Grazing at Schlossquadrat
The castle square of Alt-Margareten: a gastronome´s four-in-one experience, to impress any guest and satisfy any picky eater
Three starving Americans on a Monday evening were in big trouble. Not only were we starving, we were indecisive. One Vienna first-timer craved a Schnitzel. A degenerate European craved a fat, juicy steak. And I, well, I had the feeling that a big plate of tapas would do me just fine.
What to do? Of course we could just make the boring decision and order a pizza, which was what we usually do... bellies rumbling and exams to prepare for. But this time was different. We had a guest to impress, a new-comer to the city and a picky eater at that. It was our job not only to open his eyes and ears to the sights and sounds of Vienna, but to expand his taste horizons by exposing him to the endless possibilities of dining Austrian style.
So we thought and thought… and thought some more. What kind of place could satisfy our incompatible food hankerings? Isn’t there some sort of three-in-one restaurant? A "World of Food" perhaps?
And then I remembered.
The Schlossquadrat! Of course! Recommended by a friend, it would be the perfect solution to our little dilemma. Four restaurants along with four accompanying gardens in the historical ambience of the Alt-Margareten. Here our friend would surely get his fill of new and delicious foods and a taste of the old Vienna along with it. This was the ideal solution.
When we informed our friend of this selective grouping, he proposed a plan of action. Why didn’t we work our way through each restaurant? A drink at the first, appetizer at the second, the grand meal at the third and a dessert to top it all off at the last one... We shrugged our shoulders in agreement. Why not, indeed?
The restaurants at the Schlossquadrat are wide-ranging in terms of the variety in cultural cuisine. Cuadro, which sounds like a Spanish tapas bar, is actually a bistro-type eatery with burgers, Tex-Mex, Indian, Italian, Austrian... The list goes on. It alone, it turned out, would actually have been the solution to our original disagreement. But since we had already decided on the full tour of the "Castle Square," we settled on just having a drink.
We picked a small table outside on the raised, wooden deck. In comparison with the other Gastgärten, this particular one seemed to be the "hot spot" of the bunch. All types gathered here, and each and every one was engrossed in conversation, laughing while sipping on their aperitifs or coffees.
A coffee was also what I had chosen, noticing that the menu contained an entire page devoted to their unique lattes and kleiner Brauners. They even had their own roast termed "Cafe do Cuadro," an aromatic, low-acid, Arabic bean from Middle America, Kenya and Java. My friends both chose an Aperol spritzer and we fell into a discussion about what we would potentially eat had we not committed our stomachs elsewhere. But this conversation soon made us restless, and our mouths started watering for the other restaurants calling our names. So we paid our bill and continued on our culinary journey.
But standing up and choosing which would be our next adventure brought us back to reality. We realized that it was already dark and a glance at our watches told us that it was past nine. There was not enough time for three more restaurants, so we weighed our options. Silberwirt, a typical Austrian restaurant, was eliminated first. We had all had several Wienerschnitzel in our lifetime, and justified our decision by knowing that we were in Vienna and Austrian food was available to us every day of the week.
Gergely’s was tempting; fancy foods like the Blue Mango Salad made us curious and the arched ceilings of the interior were more than welcoming. The star of the menu, however, was the steak. A list of over 15 steaks done "Surf & Turf"to Mexico style was very appealing for the macho men I was with, but in the end I had the last say. My stomach wasn’t quite ready for a 250-gram slab of meat.
So we settled on Margareta, a quaint little Italian restaurant with a secluded and romantic garden in the square. We also found it quite appropriate that the Italy – Paraguay match was on at the same time. But to our surprise the restaurant wasn’t showing the game.
We chose to sit outside, as it was a night not cursed with the incessant rain showers that drenched most of June. The authenticity of the courtyard was surprising; ivy vines climbed up the walls of the surrounding buildings and the vegetation was almost as ostentatious as in Italy. They even had their own herb garden. We ordered a bottle of 2007 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and the conversation slowly turned to wine as our student-turned-connoisseur of the evening proceeded to share with us his vast knowledge.
We learned that the wine we were drinking was a dark, deep and full-bodied red, perfect for pasta. Though it was not an expensive wine, we discovered that the nobility of the winery doesn’t necessarily matter, as Italian wines are able to age, but are also still drinkable young. This proved to be true once our meals had been delivered.
I chose the Ravioli di Stefano, a pasta stuffed with tomatoes, mozzarella, onions, pepperoni and spicy diced salami, topped with a fiery tomato sauce. Eight square pasta pieces filled my plate, and I chose to consume them slowly, tasting each individual spice with every bite. And our friend happily turned out to be right about the wine, it perfectly complemented the flavor of the dish, balancing out the tastes and almost clearing my palate before each new morsel.
We all split a dessert in the end, the Dolci della casa. It was a plate designed to share, containing small portions of three other desserts on the menu. The first was a peach semifreddo, a tart, yet sweet ice cream with the texture of frozen mousse. The second, my favorite of the bunch, were Profiteroles, crisped pastries filled with vanilla and smothered in chocolate sauce and whipped cream. An almond-pine nut tort with vanilla-lemon cream topped off the dish, and left a clean and refreshed taste in our mouths.
The Schlossquadrat turned out to be a satisfying discovery – fully the expansion of horizons that we had originally planned it to be. It’s a shame we weren’t able to make the rounds as we intended, but now we know what awaits. And knowing that is more than enough reason to make a trip back to the castle square of the Alt-Margareten.