Saturday, April 21, 2007

Petz's PALAIS COBURG Restaurant is the coolest cuisine (Vienna)

Last night was my second gourmet outing in Vienna and another amazing treat. RESTAURANT PALAIS COBURG is a very exclusive hotel (called RESIDENZ Palais Coburg) in a grand 19th century palace built over the excavations of the ancient Vienna city walls. Since the palace is up on a small hill the lobby below has been rebuilt in the sleekest and coolest of modern modes. The excavations can be seen underneath and host periodic concerts (including the Vienna Boys Choir) in what I was told is an acoustically perfect setting. The 35 suites have tip-top security (you can't use the elevators at all without a key) and I couldn't get past the front door without three people verifying I had a reservation. I later discovered the American ambassador was hosting a huge bash in the Palace (at OUR expense, of course), which made the hugest of rackets on the street below when I left the hotel at just before midnight!

After being escorted to the restaurant by a very unfriendly woman (again, you can't go in the elevator alone) I was warmly greeted by much of the staff and my coat was taken (no coat check receipt again) and led to my table in the warm off-white arched setting. The crisp linens had kniferests with beautiful silverware, bronzed plates with gold leaf rims, Riedel crystal with the PC emblem on the base making a most elegant dining space. The tables were well spaced and indeed, the rooms were quite quiet and allowed NO SMOKING. YAY! My superb server Simon, who I later found out worked in Atlanta for many years and knew some of the chefs I have befriended over the years! He brought me a glass of excellent ALZINGER 2003 Gruner Veltliner Smaragd (Loibenburg) that was one of the richest I have had in a while (perhaps only the Schloss Gobelsburg, which I had tasted earlier in the day was bigger, but not necessarily better). My table faced outside looking a the grand stone staircase of the original palace giving me an even grander feeling.

The events of the day had their ups and downs since I had hauled myself about 45 minutes outside Vienna to Lower Austria and the wine town of Gumpoldskirchen. Almost everything was closed, and the winery I was supposed to visit was shut tight. I had a quick lunch at KRUG (the top bistro in town) of superb MATJES HERRING, the always magnificent white marinated MARCHFELD ASAPARAGUS, and a DEVILED EGG with CRAYFISH. Disappointed with no wine tasting, I headed back to Vienna and right to my favorite wine store, VINOTEK ST STEPHAN where they were tasting about 20 white Austrian wines from 2006 that had all just been released. It was lots of fun, and gave me several ideas on what to bring home this week with me as well.

Back at RESTAURANT COBURG I noticed Chef CHRISTIAN PETZ checking out his guests and perusing the room to make sure everything was right. Indeed, everything was perfect. It took some time to decide between the several menus and I opted for the 6-course set menu but asked that the accompanying wine be more Austrian-centric. TOMAS, the sommelier (whose USA stint had him at the Grand Hotel on Mackinaw Island!-remember the film "Somewhere in Time"), came over and I mentioned the Bayer Pinot Noir from the night before being so amazing, and he said he would work hard to improve upon that (indeed, I found that Bayer wine in the store yesterday--but alas, only a magnum for 60Euros--way to big to haul home these days). Bread came in the form of a rustic, French roll and dark grain with a beautiful butter display. The latter paled next to Steirereck's 4 butter selection the previous night as did the bread, but I concentrated on the food. Amuse #1 was a slice of MARINATED SALMON TROUT served over a crunchy CANNELONI filled with HORSERADISH CREAM with BEETS & Scallions. The dish had two small piles of huge salt crystals on each on the fish giving it an added punch. Tomas offered a nice 2005 Styrian WELCHRIESLING from GROSS, but it was the next wine that blew me away in so many ways: 2005 SAUVIGNON BLANC "Lafoa" from CORNELL in Sudtirol (South Tyrol) is actually from the Italian region we know as Alto Adige. It is no wonder the Austrians resent losing this area in WWI to Italy as this huge terrior-driven wine (in a goregous Kilmt-esque bottle) exhibits a monster nose of perfume, huge white legs and as Tomas explained is the ultimate asparagus wine. It was accompanied by magnificent FRESHWATER LOWER AUSTRIAN CHAR on NETTLE PUREE with HAM OIL & those ever-glorious huge white marinated MARCHFELDSPARGL. The stalk was draped with three pieces of the just past rare fish at equal spaces and sat on the dark green nettle puree. This dish and the wine combination as well, had me convinced that if the rest of the meal continued at this level, I could easily have a new favorite restaurant in town!

