerful had a lovely, rich earthy taste.



For mains, S and I chose dishes we knew would be good. I had the crispy hand-rolled pork hock with red and black plum salsa and redcurrant chilli caramel. S had the soy lacquered wagyu ox cheek with coconut rice, green papaya and pomelo salad, fried shallots with a tamarind dressing. Both were lovely; we couldn't decide which was better. The ox cheek was wonderfully tender on the inside and crispy on the outside; as was the pork hock. Both dishes are paired with accompaniments that have very Thai flavours that should appeal to most local palates.

For dessert, we shared a rhubarb and apple crumble that was ridiculously big and only so-so. It's not something I'd order again. But what I would have again and again are the lychee martinis and the vodka-spiked ice teas, both of which we tasted after our meal.

I'll definitely come back. The al fresco area is especially gorgeous and perfect for a pre-dinner drink. The interior restaurant space is cozy, casual yet stylishly chic. I have yet to try the barbecue menu and will do so on my next visit. The Opia-inspired dishes that I had were excellent. The service, as I mentioned, needs a lot (really, a lot) of work. But I hear gossip that a certain very talented restaurant manager is leaving one of the city's most popular spaces to take over the floor at Graze. If what I hear is true then he'll kick some dumb-ass waiter butt and things should be running smoothly in no time. I can't wait.

GRAZE
No 4 Rochester Park, Singapore 139215
Tel: (65) 6775 9000

Thursday, April 20, 2006

URGENT: Calling all amateur Singaporean food photographers

I promised a friend I would post this rather urgent request. Singapore's Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts are putting together a coffee-table book of photos to give delegates attending the IMF-World Bank Meetings here in September. They're looking for photos to put in this book as well as possibly put into a 365 day pictoral calender.

Seems that the submissions have been less than stellar. In particular, they're quite eager to get some great pictures depicting Singaporeans eating together, Singaporean food, and other gorgeous food-related themes.

Here's a short write-up as provided to me by the Ministry:

Coffee table pictorial book on Singapore

Come this September, the world’s top bankers will converge in Singapore for the International Monetary Fund-World Bank meeting to discuss fiscal and monetary policies that will impact the world.

With 16,000 delegates and journalists visiting Singapore, we intend to mark the occasion by presenting our guests with a high-end coffee table pictorial which will be a fitting memento for them to remember us by. The pictorial will feature photos of the activities that ordinary Singaporeans engage in, among which eating ranks as one of the tops.

MICA, which oversees the production of the pictorial, calls on all Singaporeans to support this national cause by sending their best photographic works on the subject of food and/or eating to:

National Marketing Department
5th floor MICA Building
140 Hill Street
S 179369
(Attn: Mr Foo Siang Luen)

Send photos in CD format or in print (4R) together with your name, address and contact number. All submissions must reach MICA by 2 May 2006. Photographers whose works are selected will be acknowledged in the book, a copy of which will be presented to them as a token of appreciation. For details, please contact Mr Foo at 68379862 or email foo_siang_luen@mica.gov.sg.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

A (really) quick Q&A with Anthony Bourdain


photo courtesy of Discovery

I’ll admit to being a total television junkie. I love my idiot box. And I’m a master at channel surfing. Nothing annoys S more than my ability to watch 3-4 shows simultaneously by switching back and forth between them every few minutes. Of course, some shows need to be savoured in their entirety. Good shows. Some of my recent favourites include Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, Entourage and America’s Next Top Model (yeah, yeah, I have plebian tastes). I also really like Anthony Bourdain’s show. I’ve been a fan of his ever since reading “Kitchen Confidential”, a hilarious and insightful look behind the scenes of restaurant kitchens. Since reading it, I’ve stopped ordering seafood specials on Mondays and try my best to avoid salad bars. His TV show, A Cook’s Tour, was a fun and graphic journey around the world. Actually meetting the guy over crab bee hoon and beer at Sin Huat Eating House only made me like him and respect what he’s doing even more. In person, as on camera, Tony’s a no-nonsense, sarcastic, funny and laid-back foodie. His latest show, backed and produced by Discovery, is called ANTHONY BOURDAIN: NO RESERVATIONS. Here in Singapore, we’re a month and a half into the first season. Over in the USA, the second season premiered just a few weeks ago.

