Who would have thought that staid, traditional Austria has blazed a trail for one of the world's coolest cuisines? The Wiener schnitzel originated there, but the country's progressive chefs have turned toward fresh, seasonal ingredients, creating lighter versions of old classics. Austrian wines are winning top prizes around the world, contributing to curiosity about food from the region. Many people assume that German and Austrian fares are the same, since the countries share a common language. Not so. Just as Austrians have a different dialect, the nation's time-honored dishes and sausages diverge from those of its northwestern neighbor. Several restaurants have emerged recently in Manhattan and Brooklyn that deftly re-create the experience you'd find now in Vienna. To see what we mean, take a look at our slideshow. And while you're at it, consider a supplemental visit to Neue Galerie, showcasing classic and contemporary Austrian artists.
139 Duane St., 212-571-8880, TriBeCa, Manhattan
Kurt Gutenbrunner is an Austrian restaurateur par excellence, with four chic restaurants and a wine bar (The Upholstery Store) under his toque. He does things his way, grounded in tradition while letting his whimsy take flight, as he explains in his recently released cookbook, Neue Cuisine: The Elegant Tastes of Vienna. The West Village's Wallsé was his first bistro, followed by Neue Galerie's Café Sabarsky, a fin de siècle Viennese coffeehouse complete with newspapers on a wooden rack. Blaue Gans ("Blue Goose"), in TriBeCa, is his most neighborhoody spot, arrayed with vintage film and art posters. Its informal setting is an homage to a typical Gasthaus ("inn"). The menu ranges from lustrous potato-leek soup to exquisitely plated smoked trout palatschinken torte and golden-fried pork schnitzel with lingonberries. The $23 three-course lunch menu is an incredible deal.
79 Orchard St., 212-219-9545, Lower East Side, Manhattan
Since this particular stretch of Orchard Street is über-fashionable, expect patrons mirroring Brüno, Sacha Baron Cohen's send-up of an Austrian fashion reporter. No dirndls or lederhosen here. The dark, cozy haven has exposed brick, a tin ceiling and shelves lined with earthenware, the sort of friendly Beisl ("pub") you'd love to discover on a Vienna side street. The former Austro-Hungarian empire is represented by beef goulash in a rich, silky gravy. House-made sausage, with a vein of melted Emmentaler cheese running through it, comes with buttery quark dumplings. No meat for you? Cheese spaetzle with caramelized onions and chives is delicious. The Austrian wine list has stellar selections by the glass for under $10.
422 Seventh Ave., 718-369-7776, Park Slope, Brooklyn
This corner tavern festooned with colored lights is gemütlich (pleasant and cheerful), offering brimming glasses of beer and hearty, though not heavy, Austrian comfort food. On Monday nights, a limited menu has main courses for $7, such as browned brook trout twisted on the plate, looking like it was fried mid-flop. On any given day or night, Steinhof's bar stools and wood tables are populated by young couples, wizened academics and groups of friends sharing plates of crusty rösti with vegetables and tender, creamy chicken paprika. Cafe Steinhof is named for a church and sanitarium in Vienna where the saying "going to Steinhof" means "losing your mind." Such a fate is unlikely here, where you'll leave feeling better.
559 Fifth Ave., 718-788-0789, Park Slope, Brooklyn
Der Kommissar is as narrow as a prop jet, with seating along the bar every bit as tight as coach class. But it's a lot more fun. Old-school music, including Frank Sinatra's "Come Fly with Me," his daughter's "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'," and the '50s classic "Volare" blasts, but—what?—no Falco, whose early-'80s hit "Der Kommissar" gave this place its name. The regulars here are chatty, clinking glasses with strangers and indulging in a menu of locally sourced sausages, pretzels and Liptauer, a paprika-laced cheese spread. The Käsekrainer, a meat- and cheese-filled sausage, is a must-have, as it's an Austrian specialty that elicits a eureka moment for anyone who's had it in Vienna and searched for it ever since.
132 W. 58th St., 212-957-5550, Midtown West, Manhattan
Neue Wiener Küche, or New Viennese cuisine, is in full flower at Seäsonal, a small, modern restaurant that won a Michelin star and is convenient to Carnegie Hall. Several hotels also dot the area, which means a myriad of languages suffuse the room. Leather chairs and booths are the chocolaty color of Sacher torte, and the walls are adorned with a rotating exhibition of contemporary Austrian and German art. Settle in and sample exciting wines from the province of Burgenland as well as the Kamptal and Wachau regions, ideal matches for the sprightly, cleverly presented food. An appetizer of soft poached egg, lobster, shreds of hen of the woods mushroom and toasted pumpernickel crumbs exemplifies the ingenuity of partners Wolfgang Ban and Eduard Frauneder. Wiener schnitzel has delicacy here, and fish is done beautifully. The same team is behind the East Village's happening Edi & the Wolf—well worth checking out if you're headed downtown.