Vienna is a city rich in history, brimming with baroque grandeur and spirited Secessionist influences. It's also a European capital celebrated for its sweet tooth. So, how could I resist the opportunity to get together with a noted pastry chef when I hit town?
My Brooklyn pal Peter had worked with French-born pastry chef Pierre Reboul a while back, when they both were in the kitchen at New York's Wallsé. A Facebook note, a few phone calls, a trip across the ocean, and a train ride from Budapest later, and I was all set.
I arrived late afternoon at the new upscale cafe from the Austrian bakery chain Ströck just as the pastry team was finishing up from a long day of baking; a day that started in the wee hours of the morning. After stints at Café Central and the Salzburg outpost of Demel, Chef Reboul now helmed the chain's patisserie operations -- with a special focus on the cafe's sweeter offerings -- and this was a chance to take in his handiwork. Surveying gleaming cases filled with a variety of breads, confections, tarts and more, I couldn't help but ask which among these beauties was his favorite. Pierre's pride and joy? He answered without pause: the croissants.
But instead of indulging in the depth and breadth of Pierre's patisserie creations, we sipped on local wines and talked about the business of dining in "The Imperial City." And once we'd felt that enough talk had been had, we headed into the center of town, so he could show me a bit of what 1st District had to offer. First stop - the grande dame of Viennese pastry and chocolate, Demel.
The shop's rooms were chock-a-block with enticingly wrapped chocolates, graceful tins of delicate miniature cookies, and beautiful boxes of candied violets. The cafe was in the back, along with a magnificent kitchen protected by glass -- a jewel case of sorts -- where we stood to watch young pastry chefs expertly decorate tray after tray of cookies.
We sat ever so briefly to enjoy a Melange, Austria's version of a Cappuccino, and then Pierre wanted me to see another old stomping ground, Café Central. A bustling hot spot since 1876, the place was regal to say the least -- and packed to the gills. We opted to simply ogle at the restaurant's opulent dessert display, decked out with gorgeous renditions of Sacher Torte, Punschkrapfen, Apple Strudel and Esterházy Torte.
With visions of sweets still dancing in my head, Pierre led me down the street and through an elegant arcade passageway, until we arrived at a place without a dessert in sight. The spot was known as Vulcanothek, and it specialized in Austrian pork products -- namely, air-dried cured ham, matured for up to 27 months, with delicious results. Not wanting to limit ourselves simply to the ham, we ordered up a platter of several delicacies, including Asmonte cheese, pepper salami, cut loin, and more.
Marvelous as it was, I still wanted to get my sweet on.
The next day, I was a woman on a mission; one that might involve nougat, caramel, fruit, chocolate or nuts. I had most definitely visited some incredible pastry stops with Pierre, but I never actually ate a sweet at any of them. I had been delinquent in enjoying one of Vienna's most storied contributions to culture: kick-ass desserts.
Thankfully, a trip to Joseph Genuss, an bright, modern bakery and bistro seemed like it might just do the trick.
Eyeing shelves lined with dozens of different types of freshly baked breads, and cases overflowing with sumptuous tarts, eclairs and cakes, I settled on the oddest dessert I could find.
In German, it is called "Maroni Blätterteig Mit Vanille Krapferl." Doesn't even sound appealing, I know, but this confectionery was pure heaven on a piece of puff pastry -- a rectangle of buttery pastry goodness topped with a piping of intense chestnut puree, and crowned by sugar-crusted profiteroles filled with fragrant vanilla cream. A couple dabs of currant jam finished it off with a touch of color.
It wasn't your classic Viennese dessert, but it was most certainly the finest piece of pastry that I had on my trip.
Now, I simply need to find a pastry shop in New York that makes it too.
Well, that or plan another visit to Vienna. Yeah. Maybe another trip to Vienna is in order. I do need to finally eat some pastry at Demel and Café Central. And, there was a Pistachio-Filled Croissant at Ströck that seemed to be calling my name. (Happily "VittlesVamp" is the same in German.)