For Josh’s dad’s birthday, 12 of us gathered at Wallsé, a Michelin starred restaurant that features Austrian cuisine. The chef/owner is Kurt Gutenbrunner, who also owns Café Sabarsky and Blaue Gans in the city. It seemed like a random choice on Josh’s part in selecting the restaurant, but by the end of the meal, we were all huge fans of Austrian food, and Wallsé.
To be perfectly honest, one of the reasons we ended up at Wallsé was because they were the first Michelin starred or highly rated restaurant he called that would take a reservation for 12, and without any caveats. Convivio and Union Square Café, for example, had a maximum reservation size of eight. A Voce Columbus had a $2,000 spending minimum. Yeesh! But Wallsé was also high up on Josh’s list because the menu looked extensive and interesting, and a four course tasting made up of your choice of any three dishes, plus dessert, was only $75 (though at the time, the restaurant had an outdated menu posted on the website that said it was $68; it has since been fixed).
The restaurant was almost completely empty when we first arrived for our 7 pm reservation. Josh told us that one of the reasons they were able to seat 12 was because there weren’t that many reservations for this particular Sunday evening. It was also the day after the huge snowstorm we had this winter so we figured that people wouldn’t want to venture out in the wet slushy conditions. It did fill up though, and by the time we left the restaurant was actually packed. We had a long table in the back room that was next to a lovely display made from branches, berries, and shiny ornaments. The room had interesting paintings on the walls and a soothing ambiance.
I had a really hard time choosing what I wanted to eat as part of my four course “make your own” tasting menu. The menu is broken up into four different categories – appetizers, fish, meats, and dessert. You can choose one from each category, or multiple choices from one category, so long as you end with dessert as your last course. With so many different choices, Josh and I made sure that we each ordered different items so that we could taste as many dishes as possible. It was actually a bit agonizing for us, because there were so many dishes we wanted to try.
After finally nailing down our selections, we turned our attention to the bread basket. There were two types of bread, one white and one multi-grain, both rustic with sturdy, crunchy crusts. The crusts were fantastic – not too hard, light, and crispy. Both breads had nicely developed flavors and were addictive to eat. We went through quite a few baskets between the 12 of us, and they happily brought us more every time the baskets emptied. If only the breads were served warm; that really would have put them over the top! They were served with round slices of unsalted butter that were also a bit too cold, which made them slightly hard but not impossible to spread.
Our first courses arrived a short while later and we all quickly tucked in. I started with spatzle, a traditional German/Austrian noodle that is made by scraping dough directly into boiling water. The result is a delicate and fluffy irregularly shaped short noodle. This spatzle was paired with braised rabbit, wild mushrooms, and brussels sprouts. I’ve never had spatzle before and was a huge fan of this dish. The noodles were soft and tender, not too dense, and paired perfectly with the tender and sweet pulled rabbit. The mushrooms added an earthy chewiness, and the brussels sprouts provided a slightly bitter crunch. The portion was surprisingly large for a tasting menu, and I happily ate every last bit of it. It was rich and comforting and I just wanted to cuddle up with a huge bowl of this stuff.
Josh started with the Maine lobster with homemade ravioli, black trumpets, and butternut squash. The portion wasn’t huge but there was plenty of lobster in the dish. Even though there were a lot of bold ingredients, with the mushrooms and diced squash, everything worked together and the flavors were clean. Josh enjoyed this dish a lot.
My second course was veal cheeks and tongue served with winter root vegetables and potato puree. It was another comforting dish, reminiscent of a hearty beef stew. The veal cheek was huge, tender, and luscious. It broke apart easily with my fork and just melted in my mouth. The tongue was also surprisingly tender and meaty but I preferred the delicateness of the cheek. The root vegetables were chopped into little pieces and were just a side note to the veal but the potato puree was smooth, buttery, and very rich.
Josh selected the wild striped bass with sauerkraut and black truffle sauce for his second course. We were both eager to try this dish since we love the flavor of truffles, but this dish failed to satisfy. While the bass was well cooked with a crispy top covered in herbs, the sauce lacked any truffle essence whatsoever despite what looked like decent sized pieces of chopped black truffle. At least the sauerkraut was an interesting accompaniment. It wasn’t a bad dish overall, just not quite what we were hoping for.
For my third and last savory course, I had to order the wiener schnitzel because it came so highly recommended by our waitress. She was returning to Germany and said that one of the things she would miss the most was the chef’s wiener schnitzel. That’s a pretty good endorsement in my opinion. I’ve never had wiener schnitzel before and this one probably ruined me for all others. It was so light and so perfectly fried that breading crackled when I cut into it. There was no trace of grease whatsoever, the veal was juicy and delicious, and everything was well seasoned. All it needed was a little squeeze of lemon on top, and it was spectacular. The accompanying potato-cucumber salad and lingonberries were fine, if a bit standard, but the star of the show really was the wiener schnitzel.
Josh went with the sautéed duck breast with red cabbage and brioche dumplings. The duck was perfectly cooked, still pink and every tender, but he was disappointed that the skin wasn’t crispy. We were both curious about the brioche dumplings, which turned out to be like a soft french toast. Unusual, but not bad. The red cabbage was fine, but the star of the dish really was the duck.
For dessert, I selected the apfelstreusel with sea salt caramel ice cream. Basically it was an apple crumble, and a pretty tasty one at that. The sea salt caramel ice cream, however, really put it over the top. Again, it was something that I’ve never had before but something that I’ve read about a lot. The flavor of sweet and smoky caramel ice cream is really enhanced by the sea salt. It might sound weird or gross, but believe me, it really works. It’s kind of like salting a tomato to bring out the sweetness. It’s still dessert, but with a savory touch that cuts through the sugariness. Eating the apfelstreusel with the sea salt caramel ice cream together really brought the dessert to a new level.
Josh decided to try the mozartkugel with pistachio nougatine. We had no idea what mozartkugel was but it turned out to be kind of like a large chocolate bonbon filled with a thick pistachio mousse. The presentation was lovely, with a bit of edible gold leaf on top and an artful scattering of pistachio nuts.
Last but not least, we were presented with a plate of petit fours, which included an assortment of cookies and small chocolate brownie-like bites. Most of us were too full to eat anymore but I soldiered on, not wanting to miss out on anything. My hands down favorite was the little linzer tart cookies, which were slightly nutty and filled with raspberry jam. They were a great way to finish off the meal.
Overall we were all pleasantly surprised and completely delighted with our dinner at Wallsé. Coming in we didn’t know what to expect, since none of us were familiar with Austrian or German cuisine, but we left full and happy. There wasn’t a single dish that anyone disliked, and with 12 of us dining, we collectively went through a good portion of the menu. For me, the worst part was having to decide which three savory dishes to choose; I would have liked to try them all. It was a great meal from start to finish, with our friendly and helpful waitress explaining different dishes to us and making great wine recommendations. It’s too bad that she was leaving to go back to Germany because she really was terrific. The meal flowed wonderfully, as the courses were evenly paced and the portions were sized just right so that we left feeling satisfied and satiated but not overstuffed. The price of the tasting menu is pretty reasonable, especially for a Michelin starred restaurant, and the food is really spectacular. I highly recommend making the trip down to Wallsé for some homey yet refined Austrian food.
344 West 11th St. at Washington St.
New York, NY