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Grand Hotel Wien - Vienna
Grand Hotel Wien - Logo
Vienna - Austria
5 Stars & 5 Stripes
September - 2003
5 Stars & 5 Stripes
Overall - 'Hotel & Service'
The Ultimate Award:
Seven Stars and Stripes®
Vienna, always known to be a genuine simmering pot of cultural goulash, has for centuries catered to the needs of the Imperial cliques and their circle of friends. It was not until 1870 that the Grand Hotel Wien opened as the truly first luxury hotel in Vienna, and soon became the center for catering to the extravagant needs of Viennese society and demanding international clientele.
With Vienna waltzing in my mind as my final destination, flying in from New York's JFK airport with Austrian Airlines made it seem as if the Austrian experience commences upon entering the modern, creative and comfortable Airbus. While enjoying a flute of Schlumberger sparkling wine, I started to familiarize myself with the onboard information system.

It was important for me to be fully informed as to what to do and see while in the 'Heart of Europe' and the flight attendants helped with some personal recommendations of their own. They even let me know of a cute little 'Kaffehaus' on the Dorotheergasse called 'Café Hawelka' where I must order the unique 'Powidltascherl' a pastry pocket filled with sweet prune-butter. I made a mental note to go there after I meet up with American Dream Team member Rolf once we finish our upcoming reviews in the Imperial City.
While on-board, I eagerly began reading several articles about the newly released VW entry into the luxury segment of the automobile market, 'The Phaeton'. I couldn't help but wonder what it must be like to drive this awesome vehicle through the byways of Imperial Vienna and I was not to be disappointed! While still being pampered by the charming service of the Austrian flight crew, German car maker Volkswagen was preparing to surprise us with their flagship car 'The Phaeton' and as I landed, American Dream team member Thorsten was already on his way with the fabulous machine.
To experience the pulse of a city you must venture into its very heart to mix with the locals, walk on the same streets that countless millions have enjoyed for over 900 years and find the best place to relax, the 'Kaffeehaus'.

The Grand Hotel Wien is located at the Kärntner Ring, which is the footprint of the original wall that once surrounded the city, the hub of action in Vienna, and the place where one can be alone with one's thoughts while watching Vienna pass you by. Imagine, here you are in the Grand Café, at the center of music, opera and fine cuisine and yet you enjoy all this while feeling the flair in one of the 'Leading Hotels of the World'.

Arrival with the Volkswagen Phaeton
Friendly Austrians curiously turning heads to catch a glimpse of our spectacular car that our partner Volkswagen has to offer -The Phaeton -heralded our arrival at the Grand Hotel Wien. Our route to the hotel took us through the Vienna Woods or "Wienerwald" and the elegant limousine provided us with total traveling comfort over the gently rolling hills to our final destination, defining an understatement of luxury.

The GPS navigation system led us directly to the front entrance of Imperial elegance while negotiating the numerous one-way streets with confidence and ease. The smartly dressed doorman was the first to notice our team member Rolf opening the trunk to access the luggage by simply touching the center of the VW emblem located there.
Upon arrival, the check-in was smooth, professional and quick. We were able to glance around at our new home for the next few days and noticed the incredible opulence of the décor and layout of the main lobby.

It seemed to us that we could spend an entire day just wandering around the Grand Hotel without really seeing everything, so we arranged a guided VIP Tour with the Assistant Front Office Manager, Ingrid Gruber and together we were able to discover the grandeur and elegance that the Grand Hotel Wien displays so skillfully.
Ingrid explained to us that the Grand Hotel preserves the unique flair of the past by its use of exquisite fabrics and rare antiques while offering the state of the art amenities to satisfy just about any need that a guest can think of. Modern technology at your disposal, elegantly furnished to meet every possible comfort requirement makes the Grand Hotel one of the most modern and efficient luxury venues in the world.