Discovery describes the show this way:

“In ANTHONY BOURDAIN: NO RESERVATIONS, this anti-celebrity chef is out of the kitchen and on the road -- no holds barred and as feisty as ever. His authentic travel experiences -- the good, the bad and the ugly -- are presented as Bourdain weaves the globe with his authentic, peculiar, raw and unfiltered edge.

“’This is not a food show -- it’s about people, cultures and places as seen through the eyes of a chef and the prism of food,’ says Bourdain. ‘Food is maybe the fastest, easiest and best way “in” to an unfamiliar place and culture. Once you’ve sat down with people and eaten their food, their whole world opens up to you in ways that wouldn’t ordinarily happen. Food, after all, is the purest expression of a country, of a culture, a region and a personality.’ Discovery’s series ANTHONY BOURDAIN: NO RESERVATIONS is sure to leave viewers hungry for more.”

As part of the global marketing push to get all of you (us) to turn on your TVs and watch Tony’s show, I was asked if I wanted to conduct a short interview by phone, fax or email with the world traveler. Because I was about to jump on a plane when the offer arrived in my inbox a few weeks ago, I opted for email and shot off a couple of quick questions. His (short) replies just arrived. So, for your reading pleasure, the shortest interview with Anthony Bourdain probably ever published...

CH: Hi Tony. How will this show be different from your last one? Are there any major differences that viewers and fans will want to take note of?

AB: We’re always trying to not repeat ourselves. We're always looking for locations and subjects that haven’t been explored on television or on other travel shows. And we’re always looking to push things. We’ll be doing a Beirut show in a few weeks. As far as any major differences? I’ll always be me—that’s for sure. Too old and too mean to change that. I’m not going to morph into Rachael Ray all of a sudden—or find religion—or start doing Happy BBQ competition shows.

CH: I read somewhere that you were going to take a year off and live in Hoi-An. Have you gotten around to that yet?

AB: I haven't got around to living in Hoi An yet. That comes after the TV career is over.

CH: What do you hate most about being interviewed by journalists? What question that you get asked over and over again do you hate the most?

AB: Being interviewed by journalists is easy compared to the honest toil of working in professional kitchens. So I don’t mind. I know how lucky I am that anyone even CARES what I think. As far as the question I’m getting tired of? “What did that cobra heart taste like?”

CH: If you could only smoke one brand of cigarette and drink one brand of beer for the rest of your life, what would they be?

AB: Lark, which is very unpopular and increasingly hard to find. As far as beer? My favorite, the best beer in the world is Guiness—as brewed in Dublin. But its not everyday stuff—it's a bit too heavy for breakfast. I’d be perfectly happy stuck with a lifetime supply of Heineken.

CH: What 3 albums/CDs are your favorites to cook to?

AB: The Superfly soundtrack by Curtis Mayfield. Doggy Style—Snoop Dogg. Tepid Peppermint by the Brian Jonestown Massacre.

CH: Describe the contents of your suitcase.

AB: The usual clothes, a laptop, cigarettes, chargers, Immodium, appropriate footwear. No latex underwear or bondage gear—if that’s what you’re hoping for.

CH: What’s your favorite super-fast foolproof recipe that can be whipped together quickly and easily but that always impresses people?

AB: A proper omelette. Because it's amazing how few people can make a damn omelette.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Vienna Guide


Apple Strudel

S and I had a wonderful time in Vienna. We ate, shopped, drank copious amounts of coffee (einspanners, melanges, kleiners, you name it), ate multiple varieties of cake, and drank fantastic local wine and beer. Instead of recounting our exploits chronologically, I've decided it would be easier and potentially more useful to write a simple guide to the Austrian capital, based on our experiences. Thus, the below is by no means in-depth or meant to be the "guide to beat all guides"; it just represents the places that we loved visiting. I've also, given the food focus of this blog, left out descriptions of the various museums, galleries and other cultural institutions that we went to. These--especially the MQ (MuseumsQuartier) and the newly renovated Mozarthaus--were excellent and not to be missed. But you can find info on those places somewhere else.

