top 100: seäsonal

lobster bisque amuse

I’ve grown accustomed to the two variants of service one often experiences dining out in New York City: the cold, icy reserve of a server who takes himself (and the chef’s food) very seriously and the overly obsequious waiter who hopes to share with you his or her personal favorites and be your friend. Such extreme parameters often come in for a bit of jest at the table, but they are important: service sets the tone of the meal, letting you know whether you’re expected to either sit up straight and pay attention or find the time to chat amicably about every plate after it has been cleared. It may be part of the game that comes with eating out, but at least you know the rules at the start. What I cannot abide are mixed messages. A perfect case in point occurred recently at Seäsonal, a very well-regarded Austrian restaurant on a dim midtown block just south of Central Park. Greeted warmly by the host, I was escorted promptly to my table with a list of cocktails and wines by the glass. After settling in, the host returned to take my drink order and a subsequent question about one of the wines led to the arrival of the sommelier, who clued me in on the flavor profile of a Zweigelt I was considering and promptly poured me a tasting. A savory, spicy red, it was exactly what the weather – and the promise of rich Austrian cuisine – called for. And then I sat and waited. And waited. And waited some more, expecting a menu to eventually arrive. It did not. (As a table in front of me were handed cocktails, menus, placed their order, and started to dig into an appetizer all in the time that I sat there quietly contemplating my wine, I felt just a bit slighted.) Eventually I decided to ask for the menu. Later, I had to ask for a waiter to come take my order. At the end of the evening – I bet you saw this one coming – I had to ask for the bill, too. The warm embrace of the opening salvos at Seäsonal promised a certain kind of evening: friendly, considered, comforting. The reality of the experience, however, proved much the opposite. In truth, the front of house didn’t so much change the rules of the game as forget about them – and me – entirely. Which is honestly a shame because Wolfgang Ban and Eduard Frauneder’s kitchen is as thoughtful and considered as I had hoped. Pearls of cucumber enlivened an amúse of creamy lobster bisque. Meaty pork belly, or schweinebauch, paired with earthy kale and sweet potato, was brightened by the clean zing of grapefruit. A carpet of butter-toasted pumpernickel crumbs proved a perfectly addictive foil for a creamy soft poached egg over tender lobster meat. Kaisergulasch more than lived up to its imperial sounding name: silky veal cheeks in a densely flavored sauce of peppers and paprika came crowned with fried capers, citrus zest and the requisite dollop of sour cream. Add to that a side of pillowy soft, buttered spätzle and I was in hog heaven. Or make that veal heaven. The only culinary misfire occurred with the arrival of a soggy-bottomed apfelstrudel. Much more successful was the kaiserschmarrn, a crumbled caramelized pancake with apple compote that I could eat over and over again. It’s a breach of the diner’s contract to have to go searching for an exit strategy when you should be rightfully allowed to wallow in the afterglow, secure in the knowledge that eventually you will be discretely urged to settle up and move along. So let me take a moment to wag a finger in the face of Seäsonal: the next time an urge for schnitzel hits, I’ll be eating at the bar.

pochiertes ei





vienna coffeehouse conversations

Visitors to the Austrian capital now have an opportunity to get to know the Viennese from a totally different angle. Informal Vienna Coffeehouse Conversations bring together locals and tourists for an evening meal and coffee accompanied by stimulating conversation in that quintessentially Viennese environment: the coffeehouse.  (Organizers were inspired by Viennese coffeehouse culture, which was added to the UNESCO list of intangible cultural assets in 2011.) A special “question menu” inspires the newly acquainted companions to talk about travel, friendship, and family as they enjoy a three-course dinner together in one of a pair of Vienna’s most popular coffeehouses, the Adolph Loos-designed Café Museum and Café Am Heumarkt, a bohemian relic from another era. Conversation-based meals have become a quirky trend in travel, having popped up at street festivals and art galleries from London to Singapore in recent years and even finding their way into the world economic forum in Davos. Think of it as a blind date with guaranteed benefits – or at least a great cup of coffee.


winner, winner, alpine dinner

Hotel Kristiania Lech is a boutique showpiece of stunning art and gracious Alpine hospitality, where a Reading Butler is on hand to personalize your book collection, the Bath Butler awaits to prepare the perfect bespoke spa experience, and your Lifestyle Attendant obligingly unpacks your suitcase and chauffeurs you around in a Maybach. The uber-chic winter haven even features a personal ski concierge to make sure you are fitted – and outfitted – perfectly for the stellar slopes and all manner of apres-ski activity. (Known for spectacular skiing and snowboarding, the village of Lech is just 90 minutes outside of Innsbruck.) And, they are giving away 3 winter nights of luxury for one lucky winner complete with a special Lech Survival Kit. It’s a surprise but trust me, you are going to find it most delectable. Enter HERE and pass it on; the more you do, the better your chances of sitting pretty this winter atop Austrian slopes.



Viennese architects Kohlmayr Lutter Knapp have come up with an adaptive new use for the empty retail spaces dotting the Austrian capital: hotel rooms. Mostly around 250 square feet in size, the small disused shops are being converted into street level lofts nicknamed Urbanauts. The master plan calls for different Urbanauts clustered together in one neighborhood making up a decentralized hotel, with services dotted around the area: the coffeehouse next door is the breakfast room, the hammam across the street is the spa, and the hotel bar is that trendy watering hole around the corner. Amenities and local tips are plotted on a map provided in the room. And the lobby? It’s the whole city. The concept is designed to offer guests a real feel for the surrounding urban space, and an alternative to the run-of-the-mill tourist traps. Guests step out of their room right onto the sidewalk, but the spaces still offer a private and convenient retreat for travelers. Guests can decide how much of the view outwards – and inwards – to reveal, using a clever blind system. And as part of the emphasis on locality, artists from the immediate environs are invited to design the rooms. Rates top out at around €120 per night per Urbanaut, including breakfast and the use of two bicycles. Space helmets not included.


wish list: in vino vibrato

Sonor Wines is the brainchild of Viennese food and wine expert – and horn player – Markus Bachmann. His pioneering method exposes wine to music during fermentation – a process that, according to its inventor, refines the finished product. Bachmann explains that once in the steel fermentation tanks, a biochemical reaction is set in motion by the tiny vibrations triggered by sound waves. He also believes that varieties of wine which have been treated using this technique contain less sugar, have a fuller flavor and are more drinkable. Different genres of music are also said to give the wines different characteristics. In principle, this means any type of music can be used, from symphonic works to hunters’ classics, waltz and polka melodies and even Viennese folk sounds like Schrammelmusik. The process has been put to the test in Vienna’s Wienbauschule Klosterneuburg on a Grüner Veltliner, but no reports yet on whether it bears similar results to playing Mozart in utero. However, a number of leading growers have taken the plunge and put the new approach into practice, including Vienna-based producers Peter Uhler and Franz-Michael Mayer, who have already bottled the first generation. If music be the food of wine, I say, play on.


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