So there we were on a chilly Thursday evening in February, warming ourselves in the convivial atmosphere of Blaue Gans: the Austro-German bistro by chef and owner Kurt Gutenbrunner in New York City. Open for over 10 years now, the charming restaurant is just one player in Gutenbrunner’s gastronomic troupe here in Gotham, the others being Café Sabarsky, Upholstery Store, and Wallsé.
Blaue Gans’ interior — with its café tables, myriad of vintage posters, long ounted mirrors, curved ceiling, and zinc bar — usually succeeds in imparting a distinctly European impression on its diners, and that Thursday was no exception. In fact, my companion and I felt transported to Vienna, thanks in part to the horn quartet from the visiting Vienna Philharmonic who were playing away in the corner. For the sixth consecutive year, the visiting musicians spent their night off from playing Carnegie Hall serenading Gutenbrunner’s dinner guests as the kitchen served choices from a two- or three-course menu made available for the special event.
While sipping towering half-liters of Ayinger beer, we first enjoyed a refreshing salad of bibb lettuce, radish, and pumpkin seeds. “I’m not sure I have ever actually had fresh vegetables in an Austro-German restaurant before,” remarked my companion, who spent the late 1960s living in Germany and has taken in an above-average amount of authentic fare of this kind over her lifetime.
Next came her expertly cooked pork wiener schnitzel that was crispy and golden on the outside while still succulent and flavorful on the inside, and I fell upon life-changing spätzle. The noodles were soft but shy of mushy and were accompanied by diced zucchini and carrots, peas, corn, and bite-sized pieces of confit duck.
The warm, hearty food filled our bellies as the soft horn music washed over us. The smiling staff checked in every now and then, but made sure we were also allowed to simply be — to soak in both the flavors and the chords and notice how they partnered to mesmerize our senses. I’ve yet to have the pleasure of dining in Vienna, but can attest to how rare the luxury of an unhurried meal out is awarded to restaurant guests here in the Big Apple.
Finally, it was time for palatschinken: crêpes filled with a small amount of apricot preserves. The quartet struck up a little fugue by Bach as I bit into the almost impossibly light confection, and I marveled at how small the world could feel, mentally thanking chef Gutenbrunner for bringing Vienna to this small corner of Tribeca.