November 15, 2011
Steirereck has been unchallenged as Vienna’s best restaurant for a long time. It is now ranked 22nd in the 100 Best Restaurants in the World list. Linda and I went for dinner on September 13, 2011.
The chef is Heinz Reitbauer, whose parents ran an inn. The family still owns the business, which includes three restaurants. He describes his career:
“After one year’s training in my parents’ hotel, I switched to the brothers Karl and Rudi Obauer in Werfen and finished my training there. They were also the people who laid the most important foundation stones for me, both in human and in culinary terms. I still benefit from what I learned from them even today. Alain Chapel in Lyon, with his great timeless cuisine, and Anton Mosimann in London, were other important mentors on my path.
In 1996 we opened a restaurant in the Steiermark, the first Steirereck, in which I worked from the very beginning as executive chef. That’s where we took the decision to open our own farm, a wonderful decision because even today we still source most of our products for the cuisine at the Steirereck im Stadtpark from there. I would describe my cuisine as a contemporary reinterpretation of Austrian cuisine, which is very much shaped by products and seasons.”
The apéritif cart was wheeled over. We ordered glasses of Roederer Brut Champagne. There is a seven-course menu offered with two choices in each course. (One can opt to omit one course or to order à la carte.) As each course is served, each diner gets a small card with extensive details of what will be in the course. (In English for us.) I have shown them along with the photos of the dishes. This is an excellent idea, but it does limit ad hoc creativity or ingredient substitution in the kitchen. Wine pairings are offered, but with the help of the excellent sommelière we ordered a bottle of 2007 Schwartz Zweigelt, made from an Austrian red wine grape in the area around the Neusiedlersee. It was excellent. She explained to us that very good Austrian wines are in short supply and never leave the country.
The amuse-gueule was lightly pickled mushrooms with diced kohlrabi.
Balls of shredded, decorated butter were put on the table and the amazing bread cart was wheeled up.
From the wide variety offered Linda chose pretzel and potato/walnut bread. I chose bacon/leek and pumpkin seed. They were very good.
Our first course was
Steinpilze mit Meeres-Kopfsalat & marinierter Gänseleber
This was a subtle, elegant start with unusual combinations that worked well.
Sommerkürbis mit Topinambur & Akazien-Honig
“Marrow” in a vegetable context is British English for what Americans call summer squash. Steirereck has its own garden, which must be at its height at this time of year. The menu was mostly vegetable dishes, with many seasonings and garnishes. This dish made a usually boring vegetable interesting.
Linda’s third course was
Reinanke mit „Abate Fetel“ Birne, Kichererbsen, Kreuzkümmel & Brokkoli
Reinanke is a whitefish from cold, deep Alpine lakes. Pan-fried, it had a crisp skin, but held all its flavor and texture. The green rectangle and cube are broccoli; the white at left the pear. The chick peas in breadcrumbs added a good crunch to this excellent dish.
Geschmorte weisse Karotte mit Herbsttrompeten-Pilzen, Bierrettich & Haselnüssen
The marinated carrot strips had a good, fresh flavor that was brought out by the garnishes.
Our fourth course was
Baumspinat mit Eiszapfen & Ochsenmark
This was the first time we had tried “tree spinach.” Its flavor was definitely stronger than the common variety. The bone marrow added some richness to this very good dish.
Über Holzkohle gegrillter Rieddeckel vom Almochsen mit Kopfsalat, Datteln & Austernkraut
This course was excellent, based on the fine quality of the charcoal-grilled Alpine beef. I was surprised to find that oyster leaves are now grown in Austria. These were of high quality and went very well with the beef. The soufléed potatoes added some elegance to an otherwise rustic dish.
Warm, moist towels were brought for our hands.
Affinierte Käse aus unserer Meierei
The two-tiered cheese cart was extensive with cheeses from all over Europe. It is supplied by the Meierei, the Reitbauer’s dairy and restaurant below Steirereck with a separate entrance from the Stadtpark. Of course, we only chose Austrian cheeses. The aged Alpine tomme, on the left in my selection below was particularly good. The roasted pumpkin seeds were a nice addition.
With the cheese I had a glass of 2010 Biegler Rotgipfler Spätlese.
Rotgipfler is a grape used to make aromatic white wine. It is almost exclusively found in the Gumpoldskirchen district of the Thermenregion in Austria. This had only a touch of sweetness, despite being a Spätlese. It was excellent with the cheese.
Himbeeren mit Pandan, weißer Schokolade & Kokos
The fresh red raspberries were mixed with a few tart yellow ones and were nicely offset by the slightly sweet exotic garnishes. Very good.
With the dessert we both had glasses of 2008 Kracher Beerenauslese Cuvée.
This Austrian late-harvest wine was just sweet enough and scrumptious.
The fine mignardises arrived skewered onto a little tree.
The service, under the direction of the chef’s wife, was always excellent. The pace was just right. The ambience is just what we like: well spaced tables with little noise. We thoroughly enjoyed our meal and thought that Steirereck lived up to its high reputation.