Art à la Carte

With a Name Like Österreicher Innovation is Everything But Tradition is Key

Services | Margaret Childs | December 2006 / January 2007

Photo: Rüdiger Wölk, Münster

"I’m sure we can organize something." The head waitress informed us as we stared silently into the enormous room, full to the brim with guests laughing, chewing and savoring the haute cuisine autrichienne.

The owner, after being the star chef of the Steirereck and an often-decorated proprietor of Austria fine cooking, Helmut Österreicher opened a restaurant in February, 2006, in the Museum of Applied Arts, and named it after himself.

As we wait at the entry, it occurred to me that a reservation might have been in order, even on a Monday – as the waitress later informed me, they are "always full." Following our saviour to the very last free table in the vast hall, the scuttlebutt that I had been hearing everywhere again rang in my ears. "It’s heavenly!" or, "Oh, you haven’t been yet?"

The "Österreicher" has quickly become the place to go for anyone who is anybody in the art, architecture and design world. And Österreicher (the man) has had fun with it. The enormous chandelier above the well-equipped bar, for example, is made completely of wine bottles.

The main room still has the original parquet floor and impossibly high, panelled ceilings with 19th century paintings recessed in each frame. The décor mixes classical art with modern, the ceiling being mirrored by a cubistic wooden arch extending over the row of tables on the other side.

The crowd is also very mixed. Young parents with children, tables of suited "associates" munching their way through a business deal, flamboyantly gay lovers sipping pinot noir and playing with each other’s meals, and Very Serious Artists (with a capital "A"). This mélange coincided perfectly with the congenial dissonance brought about by the architectural convergence of old and new. On the other hand, the mismatched interior seems to try to please everyone when, in the end it seems to be a compromise. Trying to please everyone, pleases no one.

The menu reflects similar culinary variance, which works better than the décor, offering artistic renditions of classical Austrian dishes. A cream of pumpkin soup, for example, followed by Tafelspitz alongside Österreicher’s own creations such as a white-wine calf pot au feu with a dark bread omelette followed by salmon trout in a muesli crust. To top the dinner menu Österreicher has created a mouth-watering counterpart to Palatschinken: Chestnut crème on fruit salad, paradise on a plate. Also the purely Austrian wine list encompasses the best of the best: Try the Knoll Riesling or the Nittnaus Pinot Noir.

Although the classics are time-honored and genuinely assembled, the real treats are the "modern art" dishes. Who needs Wiener Schnitzel when you can have Österreicher.

At lunch-time a business crowd fills the place and, as we realised, reservations are necessary, especially for dinner. The main room is very bustle-y which is key for seeing and being seen, although not so great for a tete á tete. For a more intimate atmosphere, reserve in the back room – more floral and modern but much less noisy.

The decadent interior is not only for the hefty-walletted. With careful selection, relatively starving artists, too, can afford to dine in this culinary exhibition of sorts.  Guten Appetit!

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