This world-class capability is essential in the business of guest satisfaction when you consider that Vienna is host to the United Nations, the International Atomic Energy Agency and OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) from which is generated many a discerning guest for meetings, conferences or just an impressive place to stay. Impressive enough even for such diverse musicians as Luciano Pavarotti, Paul McCartney and Johann Strauss (The king of Waltz) who celebrated his 50 year jubilee on stage here in one of the ballrooms in 1894.
Its ballrooms were the scene of the most elegant parties in town and the uncounted "Bälle" of Vienna are the most important platform to be part of society then and now. Almost each profession established a Ball to celebrate once a year. Celebration means food, wine and classic dancing - The Viennese Waltz -.

As the most 'important' Ball the famous - Ball of the Opera - brings all the Austrian and international celebrities together. Imagine how hard it is to get one of those rare tickets, although proper planning and a professional concierge from the Grand Hotel could make the difference.
No doubt it was now that we asked our hostess Ingrid to see the Presidential Suite. The Presidential Suite, measuring 220 square meters, is the largest suite of the Grand Hotel Wien. Through a large ante-room one comes directly into the living room and from there into the elegant dining room and the adjacent library. On the other side there is a grand bedroom and a very luxurious marbled bathroom with a whirlpool for the guest's convenience.

John Lomitola and Ingrid Gruber during the VIP-Tour
In addition there is a kitchen where one's personal staff can prepare food and for guests wishing to entertain in their suite there is a connecting door to a Junior Suite, which gives the Presidential Suite two bedrooms and measures a total of 280 square meters. "A great place to be!" commented Rolf.

But not everybody enjoys the privileges of a presidential suite so we also visited one each of the 25 double and 26 twin Exclusive Rooms. The walls and floors are decorated in light green colors, which give the rooms a very relaxing atmosphere.
Our visit ended in the impressive hotel lobby where we met with Eva Traunmüller, Communications & PR-Manager and Uta von Dietze Director of Sales & Marketing for the Grand. While chatting with them at the "Kavalierbar" overlooking the magnificent Ringstrasse, they informed us that the Grand had been awarded "Austrian Hotel of the Year 2003" by a prestigious German hotel and restaurant guide, which reflects our impression of a successful transfer of tradition into the 21st century. We were also reminded that since 2001, the Grand is a member of the "Leading Hotels of the World" of which only the most distinguished properties are admitted and must meet the most rigorous standards of excellence.
Rightly so we observed, after returning to our suite and while we were changing to prepare for dinner at "Le Ciel", it occurred to us that it was like being a guest at the Emperor Franz Joseph's own palace.
Our majestic Senior Suite was equipped with the state-of-the-art telephone system from which one can command practically the whole room from one's bedside. For example, the television and radio can be turned on or off, as well as the lights. The temperature may be individually chosen, and the 'Do Not Disturb' sign can be turned on by just touching the screen of the telephone.

These high-tech appointments can only be matched by the unwavering attention to detail in the opulent décor of the room, which has been described as "inspired by the flair of the monarchy and the music of Johann Strauss".
To make things even better, a bellman attired almost as if he was the Emperor's own servant, delivered a noble bottle of Sekt Bründlmayer Brut 2001 bearing the personal label of the Grand Hotel Wien, along with a deluxe fruit basket stuffed with a box of 'Mozartkugeln'. Now that's class!
Le Ciel
Grand Hotel Vienna
Vienna - Austria
5 Stars & 5 Stripes
September - 2003
5 Stars & 5 Stripes
Overall - 'Cuisine & Service'
The Ultimate Award:
Seven Stars and Stripes®
And now we must find the focal point for the entire Vienna Grand experience, the place where enticing views of Vienna captivate the unsuspecting, and culinary masterpieces are flawlessly prepared. Located on the seventh floor of the Grand, we enter a world of magnificent wall art painted in the style of the palaces of Schönbrunn, and we are led to our table in the private "Rotonde" dining room.
The initial impression for Rolf and myself, went beyond our expectations in an instant as we were seated and handed the creative menu of Executive Chef Siegfried Pucher. While focusing on exclusive Viennese and traditional French specialties Chef Pucher and his team, as we will see, skillfully apply a wealth of international experience to their culinary art.