The next course was poorly titled on the menu as CONSOMME of VEAL with ROLLED PANCAKE and featured the richest of dark veal stocks with a large rolled pancake filled with veal tail and dumpling (locally called Fritate). Tomas poured an equally rich OLOROSO SHERRY aged 20 years from SANDEMAN's called ROYAL CORREGIDOR.

RAY with BITTER VEGETABLES and PAK-CHOI was the title of the next dish, and again the presentation and food itself far surpassed the name itself. The tasty sauteed fish also featured artichokes, a small ALMOND RAVIOLI and a large homemade potato chip resting on top. The accompanying 2004 RIESLING SCHARZHOFBERGER KABINETT from Egon Muller in the German Mosel had a slight sweetness, but worked well with the Asian ingredients of the dish.

The FOIE GRAS this time was French and roasted with RHUBARB & Marinated Lemon with a small fried farm cheese-filled dumpling called TOPFEN on the side. The low residual sugar 2005 GELBER TRAMINER Nobel Reserve from Bertold Salomon in the Austrian Kamptal (we had their Australian Shiraz the night before) was a perfect foil to the rich foie gras; its acidity was just right to fight the dish's sweet side.

The main meat course was sheer perfection: STUFFED CUTLET of PIGEON with BAKED MEDLARS and CELERY had two gorgeous pieces of fowl stuffed with spinach and foie gras served on braised celery and a brown sauce. The medlars (also called lowquats) are Japanese apricot-like fruit that are related to both apples and roses!! and were also stuffed with spinach and foie gras and then lightly battered and flash fried for a very thin crisp crust. Need I say more. Tomas outdid himself with a 2003 POCKL PINOT NOIR from Burgenland that easily qualified as the biggest Austrian red I have ever had.

Dessert was a MOUSSE of PRALUS CHOCOLATE with Chili KUMQUATS and LIME. It was served with chocolate sorbet in a gorgeous presentation. Again Tomas worked hard to impress me with a FORTICUS Graf Hardegg 2000 red dessert wine (akin to port consistency) made from Zwiegelt and Blauberger grapes. It was perfect with the intense chocolates and what would follow thereafter. Simon approached with a large trolley laden with hundreds of chocolates. When I asked what happened to the cheese tray, he said it is available on request, but that Chef Petz prefers to amaze people with his homemade sweet trolley instead. It was hard to choose, but I ended up with MILK CHOCOLATE GLAZED PECANS, a FRIED CHOCOLATE BALL, Dried Orange slices, a COCONUT TRUFFLE, a long piece of WHITE CHOCOLATE & VANILLA known locally as CAT's TONGUE, and finally Simons' number one choice, the too-die-for CRUNCHY HAZELNUT CREAM MILK CHOCOLATE one.

I don't think I have to tell you that I can't wait to return to COBURG, but you should also know they have a bistrot open daily (reservations as well so you can get up the elevator!).

After dinner I was able to see two of the huge suites in the hotel as well as the spa, pool, sauna and facilities as well as the 60,000+ bottle wine cellar that was installed among the city walls' remains below the palace! There are several cellars including one featuring only CHATEAU d'YQUEM from every vintage going back over 100 years! A champagne cellar, a French cellar and then the rest where I saw a bottle of Kracher almost as big as me! What a great treat being ushered through these catacomb-like halls before making my way back to the Imperial Hotel and bed.