Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Wien / Vienna 2: Hotel and Restaurants

My mother-in-law and I flew from Stuttgart to Wien on Thursday and arrived in the pouring rain. It continued to rain throughout the rest of the day and night. We were not surprised by this because the forecast actually said constant rain for the whole weekend, and we actually got lucky and had only occasional rain from Friday to Sunday.

Instead of writing a post for each day of our time in Vienna, I'm going to try writing posts by theme, starting with meals and accommodations. When I'm visiting a city or town for the first time (or for the first time in many years, as was the case for me with Vienna), I always appreciate personal recommendations for places to stay and eat. I read reviews on booking.com and so on, but I'm more interested in what friends of mine and other travel bloggers recommend.

We stayed at the Hotel Kaiserin Elisabeth on Weihburgstraße, and it was perfect for us. It was a 1-minute walk to the U-Bahn at Stephansplatz and a 2-minute walk to the Stephansdom. We walked all over the central part of town within the Ring, mainly, and only needed the U-Bahn to get to my parents' riverboat to meet them and to and from the airport. This is a great central location and we thought the price was reasonable (€147 / $190 per night for a single room).
Our rooms faced the inner courtyard and we couldn't believe how quiet it was in the middle of this big city. I didn't even hear other guests, though apparently the hotel was full all weekend. My room was perfectly fine, the bathroom updated, the bed comfortable and the Federbett (comforter) and pillows cuddly. There was a TV that I never turned on because I prefer reading, a minibar that I'm too frugal to even peek at, and a safe I didn't need because I don't travel with valuables that would need locking up. For those who need those kinds of things, though, they are available, as is a clock radio with alarm and a hair dryer.

The staff at the front desk provides maps of Vienna, brochures for various attractions, and information about concerts and performances, are ready to give advice about what to see and do, and will arrange for tickets, transportation, and reservations if you need them. There is a computer in the lobby for guests to use and a printer which is convenient for printing boarding passes when it's time to leave again.

Not shown: a wardrobe with hangers and shelves

The staff still needed time to finish preparing our rooms, so we had a cappuccino in the lounge shown below. That's a portrait of the famous and much-loved Sisi (Empress Elisabeth of Austria) above the mantle, and the larger one is of her husband Kaiser Franz Josef.

Unfortunately I can never make proper use of the breakfast buffet, but I thought it was more than sufficient. If I were able to eat a decent breakfast in the morning, I would not have lacked options: rolls and bread with jam or honey, a wide variety of cheeses and meats, yogurt and fresh fruit, cereal, soft-boiled eggs, and hot food - Kaiserschmarrn (like a sweet chopped up pancake), cooked vegetables with a sauce or cheese, and sausage or bacon. Coffee, tea, water, milk, and freshly squeezed orange and grapefruit juice are also available, of course, and by the third morning we didn't even have to ask for coffee because our server knew what we wanted.

For dinner on Thursday night I had made a reservation at the well-known restaurant Figlmüller, which is famous for its Schnitzel. It was a fun place to eat - quite crowded, so it was good we reserved a table, and a friendly waiter. To be honest, though, I was not impressed with the Schnitzel. It is huge and doesn't fit on the plate, which is their trademark. It was made from pork instead of veal (that's not a complaint), and very thin (as it should be). My husband, though, has taught me what the breading of a real Schnitzel is supposed to look like: unevenly browned and puckered or "bubbly." The breading on this Schnitzel looked pressed and was evenly colored - like the breading on a chicken sandwich at McDonald's (ok, definitely better than that, just a similar color).

According to the Figlmüller website, their Schnitzel is cooked in pans rather than a deep-fryer - three different pans are used for each Schnitzel, in fact. And they use the best cut of the pork - the tenderloin - and fresh oil. Martin just told me that if the oil is deep enough so the Schnitzel basically swims in it, the breading will be more evenly colored like it is here, and this is not uncommon. One feeds two people, so don't be silly and order a whole one for yourself like we did. I couldn't even finish half, though I got close. They'll happily provide a Sackerl (doggie bag), so we put the leftovers into the mini fridge and brought them with us on our walking tour the next day - saving the cost of another meal. No need to reheat it - it's good cold, too!