It was not long before we thought how tempting it might be to forgo the written menu and allow Chef Pucher to create something for us as far as his imagination would let him. Enough said, our Maitre d' conveyed our request while both Rolf and I sat back and simply waited and wondered what gustatory pleasure would most certainly come our way.
Siegfried Pucher
Siegfried Pucher
In the meantime, Sommelier Franz Messeritsch prepared to compliment each unique course with the appropriate wine selection, focusing primarily on the marvelous abundance of local Austrian viniculture production. At the same time as the creative juices were flowing in the kitchen, we couldn't help but take in all the grandeur and comfort emanating from our surroundings while listening to the waltz-like muffled voices of other satisfied patrons.
Chef Pucher began the eventful evening by sending out a delicate seasonal specialty soup made from locally grown produce. Creamy in texture, this fresh pumpkin with pumpkin soufflé was drizzled with just the right amount of cold pressed pumpkin seed oil thereby adding a toasted nutlike essence to this elegant dish.

Appropriately, a glass of 2001 Grüner Veltliner, Weingut Schloss Gobelsburg, Kamptal was offered. It was vibrantly spicy with a penetrating grab of fragrance and has an inner lightness that makes it float on your palate rather than feel heavy.
For Rolf there now came a smoked venison carpaccio with Jerusalem artichoke and fig salad. Paper-thin slices of garnet-red venison were carefully positioned on the plate perfectly in concentric circles; their edges folded gently to resemble little napkins. Scooping them up was like lifting miniature bishops hats to your mouth.
The accompanying Jerusalem artichoke and fig salad perfectly complimented the venison by offering the sweet taste and floral fruit of the fresh figs with the added texture similar to water chestnuts.

The accompanying glass of 2001 Blauer Burgunder (Pinot Noir) Weingut Heinrich, Neusiedlersee performed flawlessly as it offered up a full-bodied, barrel aged red wine with wild berry fragrances although dry in the finish.
Next came a delectable serving of marinated turbot (the king of all fish) with Brussels sprouts and apple salad. This was our heaven and we must have shown it with a certain look of satisfaction while savoring the subtle contrasts of the combined ingredients.

Certainly a nice pinot gris or sauvignon blanc would go well with this course and we could see Sommelier Messeritsch approaching with a well chilled glass of 2002 sauvignon blanc, Weingut Erwin Sabathi, Gamlitz Sudsteiermark. A fine selection since January 2004, 'THE BEVERAGE TESTING INSTITUTE' of CHICAGO tasting rated it exceptional at 91 points.
Now the real test; how the Austrian Chef will handle an American icon, the Black Angus Beef Tenderloin. An extremely tender cut of meat that when cooked properly can offer up a mouth watering, juicy tid-bit with each fork full.

Chef Pucher deftly prepared the meat with accompanying cream potatoes and oven roasted vegetables surrounded with a surreal red wine demi-glace. The sauce had a deep rich hand crafted flavor and was immediately in tune with the delicacy and tenderness of the meat. Rolf was now in his own personal heaven!
Of course, it is now apparent that we must be in line for the next attempt to duplicate this culinary wizardry! Once Rolf is deeply involved with his Angus, a platter of whole pan-fried sole with root vegetable ragout, leaf spinach and truffle sauce arrives. My initial attempt to sample the sauce does nothing more than intoxicate me with the earthy undertones of the grated truffles. I wanted more and began to de-bone the sole when the maitre d' reduced the endeavor to a cake-walk with two or three strokes of his fish knife. I savored every morsel of fish while continuously going back to the truffle sauce to feed my addiction.

This time a 2001 Grüner Veltliner Smaragd, Weingut Prager, Weissenkirchen, Wachau (more on this fabulous vineyard later) was the appropriate selection. It produces full, dry and concentrated fruit, rich and simple with a lovely follow through.
It is now nearly impossible to describe the level of satisfaction written all over our faces. A brief respite was in order and what awaited us at this point was the 'grand finale' so to speak, but we could barely move.