Places to sleep:

Style Hotel
Fans of uber-designer hotels will love Style. It's sleek, modern and ultra hip. The lobby and the rooms are plushly decorated with a warm cream and brown palette, perfectly accented with striking red touches. The rooms are incredibly comfortable and there's wireless Internet throughout the hotel--vital for today's travelers. The lobby bar is always hopping and the minibar's contents are complimentary (i.e. the cost has been included in your room rate). The hotel is also perfectly located, sitting opposite Café Central and just 2 minutes from the Graben, one of the city's main pedestrian shopping streets (which leads directly to St Stephen's). Unfortunately, rooms here are pricey and the staff are less than "with it." In fact, some times they were quite unhelpful, which to me far overshadowed the great location and stylish rooms.
12 Herrengasse, 1st
Tel: 227 800

Hotel Altstadt
I'm a new and loyal fan of Hotel Altstadt. This 4 star pension, just a few minutes walk from the MQ, is housed in an old 18th Century building--formally an aristocratic home. Owner Otto Wiesenthal has decorated the hotel's finely restored interiors with a tasteful selection of contemporary art and plush, comfortable and chic retro furniture. We walked in without reservations (having decided that the other hotel we were checked into--the Viennart--was just plain vile) and asked if there were rooms available and if we might have a quick walkthrough. Petra, the reception staff on duty that morning, was fantastic. Charming, warm, and enthusiastic, she gave us a short tour and offered us a great rate. Our room was large and comfortable, with a big, red leather club chair, a comfy double bed, and some cute vintage furniture. There's also free wireless Internet access here. Breakfast at the hotel (included) was delicious, as was the daily afternoon tea and cake spread (also included). Most importantly, all the staff, young, attractive and charming women, were perfect. This is a hotel I plan on staying at again and would recommend to any friend.
41 Kirchengasse, 7th
Tel: 526 33 99

Places to eat:


Warm milk with bitter chocolate, orange and ginger

Steirereck
Helmut Osterreicher, the chef that made Steirereck Vienna's most celebrated restaurant, may have left, but with chef Heinz Reitbauer (son of the restaurant's owner) at the helm, who cares! Chef Reitbauer's food is gorgeous, better than anything I've eaten in a long time and worthy of more than just one Michelin star. In fact, I'm going to go way out on a limb here and say that the dishes there with S were much better than what I ate at Gordon Ramsay in London (which has 3 Michelin stars) last year. The food was perfectly executed, complex yet well-balanced, intelligent, sophisticated, light and delicious. S and I both had 5 course menus. Of course, before menu options are even presented, deft waiters have already presented 3 small tasting portions to wake up and excite the taste buds. My first 2 courses, from the ordered menu, and my dessert were especially inspired. The first course was called Suckling-Pig-Ham & Egg Yolk (a square of gelatinised ham sauce with an egg yolk in the middle served with parsley-spinach and suckling-pig-ham); the second was simply called Trout "Blue" (lovely filet of trout poached in bouillon in a jar with various local herbs). The dessert was Rhubarb & Lemon-Melissa (marinated and cooked rhubarb with lemon-melissa cream, strawberries and cereal crisps). My other two courses were a filet of St. Pierre with pumpkin seed-spinach, sandwiched between thinly sliced white and brown bread and a roasted filet of milk calf with almond-honey shallots. I should also mention one of S's courses that was surprisingly delicious, a goose liver praline with rose flower-chocolate, lychees and green pepper. We enjoyed our dinner with a lovely bottle of Alzinger (a local, cult Wachau winemaker) Riesling. Steirereck's location, in one of the city's most beautiful parks, is also stunning. The only thing, in my opinion, holding it back from 3 Michelin stars is its service, which while good was not amazing.
Am Heumarkt 2A im Stadtpark, 3rd
Tel: 713 31 68

Meierei
On the back side of Steirereck, there's the cutest little café-restaurant. Meierei specializes in milk and cheese, specifically farm fresh milk and Austrian cheeses. The restaurant opens up onto a lovely view of the Stadtpark, and its big, glass, sliding doors are kept open during warm weather--making it the perfect place for lunch. The range of milks is interesting, everything from fresh cow's milks to sheep's and goat's milks. Even soy milks and coconut milk. The one pictured above is a cow's milk served warm with bitter chocolate, orange and ginger. The 60+ cheeses available here are fantastic. And each is served with a small piece of paper with a typed description. While I had a sampler of Austrian cheeses, S had their "Cheese Duel", a plate of 4 top French cheeses matched against 4 top Austrian cheeses. In addition to the cheese selection, Meierei also serves some simple Viennese fare. Dessert addicts will want to get a table a little before 2pm, because at 2pm, 2 freshly baked apple strudels are brought out, still warm from the oven. The day we were there, all slices were snapped up in less than 10 minutes.
Am Heumarkt 2A im Stadtpark, 3rd
Tel: 713 31 68