It was definitely good, and if you aren't the Schnitzel Snob that I've become, it's fine. Stay tuned, though, because if you are interested in a real Wiener Schnitzel, I've got a recommendation coming up later in this post.

On Friday our self-guided walking tour brought us to the Naschmarkt around lunch time. The Naschmarkt is like an open-air Markthalle with little shops, venders selling food - fruits and vegetables, cheese, herbs, meats - and small restaurants. We walked the aisles to check things out and then just picked a restaurant and sat down at an outside table. We only had a light snack and glass of wine (for me) and cappuccino (for my MiL) because we had our Schnitzel leftovers.. It was more important for us to just sit for a bit, since we'd walked all morning and were going to keep going all afternoon!

I didn't write down the name of the place, but that doesn't matter. Whatever cuisine you're hungry for, you should be able to find it at the Naschmarkt - Chinese, Turkish, Austrian/German, Arabic, Italian, and even fish and chips! I guess you won't find a Mexican or American (i.e. burger or steak) place, but there is a wide variety from which to choose. If you don't need a break to sit down, choose some fresh fruit and be on your way again.

Dinner on Friday was a real treat! My MiL had found the Viereck online because it was close to the Kursalon where we were meeting my parents for a concert later on. I only have a picture of the outside from earlier in the day because I didn't bring my camera in the evening (for which I have kicked myself repeatedly).

Again we made our reservation online the week before our trip - I'm loving this concept of reserving without having to make a phone call! At the Viereck you are given a tablet (of the Samsung Galaxy variety, German readers, NOT a Tablett, or tray!) as you are seated, and the Kellner explains how to use it if this is your first time at the restaurant. The menu is on the tablet with pictures, and you just click on what you'd like to order. The pictures are accurate - what you see is what you get! Elegant presentation, perfectly seasoned, fancy touches. Our Kellner told us to order our drinks and starters first and then later our main course, otherwise everything will come at once.

We selected our drinks and touched "bestellen" (order), and while we were looking at the starters, our drinks appeared. We both selected Schafskäse im Speckmantel auf frischem Rucolasalat und Balsamicoglace and touched "bestellen" again, and a very short time later our starters were brought to our table. It was insanely delicious and I was tempted to order it again for my main course!

Service was so fast (we were dining early and the restaurant wasn't busy yet) that we had to slow things down or we'd still have an hour to kill before the concert. I ordered another glass of Grüner Veltliner - a dry white wine - and we chatted about the next day's plan. Here's the most brilliant thing about this tablet-ordering business (called Smartmenu): although our Kellner was very friendly, attentive, and willing to chat when we had questions or comments, he never had to come to our table to ask if we wanted anything, how things tasted, if we needed another drink, if we were ready to order... It drives me absolutely NUTS in the U.S. when I am constantly interrupted by the waiter/waitress. Stop asking me questions! I will politely get your attention and tell you if I need anything. On the Smartmenu tablet there is a button that says "Kellner rufen" (call waiter). I pressed that, and he showed up almost immediately. There's another button for you to check out your total bill at any point, so you can actually figure out what you'll pay including tip even before touching "bezahlen" (pay). We each had our own bill on our tablet, but I was also able to touch "Rechnung abrufen" (fetch bill) to pull my MiL's bill onto mine so we could pay together. When you touch "bezahlen," the Kellner pops over and knows exactly why, and you pay him.

Granted, if you like the American-style interruptions and frequent personal contact with your Kellner, maybe this isn't for you. But you don't get that constant attention in Germany or Austria anyway. You have to try to catch eye contact with him, possibly wave subtly to get his attention, etc. when you need something. That's fine with me, too, but I found this Smartmenu thing just brilliant.

Oh, we both had Scampi e Spinaci (jumbo shrimp on noodles with baby spinach) which was again delicious. Choosing something without garlic might have been smarter as we were headed next to a concert, but oh well. I'd happily order it again. The Viereck is very close to the Stadtpark, and I absolutely and enthusiastically recommend it! It might be a 10-minute walk from the Stephansdom, and it's worth every step.