For me, it had to be a café Mélange to collaborate with the sweet cheese mousse with cassis jelly and marinated figs. It came to the table suggesting a crisp tower of sweet wafer atop a foundation of 'Topfen' resembling the texture of cheesecake. Needless to say, an appropriate dessert wine of 1999 trockenbeerenauslese, Weingut Angerhof, Tschida, Illmitz was in order now and it produced a light yellow-gold color with green reflections and a gradual background aroma of citrus peels.
In front of Rolf was now placed a deep-fried chocolate praline on exotic fruits with vanilla parfait. You could tell this was going to be something special with the unusual combinations of textures and colors and it certainly was. At first bite you sense a cornucopia of flavors blissfully connected with crisp baked fillo dough and fluid crème Anglese just begging to be polished from the plate.
While almost whimpering for help Rolf began to savor his dessert, then the sommelier brought the corresponding wine paring to the table, it has been a long evening.

This time it was the Bründlmayer Grand Hotel Cuvee Speciale Brut, the specially labled sparkling wine available only at the Grand Hotel Wien.
It always amazes us when cultures meet to share the fruits of their tradition, especially under the watchful eyes of Le Ciel's Executive Chef Siegfried Pucher and his capable and dedicated team.

Inspired by rich Viennese traditional food, and in desperate need of a long walk, we settled on going through the old heart of Vienna on a city tour:
A walk through the historic city center

Excited to explore the heart of the city we left the calm and noble atmosphere of the Grand for a walk around the block to the Kärntner Strasse, a pedestrian oasis in a city buzzing with activity. Without a guide the city center is organized and regal and it surprises you with so many famous historical sites that it is easy to forget time.

The Hofburg

We decided to start with the Hofburg, which was originally a medieval castle, but today only the castle chapel remains of its medieval past. The Hofburg was extended to a magnificent residence when the Habsburg's power increased.
That is the reason why one can uncover almost any architectural style, from gothic to art nouveau. Nowadays this enormous complex is the home of the "Österreichische Nationalbibliothek" (National Library), the "Schatzkammer" (Imperial Treasury), the Collection of Musical Instruments, the Collection of Weapons, the "Museum für Völkerkunde" (Museum of Ethnography) and the famous "Spanische Hofreitschule" (Spanish Riding School) home of the world famous Lipizzaner horses.
The Spanish Riding School

The Spanish Riding School is the oldest and last riding school in the world where classic dressage is still practiced in its purest form. This Institute was founded in 1572 and its name was derived from the fact that the horses were of Spanish origin.
The Lipizzaner is regarded as the oldest classic horse race in Europe and the riders of the Spanish Riding School train their horses and perform in the Winter Riding School in the Vienna Hofburg (Imperial Palace) in a splendid Baroque structure hall built by Josef Emanuel Fischer von Erlach between 1729 and 1735.

The presentations of classical dressage have been open to the public since 1920.
The Vienna Opera House

Linking history with today's world class entertainment we walked back to the Ringstrasse where the old Vienna Opera House (Oper) is playing the classics of opera pieces in contemporary style.
August von Sicardsburg and Eduard van der Nüll built the Court Opera House from 1861 to 1869.

The Vienna Opera House has a world-wide reputation for its first-class opera performances and is also known for the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. A night at the State Opera is one of the most impressive events any visitor to Vienna can experience.
We recommend taking a guided tour through the building before the evening shows start. The classic interior of the Opera is remarkable and kept in very good shape and this is a place to impress your partner and friends!
Riesenrad - Ferris Wheel

Another one of Vienna's treasures, the giant Ferris wheel is a leftover from more genteel times, much like the city itself. This wheel was one of a handful built around the world. Three were built in Europe, one in England, a second in France, and the third in Vienna. The English and French wheels have since been dismantled. Another one was erected at Navy Pier in Chicago.
At 200 feet, these wheels are much larger than the ones in most of today's amusement parks. Each capsule can hold dozens of people as the wheel turns at just 2.5 feet per second. The goal here is to elegantly thrill audiences with the view, not scare them to death. To that end, some of the capsules are formally decorated and can be rented for weddings, dinners, and other occasions.