Osterreicher Gashaus & Bar
Osterreicher, helmed by famed chef Helmut Osterreicher and located in the MAK (the museum of applied arts), has been open for a little under 2 months. It's also THE restaurant of the moment in Vienna and, according to friends, the toughest reservation to get in town. Built in a large extension of this century old building, the restaurant and adjoining bar are stunningly designed. While preserving the historical beauty of the room, modern furnishings and fixtures--like a truly amazing glass-bottle chandelier--have been introduced. Old meets new on the plate as well as in the interiors. Osterreicher's menu is divided into two halves. One the left, patrons are offered traditional Viennese dishes. On the right are Osterreicher's modern reinterpretations. The food is good. It's very simply plated and very fresh. It's nothing as fancy as the food at Osterreicher's previous restaurant, but this new place is not meant to be fancy. It's meant to be the kind of place you might drop by a couple times a week, for a drink and a bite.
5 Stubenring, 1st
Tel: 714 01 21

Plachutta
Plachutta is Vienna's most famous Tafelspitz specialist. Tafelspitz, for the uninitiated, is a traditional Austrian dish of slices of beef boiled in bouillon and root vegetables, served with fried potatoes, a horseradish sauce, an apple sauce and a variety of side dishes like creamed spinach. Traditional Tafelspitz uses aitch bone of beef but the restaurant also offers at least a half dozen other cuts to choose from. While touristy, a visit here is a must and the specialty is surprisingly delicious. There are now a couple branches of this very popular restaurant, but the one to eat in is the first branch, on Wollzeile. The restaurant is packed and noisy. And it's essential to book a table.
38 Wollzeile, 1st
Tel: 512 15 77

Figlmuller
S and I had read that Figlmuller, just off Wollzeile and near St Stephen's, was THE place to eat Wiener Schnitzel. They have two branches, an older, tiny place brimming with ambience and a larger, less charming space. We chose to go to the smaller, older branch. Which meant, since we arrived without reservations, a long wait. The schnitzel here is pretty good, pounded thin and served in giant-sized portions; each serving is so large it dangles over all sides of the plate. The service, however, is surly.
5 Wollzeile, 1st
Tel: 512 61 77

Zu den Zwei Lieseln
This tiny, humble little hole in the wall owned by two sisters, just a short walk from the MQ, is also known for its schnitzel. And I have to say that if I were to pick between Figlmuller and Zu den Zwei Lieseln, I'd pick the latter without hesitation. While nowhere near as charmingly furnished, the schnitzel served here is simply better. It's thicker, juicier and tastier. And cheaper.
63 Burggasse, 7th
Tel: 523 32 82

Una
S and I had read about Una in the Time Out Guide to Vienna. The review said that it had "the best address in the Museumsquartier" and described its gorgeous vaulted ceiling, "clad in Turkish tiles." But the review didn't say that much about the food. Fortunately for us, we met Chef Una's mother (Henny Abraham, see "Where to shop" below) who offered to make a reservation for us. And I'm extremely glad that we accepted. This trendy, crowded and delightful restaurant serves up some delicious modern Viennese/European cuisine. S and I shared a lovely round of burrata with braised vine-ripened tomatoes and basil. I then had a calf schnitzel stuffed with fresh mushrooms and served with a truffled potato gratin. S had a gorgeous plate of chicken thigh and leg braised in a local vinegar-based sauce and served with polenta. Everything was excellent.
1 Museumsplatz, 7th
Tel: 523 65 66

Calamari
The Naschmarkt is Vienna's main food and produce market. It's a must-visit for every foodie. It's basically organized along two long paths, with food and produce purveyors lining the longer one and cafés lining the other. Upon entering Nashmarkt from the north, directly on the left, there's a small seafood café with both indoor and outdoor seating. Given how bountiful the produce is here, it comes as no surprise that the seafood served here is amazingly fresh. On a warm day, Calamari is, in our opinion, the best place in the Nashmarkt to sit and have some Prosecco and seafood. In S's case, that meant an open-faced salmon sandwich and a half dozen fin de claire oysters. For me, that meant a half dozen of the most beautifully plump scallops, covered in butter, herbs and garlic and grilled to perfection.

