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A Taste of Vienna in NYC

Have you ever had one of those weekends where everything just seems to build upon one theme? I’m talking about watching Merchant-Ivory-type costume dramas and then developing a craving for tea. Taking in a movie like Big Night and deciding to make a large batch of spaghetti and meatballs or maybe just watching one of the food and travel programs and thinking that you really do need to plan a trip to wherever they just were just to grab an authentic Chicago deep-dish pizza or *real* barbecue from North Carolina.

Last weekend, I’d signed up to go with a group to the Neue Gallerie in New York. This is a museum, down Fifth Avenue from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, that is dedicated to German and Austrian art and design. It’s one of the kind of museums that I really enjoy visiting in New York, as it is used to be a private residence, the exhibits are thorough but not too overwhelming, and the crowds tend to be small. You can also see some of the original architectural details from when it was a home.

Currently, they have on display works “From Klimt to Klee.” This includes the magnificent portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer enrobed in gold leaf, which the museum purchased several years ago, and which was one of the reasons for our visit. The other great thing about this venue is that there are two cafes in which to grab a bite after you’ve wandered through their collection. They both serve German and Austrian foods and sweets, including Sacher Torte, which I didn’t eat on this visit as the lines were too long to get a table.

Was it coincidental that on the same day I had signed up for this trip, the episode of “Tyler’s Ultimate” had him making Pork Schnitzel? And Spaetzle? The Central European heritage part of my heart just skipped a beat. We sometimes get one or the other of these things served in our company cafeteria but not both on the same day, so it is rare that I get to eat these dishes together.

This also brought a little culinary tear to my eye as it reminded me of the restaurant Danube which closed last year. As you can see from the photos via the link, the decor was a little like dining in a Klimt painting. I loved it. I would get their Wiener Schnitzel which came with sweet-tart lingonberry jam and vinegary potato salad served on the side. One day, I will replicate the real thing and try to relive those meals I had when my parents would come to visit me. It was always one of the places on our short list of restaurants to visit again.

This time, however, I decided to follow Tyler Florence’s exact recipe for a pork schnitzel. The authentic dish is made with veal instead. I took a pork loin cutlet and pounded the heck out of it with my wooden mallet. What I really needed, I discovered, is the metal version of this tool that Tyler had used in his show. It has the heft that you need to get the meat nice and thin, which is the main point.

The picture above shows a before-and-after of what your meat should look like. It is incredible how much the fillet can grow after you manage to pound it out to about 1/2-1/4 inch thickness. The cooking time is also dropped dramatically, as it takes mere minutes to fry up these cutlets once they are breaded.

To accompany the schnitzel, I also decided to try my hand at spaetzle, which I also like to eat but have never actually made. This was a different experience. On the television show, Tyler says to force the batter through a colander to get the proper consistency. He made it look so easy. I’m not sure if his was different from mine, but I could not get it to work.

In the end, I scooped up the batter on the back of a ladle and let it plop in the water, glob by glob. From the plate above, you can see that the bits are a bit larger than the usual, but they seemed to taste all right. I might have to spend some time working on my technique with this.

To go along with the rest of the dishes, I tackled something else I’ve never done before. The above might seem a bit daunting, but it is really a great tasting vegetable that I think is overlooked here in the U.S. Celery root, or celeriac, is in season right now. It does look like something horrible and ancient, but underneath the tough exterior is a white, crunchy delight that you could describe as tasting like “celery lite.”

I don’t really like celery, but I like celery root, so when I found a recipe in the February Bon Appetit magazine, for Celery Root and Apple Salad with Hazelnut Vinaigrette, I decided that it was about time I should try my hand at peeling and cutting up this vegetable by myself. Usually, I just search for it on menus and eat it when I see it available in soups and salads. It definitely took some time and patience to do this.

Judging by the plate below, I think that it was all worth it, although it took a while for everything to come together. I omitted the mustard from the spaetzle and added some extra garlic and thyme to the cream sauce while it was cooking to give it a more woodsy, earthy feel. As there was mustard in the dressing for the salad, I thought that that was enough of that flavor to have on one plate.

I can definitely see making this again. The salad was a cool, crunchy counterpoint to the soft richness of the spaetzle and the crunchy hot schnitzel. This is a perfect blend of winter tastes and flavors. Even if I couldn’t physically make it to Vienna to eat this way, I can at least have the tastes of Central Europe for dinner in New York.

Buon appetito!

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