Levantian Nature

Vitality spreads to the 2nd District with the opening of Tewa’s second location

Services | Jessica Spiegel | May 2010

Just across the Donaukanal from Schottenring, concealed in the ancient corner of Vienna’s 2nd District, the quaint and quiet Karmelitermarkt is fast becoming the new "in" place to be. Awakening from decades of Dornröschen sleep, the market is like a village market square in the middle of the city, and its obvious charms are making it a magnet for Vienna’s post millennium bohemia. And at long last, it is emerging from the shadows of its famous sibling – the thriving Naschmarkt to the south.

One restaurant entrepreneur has taken notice. Tewa, which started as a chic Oriental-Mediterranean-themed restaurant in the Naschmarkt in 2007, opened its second set of doors at the Karmelitermarkt on Apr. 9 to a motley assortment of young and old, neighbors and students, business types and ‘BoBos’ of every description.

Thanks to a timely cue from a Kamerlitermarkt native, we showed up late on the day of Tewa’s first night. As a habitué of the Naschmarkt version – a favorite site for Saturday brunch – Friday night plans were scuttled in favor of the grand opening.

Tewa am Karmelitermarkt occupies two stylishly renovated market pavilions, one for smokers – where the kitchen, bar and restrooms reside – and one for the non-smokers, where the high tables are more sparely set out among ceiling-high shelves of wine bottles, juices and various mixers.

That night, the action was in the smokers’ building, so the decision was easy. We found one last table near the far window and settled in, listening to the buzz, while the owner floated from table to table welcoming his guests. A bubbly young waitress quickly approached our table and, noticing us speaking English, promptly did the same. It was a quality of attentiveness that characterized the evening; too often neglected, we were delighted to find it even in the semi chaos that is bound to color any opening, making us feel spoiled without a trace of the condescension dished out to tourists. Given the multi-culti scene, though, we were far from the only ones speaking foreign languages that night.

My Saturday morning breakfasts at the Nashmarkt Tewa consist religiously of the Orientalisches Frühstuck – a vibrant concoction of hummus, Wachtelbohnen, black olives, zatar, pita bread, juice and coffee. So we ordered a mini-version as an appetizer: the Tewa’s Mix Veg to start, similar to the hummus-based breakfast concept but with tomato purée and Oriental salad.

This was my first look at the dinner offerings, so it took some time. I decided on an Oriental grilled chicken salad and a Limonana, which is Tewa’s famous lemonade prepared with fresh sprigs of mint plus what is obviously a secret ingredient (I have tried relentlessly to recreate this jewel of a drink and each time failed miserably). My companion went for the sweet and spicy caramelized eggplant with chicken and couscous.

Tewa – which means ‘nature’ in Hebrew – claims to use exclusively organic products from the surrounding region, grown on farms monitored for the wholesomeness of the faring practices. The flush bunch of mint in my Limonana was proof. And as for our appetizer, which employed the creamy, pure chickpea-tahina concoction known and loved from the Naschmarkt, the veggie additions added a tangy freshness. The Mediterranean herbs – oregano, thyme, savory and parsley, to name a few – are used copiously but in non-dominating proportions. It was still a rather filling starter, so I was happy about my decision to go for a light main course. The grilled chicken salad, served with a slightly creamy, slightly tart tahina dressing, is a good choice for a refreshing summer meal, but unfortunately lacked the pizzazz I was expecting from Tewa’s evening kitchen. The caramelized eggplant had it, however, and though a bit too sweet for my taste, was a thoughtfully concocted dish that appealed to each of the senses – particularly the visual. Most notably, the cook here took fresh, untainted ingredients seriously.

And for now, I will refrain from judging the nighttime Tewa kitchen for its lack of invention. The waitress recommended a number of things aside from your choices, but sometimes you just crave a certain type of dish. Looking over the menu afterwards, I saw several things I should have ordered: grilled prawns with avocado salad; polenta with sheep cheese and greens; millet or spelt grain paddies with tahina…

Food envy was coming on strong. But instead of beating myself, I took a stroll across the walkway where the non-smoking area was filling up, and gazed at the hundreds of bottles that lined the walls. The tables outside between the two buildings filled as well, as the Friday night crowd squeezed in everywhere they could. The young and trendy that normally swarm the 4th, 6th and 7th Districts seemed to have migrated here for the occasion, perhaps having just discovered the smaller, more intimate Karmelitermarkt. The presence of well-dressed couples and rowdy groups of young men was suddenly conspicuous in the area, hinting at what may lie in store. Thanks to Tewa, the Karmelitermarkt may not stay quaint and quiet for long.

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