Trzesniewski
This tiny little gem of a shop off the Graben has been serving up perfect open-faced, egg-based sandwiches for generations. Each little sandwich costs Euro 0.80 and all 21 varieties are delicious. You can buy them over the main counter and eat at one of the few tables or standing counters or have the staff pack them for you in delightfully utilitarian boxes. This is a must-visit.
1 Dorotheergasse, 1st
Tel: 512 32 91

Kostas
My colleague and I wandered into this cute little Greek restaurant located near Karlsplatz because she was having some serious Mousaka cravings. And I'm glad we did. The food here was great. I had a delicious spinakopita followed by an equally delectable lamb souvlaki served with rice and salad. If you're getting sick of Viennese food, this is the perfect place to go for a break.
6 Friedrichstrasse, 1st
Tel: 586 37 29

Places for coffee (and cake):

Hotel Sacher
This is, despite the high prices and the hordes of tourists, obviously a must-visit. Because I had raved about Sacher Torte to S for years, it was especially necessary for us to go. Fortunately, the Sacher Torte lived up to its reputation and S finally understood my predilection for this sweet chocolate cake. By comparison, neither of us liked the one served at Demel.
4 Philhamonikerstrasse,1st
Tel: 514 56

Café Central
I've always loved Café Central. When I was a cheap student back in '94, I would go there, order one coffee and sit for hours. These days, I can afford a coffee and a slice of cake. It's a wonderful place to sit for a while and soak up atmosphere. It's nice that this café is still frequented by the Viennese as much as it is by visitors. The decor is simply beautiful, with ribbed vaulting, columns, marble, wrought-iron chandeliers and plush banquette seating.
Corner of Herrengasse and Strauchgasse, 1st
Tel: 533 37 63 26

Café Hawelka
This dark, smoky café oozes charm and character. Stepping in here is like wandering back in time, to a day when intellectuals would spend their days arguing politics over cups of coffees and cigarettes. Visit the café during the day for a shot of coffee and then come back at night, a little after 10pm, when the buchten (delicious cakes) are seved fresh from the oven.
6 Dorotheergasse, 1st
Tel: 512 82 30


Where to Shop:


Silver cutlery with mother of pearl handles

Henny Abraham
Henny runs a lovely antique and fabric store on Shliefmuhlgasse, a street near the Nashmarkt that has become increasingly trendy. While she stocks a gorgeous assortment of hand-printed kimonos, it was the display case of antiques near the back of her shop that caught our eye. In it, we found some gorgeous items, including the above pictured 19th Century British cutlery set. I knew that the moment S saw these gorgeous dessert forks and knives, with their mother of pearl handles, she'd want to take them home.
13 Schliefmulgasse, 4th
Tel: 513 79 61

Taste It
Coffee machine lovers have got to check out this cute store. Among the brands they stock, they carry a great range of Isomacs and Illy machines. They also sell a good range of coffee.
27 Wollzeile, 1st
Tel: 512 94 23

Wiener Silberschmiede Werkstatte
Last year, a courageous German woman named Christa Berghaus-Fölster decided to do something pretty amazing. She bought a company with roots stretching back to 1883. It is Vienna's last surviving silversmith and silverware manufacturer. In the early 20th century, Vienna produced some amazing silver pieces. But over the decades, most of these silverware manufactures closed down. Christa is devoting her time (and money) to revitalizing this amazing craft. Having gone through the company's archives, not only has she found blueprints for beautiful silverware and cutlery, but also a small number of actual vintage pieces. She's been using these historical references to produce brand-new all silver pieces, handmade and cold stamped. The work is stunning. Some of these pieces can be traced back to royal and aristocratic families; others are linked to famous designers who had worked with the manufacture. The pieces, I have to say, are very expensive, but given the quality and historical properties, very much worth the prices asked for. Christa is also open to custom orders. This is, for any silverware freak, like S, a must-visit.
14 Spiegelgasse, 1st
Tel: 513 67 51



Earrings from Reisch

Reisch Accessoires
This cute little store, sandwiched in the antique store district, sells wonderfully modern women's accessories, most of which have been cast in hard plastic, designed by Viennese designer Barbara Reisch. She's crafted some gorgeous and witty necklaces, earrings, bags and other items that female fashionistas will surely drool over. The prices are also reasonable so this is a good place to shop for a nice gift for that special someone.
4 Stallburggasse, 1st
Tel: 533 20 64