On Saturday for lunch we ate at Cafe Landtmann near the Burgtheater and Rathaus with my parents and my aunt who was also on the European river cruise. They were told by their cruise director - who lives in Vienna - that the most expensive coffee in Vienna is at this restaurant. We didn't have any because we couldn't get our waiter's attention when some of us wanted coffee (the Smartmenu would have been good here!) so I can't speak about the quality, but one cappuccino costs €5,50 ($7.12). A normal coffee is €3,50 ($4.53), and there are no free refills. I'll agree that's pretty expensive, but I found the menu prices for the food reasonable. There is outdoor seating, but the weather was sketchy, so we ate inside (online reservation, of course). The restaurant has a very classy atmosphere.
Photo credit: J. Keckonen
This room was set for dinner. The main room where we ate was quite full.
Photo credit: J. Keckonen

This is where I tasted what might have been the best Schnitzel I have ever had. My dad ordered it, but I tried a bite. First of all it was real Wiener Schnitzel, made with veal. The breading look exactly like what my husband has described (and like the Schnitzel he makes at home!) - unevenly browned (which, among other things shows that it was prepared in a pan rather than in a deep-fryer) and puckered and "bubbly". The meat was so tender that you wouldn't even need teeth to chew it, and so delicious it almost brought tears to my eyes.

This is what I mean by "puckered" breading and uneven coloring.
Photo credit: J. Keckonen

I am sure many restaurants in Vienna do an amazing Schnitzel - it's a specialty of Vienna, after all! But based on my brief experience, if you want to be sure to have a Schnitzel to remember, order it at Cafe Landtmann. It's not cheap because it's made with veal (€23,00 / $29.75), but it's large enough, filling, and comes with parsley potatoes and a salad.

Here's a Schnitzel tip: If it's called Wiener Schnitzel on the menu, it's made with veal. If it's just called "Schnitzel" or "Schnitzel Wiener Art" (Vienna-style Schnitzel) then it's made with pork. The pork version is very good also and cheaper, but it's not the real thing. This is the case no matter where (in Germany or Austria) you are eating because there are strict rules here about naming dishes and foods. The Schnitzel I mentioned earlier is called "Figlmüller Schnitzel" because it is not Wiener Schnitzel. Schnitzel simply means "cutlet," and there are many other kinds. Putenschnitzel is a turkey cutlet, for example, and Jägerschnitzel is a pork cutlet without breading served with a dark mushroom sauce.

The last restaurant I'll write about was right near our hotel and on Kärntnerstraße, one of the main Fußgängerzonen (pedestrian zones) in Vienna. It is the Restaurant Venezia, which is clearly Italian. We sat outside, which we both prefer when the weather is ok. My MiL had lasagna and I had spaghetti pomodori:

Basically it was spaghetti with tomato and basil sauce, and once again delicious. I had a glass of the Grüner Veltliner again, and sparkling water, of course. I swear, I do not describe everything I eat as "delicious." It just happened that there was nothing I ate in Vienna that I didn't like!

We had quite a variety of dining experiences for such a short time in Vienna. Each place was very unique, and everything I ate was something I would order again. My favorite restaurant was the Viereck with the Smartmenu, the better (but more expensive) Schnitzel was at the Landtmann, and the most conveniently located place from our hotel was the Venezia.

My next posts will be more about sight-seeing.
 Things to see for free
 Museums and Tombs


  1. The Viereck sounds amazing! I would love to try a smart-order restaurant. I've also heard of one where you order by tablet them the food comes to you on rails - waiters are only need to bring drinks and the bill!

    1. We saw an episode of the Kochprofis about a restaurant like that where the food came on rails. I don't know if I would like my food arriving on a rollar coaster, but I (clearly) loved the Viereck. It was four college buddies all under age 23 who opened that restaurant with the Smartmenu concept, and it was the first in Austria. It was not just the Smartmenu ordering that was so great - the food was really the highlight. I'd love to see a restaurant like that come to Stuttgart!