Passion Points: Food/Wine
From the Ask Advice Boards: “My husband and I are off to Vienna for the last two weeks in December with another couple. Our evenings are booked with operas, symphonies, concerts, and the Grand Ball, but I would love to get some advice on how to spend our days.” B.R.
The city’s famous coffeehouses are wonderful in winter for soaking up the scene. People really do come to them and read over coffee or linger for a long time with friends. Some coffee lingo: a kleiner Brauner is black coffee; a mélange is coffee with foamed milk. After spending a morning at the museums, refuel at the Palmenhaus (www.palmenhaus.at), which is set in a gorgeous Art Nouveau greenhouse near the Hofburg. It draws a young, hip crowd.
When it comes to Sachertorte, the city’s most famous chocolate cake, there are three patisseries that have long been at war over who serves the best and the original. There’s the Hotel Sacher Wien, whose café is located on the ground floor of the venerable hotel. If you go there (be warned: it’s very popular with tourist groups), make sure you are seated in the old part of the café; there’s a new addition, which lacks any sort of atmosphere. The Sachertorte there is undeniably delicious and if you want to bring one home, it comes packaged in wooden boxes that are easy to transport (especially the mini version). They also ship to the United States. The second bakery to lay claim on the original Sachertorte is Café Diglas and even though their version—as well as their pastries and hearty desserts like buchteln—is extremely good, the ambience there is somewhat cold. If you have only time for one old-world café, make it Demel, which is housed in a Baroque landmark building. Their Sachertorte is excellent, but you may find yourself drawn to their other gorgeous pastries and little cakes (also, don’t miss the rich hot chocolate). It’s also a lovely place for culinary gifts, as their chocolates and sweets come beautifully packaged.
For a typical Austrian lunch, head to the venerable Figlmueller which serves the best Wiener Schnitzel in town. There is a new branch only a few blocks away, but try to get a table in this cozy tavern, which opened in 1905. Also great for local cuisine is Steirereck which offers a superb, frequently-changing menu. Another favorite is Mörwald (22 Kärntner Strasse; 43-1-961-61161). If you’re dying to try Tafelspitz, a boiled beef that is a Viennese delicacy, make a reservation at Plachutta, headed by Austria’s most famous chefs, Ewald Plachutta.
If you are visiting the Museumsquartier Wien, known as MQ, there are some nice restaurants in the complex. The best one is Glacis Beisl for innovative but traditional Austrian fare (it’s located behind the MQ down some stairs). They have great gulasch and perhaps the city’s best Kaiserschmarrn (a sweet, crepe-like dessert). Die Halle is also fantastic, serving Mediterranean cuisine in a spacious setting.
NOTE: If you’re coming from a U.S. city where smoking is prohibited in restaurants, you may find the smoking culture in Vienna jarring at first. Austria is one of the last countries to hold out on no-smoking laws; even France and Germany have promised prohibitive legislature. There are few no-smoking zones in restaurants, and even if they are available, they are often in the less desirable rooms.
If you like food markets, take a stroll across the Naschmarkt, which dates back to the 16th century. It’s a bazaar-like atmosphere where you can find anything from fresh produce to Turkish delicacies. There are also some gorgeous Art Nouveau-style houses found near the market as well as the Secession, where Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze, a masterful mural can be seen found.
Read the destination report on Vienna.
Read about art insider Gioia Zwack’s favorite places in Vienna.
Read about a great tour operator in Vienna.
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