Vinothek St Stephan
Despite being located smack in the middle of the tourist district, this little wine shop offers fantastic service and great prices. Ask the charming Claudia to recommend some local wines to buy and bring home. I recommend especially the Wachau Rieslings.
6 Stephansplatz, 1st
Tel: 512 68 58

Berger
Chocolate fans should make their way to the Vienna outpost of this Salzburgian chocolate maker. All their chocolates are handmade and are sinfully delicious. Especially recommended are their bars, available in a huge assortment of flavors. As you can imagine, S grabbed several to try. I like best their orange flavored milk chocolate. It has none of the artificiality that so many other flavored chocolates have. We were told at the store that the manufacture uses only freshly squeezed orange juice. I also really liked their strawberry chocolate.
22 Wollzeile, 1st
Tel: 513 70 62

Gegenbauer
While this vinegar producer is based in the 10th district, we visited its small stall in the Naschmarkt. This family owned company sells a great variety of handmade vinegars, flavored oils, wine, juices and mustards. We especially liked the drinking vinegars and the pumpkinseed oil, a Viennese specialty.
3 Waldgasse, 10th

Poehl am Naschmarkt
This cute and (especially on Saturdays) crowded store in the Naschmarkt has a fantastic range of Viennese produce, from meats to preserves, wines, juices and chocolates. Ask Johannes, the charming proprietor, for recommendations and you won't go wrong.
Stand 167, Nashmarkt, 4th
Tel: 586 04 04

Babettes
Babette's, named after the fantastic food film Babette's Feast, is a wonderful little cookbook bookstore just a short walk from the Naschmarkt. In addition to the great range of books, there's a small counter which serves snacks, soups and whatever else the owners feel inspired to make each day.
17 Schliefmuhlgasse, 4th
Tel: 585 51 65

Meinl am Graben
Meinl started life as a coffee bar. Now it's a major gourmet purveyor as well as a huge financial institution (with even its own bank). This glorious, shining multi-storey temple of gastronomy with a fantastic location on the Graben is the ultimate Viennese gourmet's paradise. There's a café, an uber-chic and very expensive restaurant, a wine bar, a sushi bar, and a supermarket stocking over 13,000 products from all over the world. This is a great place to spend an hour exploring.
19 Graben, 1st
Tel: 532 33 34

Xocolat
S went nuts in this shop. Located just around the corner from Café Central, in the Freyung Passage, is this great little store that stocks chocolates from all over the world. You can get artisanal chocolates, cocoa powder, cocoa nibs and a number of other delicious chocolate products here. Come to stock up on those hard-to-find brands that you've always wanted to taste.
2 Freyung, Palais Ferstel, 1st
Tel: 535 43 63

Monday, April 10, 2006

Grüß’ Gott


Einspanner at Cafe Hawelka
photo taken on a Dopod 818pro smartphone (hence the crapiness of the image)

Greetings from Vienna. I'm almost at the end of a 10 day (working) trip to Europe. The first half of this trip was spent in Venice, a city that I've been fortunate enough to have been to 4 times in the last 18 months. The second half of the trip has been to Vienna, a city that I totally adore and was lucky enough to have lived in for a month while taking an intensive German course way back in 1994.

I'll update on both cities later this week. Truth to tell, I don't have that much to say about Venice that I haven't said before. The only really new experiences this time around were a dinner at an excellent steakhouse and a stay at a fantastic (classic) hotel. Vienna, however, has been both a nostalgiac trip and one of discovery. It's my first time back since a short 2 day visit in 1997. Further, twelve years ago, as a student, there were so many things I couldn't afford to do (like eat at Steirereck). Lastly, my lovely wife S flew in to join me for a few additional vacation days, which have been wonderful. Over the past few days, we've tried several versions of Sacher Torte and Wiener Schnitzel (S has been on a quest to find the best of both), had Vienna's most famous Tafelspitz, had a gloriously inspired meal at Steirereck (way, way better than Gordon Ramsay), have drunk countless kinds of coffee, wine and beer, and have checked out 3 different hotels (one of which sucked big time). All of which I'll write about when we get back to Singapore later this week. Servus!