Eat Smart

Tastes Abroad: Sweet on Vienna

by Rebecca Toback, blogger

My best meals in Europe have been the ones I randomly wandered upon. The best wasn’t found at Joeys in Rome, where everyone said I “had to go.” Or the restaurant recommended by the hotel concierge in Venice. Or the French bistro in Paris where Americans “always eat.” And it certainly wasn’t at Pret-a-Manger, one of the biggest chain restaurants, I certainly can no longer stand in London.

The best meals I’ve had were at the Prague pub we accidentally came across after giving up on finding the nice restaurant our friends were eating at. And the cafe in Rome we found when wandering outside of the typical tourist path. And this weekend I had one of the best meals I’ve had in Europe after walking for 45 minutes to find somewhere to eat in Vienna.

After a semester abroad (one that passed by way too quickly) I’m happy to say I’ve learned the lesson: many of the best finds, you find when you’re not even looking.

This past weekend I traveled to Vienna, and it was absolutely amazing. Besides having great architecture and a vast history the city is home to some amazing food. From kebabs and hot dogs on the street, to Schnitzel, to their homegrown apples and potatoes, Vienna tackles food in a way of its own. My grandpa came to America from Vienna, so I arrived in Vienna for some suggestions for where to eat. Café Sacher, is home to one of the world’s most famous chocolate deserts. The Sacher torte is almost 180 years old, and was created in Vienna. I personally didn’t love the cake, but I ordered an ice coffee at Sacher’s and boy ,was I surprised when it arrived. I thought I was ordering a typical American iced coffee, but what came was coffee with ice cream and whipped cream. It was amazing—maybe Starbucks should probably start making iced coffee like that.

On the second night in Vienna, for dinner my friend and I wanted to escape the typical tourist zone and find great Viennese food. We walked for about an hour scanning all the restaurants we could find. Some were too touristy, some didn’t look good, some had menus that were just too over the top. And then, we thought we were settling in picking a steakhouse. We went to Plachutta, a restaurant dedicated to serving traditional boiled beef in Viennese tradition. They use only cattle born in Austria and know all their farmers. They have five restaurants and a cookbook. We weren’t settling at all. We were in for a great meal from one of Austria’s top chefs.  My friend and I ordered different types of meat, but both got spinach on the side. The boiled beef comes in a soup that the waiters dish out on the table. The soup tasted amazing, and now we knew we had chosen a great place. We were also given homemade butter and rolls, which were impressive but not nearly as impressive as the meat. I usually don’t even like steak, but whatever I ordered, which I’m not entirely sure of now, was some of the greatest meat I’ve ever tasted. And, the spinach that came on the side was just as great. Though I thought I was ordering a healthy side order of spinach, really I’m sure Plachutta figured out a way to fatten up the spinach, because it was too good to be good for you.

After dinner, though we were stuffed, we had to get ice cream after hearing it was the best north of the Alps. Well, it was great. I got after eight, which is what I’ve come to find mint chocolate chip is called in Europe. I think Vienna can compete with Florence in the top gelato competition.

My trip to Vienna was the perfect way to end my travels during this semester abroad. Seeing the city in which my grandpa grew up on a warm and sunny weekend, and eating Vienna’s famous food, added up to one of my favorite weekends in Europe.