It would not be erroneous to note that I am a history buff. Movies laced with opulent laces and satins of period dramas, dialogues devoid of slang and immersed in poetry, and calligraphy destined to ploy someone’s destiny with real ink and silken feathers.
Which is why a trip to Vienna, Austria, mandated that I inhaled the city’s culinary history through dramatic meeting points constructed lifetimes ago. Known for its artists and their ravenous affairs with the craft and other lives, the city did not disappoint. With modern and traditional art blending seamlessly in photographable museums, markets filled with friendly faces (except for one or two), and cafes dripping with opulence and soaked in history, my favorites were the offerings of sweet laden desserts, each with an attractively dismissive flair towards caloric consumption.
One such cafe was the historic Café Central, standing tall amidst cobblestone corners of narrow streets, famed with 130 years of history. It opened in 1876 and became a popular meeting point for artists, literature enthusiasts, political figures and many more, with walls famed with the likes of Sigmund Freud, Peter Altenberg, Arthur Schnitzler, Leo Trotzki, all lending their grace to the traditional aura, where something as simple as an iPhone felt jarringly out of place.
I entered to escape a blazingly cold, rainy day, and was welcomed rather strangely by unruly gentlemen, who while dapper in their black tuxes, were rather befuddled by their mannerisms. Shrugging to the nostalgic pinch of European customer service and the disdain that comes with it, I was thankful for a waiter that was quite the opposite – still dapper, but pleasant and accommodating to my vegetarian sweet tooth. I very quickly ordered a caramel cappuccino with a shot of Irish Whiskey, knowing that coffee in the such parts was to die for. It came in a petite cup on a quaint saucer, topped with homemade whipped cream, and accompanied by a toffee like sugar cube and a shot glass of water, my favorite accompaniment to any drink in mid and Eastern Europe. I sipped it, and literally heard the fatigue melt away from my camera lens and face and hair. Imagine that, tired hair.
And then I began to gape at my opulent surrounding. High ceilings in cathedral-like curves and conical domes, with kitsch wrought iron chandeliers that cast a sepia glow on the humble surroundings. Thick velvety drapes over tall arched windows enabled transient moody seaters to peer outside at the tinsel town blinging with stars. Or perhaps reflections from the droplets of crystal water.
Sat in the center was an elderly musician on a piano, smilingly playing the most mellow of tunes, evoking notions of a bygone era when one would pleasantly sit in perfect postures and luxe adornments instead of slouch in iPhone addiction. While not usually my favorite, I nevertheless enjoyed the ambiance as I sipped away on an intoxicating, reviving blend of caffeine with caramel.
While small, the tables were still cozy, but made enchanting by the fact that I was positioned right next to the dessert parlor. Chef Pâtissière Manuela Radlherr was responsible for the pastry and cake selection, all of which embodied natural flavorings from local products. The displays literally mandated a series of photographic ogles which made time tick by in leopard speed.
The coffee caramel savarin was topped with an ornate biscuit square, making it look more like an architect’s muse than a foodie’s indulgence. The most intriguing was the perfectly spherical caramel mousse, glistening so brightly that one was tempted to simply lick it to tarnish its near perfection. Topped with a vertically propped hazelnut macaroon, it truly epitomized the grace and glory of Vienna’s favorite cafe.
A plethora of options involved chocolate – like the chocolate cake with truffle cream and a caramelized walnut bathing in glory atop the conical slice. Or the classic dense chocolate cake with a medieval red rubber stamp-like disc as a garnish. Specks of gold and clinging raspberries formed other accessories to many chocoholic fantasies that were slowly coming to life.
Feeling the need for starch and salt, I got the inventive sounding Viennese square noodles with white cabbage, chive cream and gnocchi, accompanied by a green salad. It arrived piping hot on a traditional copper pot with sizzling handles, topped with delectable chive cream and thyme. The square noodles were easier on the fork than their slithering counterparts, and tasted fresh, complimented by herbs and a densely creamy sauce. I had forgotten that food in the country always started with a pot of butter, and consequently found the dish immensely gratifying and painfully filling in just a few bites. But nonetheless, the saltiness and creamy texture, along with the medley of herbs and addictive potato gnocchi gratified my carb-deprived body of its most basic, silenced needs. And I was happy.
Feeling overwhelmed with desserts, I skipped the chocolate on chocolate on chocolate options for lighter, more creative ones. Not feeling the mushy moussey mood, courtesy of my single textured entree, I chose a pastry with Klimt’s most famous art decor on it, reminiscent of a museum I had just left that promised me that All Art is Erotic. It was a layered pastry, with hazelnut crisp, milk chocolate ganache, a lightly fluffed chocolate cake and a two solid chocolate bricks: one with the artwork painted on top of it, and the other acting as a sandwich layer for velvety hazelnut cream.
The thing with layers is that you can always indulge in different ones as a break from the monotone one-note taste. Layers also make for inventive deconstruction when in a leisurely mood. It was indeed delightful, not the best I’ve ever had, but enough for me to lick my chops and fingers in pleasure.
I paired it with hot Glühwein mulled wine, to melt the flavors in my mouth and for that lasting kick of energy with a spurt of relaxation, which would calm my nerves for the rest of the long night.
After which, I stepped out of the ethereal café into a town that looked like it had been painted by an artist. The streets were littered with architectural wonders and people in regal attires, owing to the luxury neighborhood. Every skinny suited, slick haired gentleman, or backless gowned, svelte heeled damsel, reminded me of Mozart with his muse, or a yesteryear’s actress escaping from the twinkling lights of her destiny.