Monday, December 24, 2012

Cafe Demel, Vienna

Were we excited to get to Demel? We were. Called by at least one seasoned observer the authority on Viennese cakes, this is the other famous one, and more appealing to me than the overtly touristed Sacher.
It turns out to be almost as touristed, but they do a better job in atmosphere and service of maintaining a special feel. Once you fight your way through the absolutely thronged pastry shop and cake display and smoking lounge, you'll start seeing lovely chandeliered saloons like this...
...after which you'll encounter the dreaded 'Escher Stair'. The number of people waiting on this staircase for access to the much larger nonsmoking area of the restaurant accordions with the time of day. Arriving before 12, we were near the top, and in any case turnover seems brisk. Visiting the 'powder room', as Viennese society would have it, during our service, someone remarked that the Escher Line was down the stair and through the smoking saloon, but it had abated by the time we finished our leisurely dine.

We sat at a table (you'll find, I think, that Viennese cafes have a hierarchy of seating - the cushioned sofa seats must be the best, while certain tables are better than others based on size and proximity to other tables and the migratory paths of staff intent on service). These (silk) flowers were next to us. It was pleasant. I won't be able to show you the elaborate ceiling trim, nor the lovely pale wall colors. Take my word for it.
Take my word for it that an extra roll won't go amiss, and that wine in Vienna is uniformly cheap and tasty. If anything, one might be able to fault it for being 'lunch wine', i.e., pleasant and easy-drinking, but this is no great shame when ordering it for lunch. In a week of drinking, I've yet to have a glass of wine that wasn't lovely. Strike that, the wine at Reinthaler's wasn't better than average. It was also EUR 3.50 for 250 ml. No crime, that.
The pumpkin cream soup, however, was so good that it WAS criminal!!! hahaha, if I keep this up I'll be able to write for TripAdvisor!

This soup was more cream than pumpkin, though not in an awful way, and the solid sprinkle of pumpkin seeds were diverting for both their crunch and salt. Soups are really a highlight in Wiener.
And gulasch soup is really a highlight! This one was really tasty. It was better-structured, with potatoes and meat that had been prepped by pros and cooked separately to get the textures right. Plus lots of paprika and caraway seeds. Who knew this stuff was so good?
Let's just pause between courses to reflect on:
1. How sensible we are, ordering only soup before our main courses
2. How nice the atmosphere is here.
I'll add that the service, while harried (c.f., line down the stairs and into another room), consists of middle-aged women in uniforms, and it feels very right. Our server took a few minutes to warm up a bit but then was lovely. This has been a somewhat consistent pattern, and I can only imagine the difficulty of working in a place like this where your ambition is to uphold tradition and provide proper service, while your customers come from any of a dozen countries in any given hour and bring with them a multitude of accents, ordering habits, and perceived rudenesses (except the Russians, for whom the rudeness isn't merely perceived).

Our main courses. In the background a Sacher Torte, missing the intermediate layer of jam and some of the moistitude of the genuine article, and a coffee, or rather a Viennese melange (I said 'ein melange, the waitress responded 'une melange', but we thought she was really Hungarian), and the best one we've had yet - coffee strong and aromatic enough not to get lost in the milk. And in the foreground, an Esterhazy Torte - that bewitching combination of almond meringue and buttercream, layered unreasonably (I'm pretty sure that people who describe the intermediate layers as 'sponge cake' or 'walnut' are just dipshits, by the by, although the almond layers aren't quite crunchy enough to be meringue). I don't shy away from sweet things, but this was in the category I classify as 'tooth-rotting'. Loved it.

On your way out, consider some very expensive cookies or cakes or chocolate! The setup is pretty, the service again does a great job of making you feel at least a little special even as they're grinding out a credit card payment for the 58th bag of cookies that hour, and the prices aren't crazy when you consider that you're in Wiener and it's Demel!

Practically free, maaaan!
+43/1/535 17 17-0

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