This is appropriate because the Prater, the park where the Ferris wheel is located, was once the exclusive domain of the emperor. The island in the Danube was his personal hunting ground until 1766 when Joseph II opened it to the public. Some of the children's rides have been in service since the 1920's. But the Ferris wheel, built in 1896, is the oldest of all.
The amusement park is more popular at night than during the day when the lights and sounds from the rides and games seem more vivid. The Ferris wheel was featured in Graham Greene's 1949 classic film "The Third Man." It was again used in the 1987 James Bond flick "The Living Daylights." Though this mode of transportation may seem quaint to the untrained, it is considered a "proper" means of recreation, and may even be making a comeback.
Champagne - Made in Austria

After this first glimpse into the rich history of the capital of Austria we were keen to explore another diamond of Viennese lifestyle - The Schlumberger Winery. While we had our first opportunity to taste the Cuveé Klimt in the City Tavern in Philadelphia we were keen to follow the Schlumberger history with its unique roots to Reims in France the heart of the Champagne.
Schlumberger Extra Brut
1996 Vintagehas receives
5 Stars & 5 Stripes
September - 2003
5 Stars & 5 Stripes
The Ultimate Award:
Seven Stars and Stripes®
Near to the city center on Heiligenstädter Straße 43 not far from the beautiful blue Danube River, we had been invited by winery manager Peter Höller to discover the cellars and sample the fine products of the Schlumberger Sektkellerei. We were told that the founder Robert Schlumberger, an Aristocrat from Goldeck, began his career in Reims (France) at the oldest Champagne Cellar Ruinart Père et Fils. After returning to Vienna and grounding Schlumberger in 1842, he started to produce sparkling wine according to the traditional ‘Méthode Champenoise’, the knowledge of which he had acquired while in France. "A row of experiments using Austrian wine brought us to realize that it would be possible to produce sparkling wine in such a manner that it could truly compete with Champagne.” (Robert Schlumberger)
The special selection of Austrian wines and the use of the “Méthode Traditionnelle” guarantees a high level of agreeability. At Schlumberger, close attention is paid to ensuring the highest quality. Beginning already with the careful selection of the grapes, the comprehensive quality management system has led Schlumberger to be the first certified Sparkling winery (ISO 9002) in the German-speaking world. Since 1994, Schlumberger has been able to boast this accomplishment.

During our well-presented tour through the Wine Cellar, which allows you to walk for several miles under the city of Vienna; we were deeply impressed by the effort behind the production of the top of Austrian Sparkling Wines.

The making of the Cuvée, or blending (French-Assemblage), of the various wines and vintages requires much experience from the vintners and the oenologists.
The goal is, of course, to ensure Schlumberger a high standard of quality and achieve the unique individual taste that the consumer recognizes by blending exactly the right amounts of the wine varieties. By fortifying the Cuvée with liqueur de ‘tirage’ and selected yeasts, for which Schlumberger has a patent to use, the wine goes through a second fermentation. The selected yeast causes important side effects during the aging process and positively influences the aroma.

The Cuvées are now filled into the bottles and the second fermentation begins, in which the yeast and sugar eventually change to alcohol and carbon dioxide.
The bottles are then stored in the kilometer-long vaults at a constant temperature of 11° Celsius for at least 18 months. The Cuvée matures and the Schlumberger achieves the unmistakeable bouquet and mousseux.
Once the shaking is completed, the yeast settles on the cork. The sparkling wine is now crystal clear and pure. From now on, the bottles will be stored upside-down.
The sparkling wine is now on its way to being completed.
The bottles are racked, meaning that they are taken from the riddling area and stored closely together upside-down.
They will remain this way until it is time for the next step.
There is punt on the bottom of the bottle, which is an indentation that helps keep the cork in the bottle.
The next step, after the fermentation in the bottle, shaking, and racking, is the step of disgorging.
This is a process only used in the “Méthode Traditionnelle”.
The neck of the bottle is placed upside-down into an ice bath for several minutes until the yeast sediment (lees) clumps. Utilizing the pressure of the sparkling wine, the lees is spun out of the bottle.
The clear wine begins to foam, as perhaps expected, but not out of the bottle, since the carbon-dioxide is molecularly bound due to the low temperature. The sparkling wine is freed of the lees particles and it now crystal clear.
Within the 24 days of bottle fermentation the "Kellermeister" manually has to turn 30.000 - 40.000 bottles each day.

Each bottle has a little white mark on its bottom, which indicates the progress of the turning process inch by inch.
After the disgorging process, dosage liqueur is added to the sparkling wine. This determines the sweetness (e.g. dry, semi-dry) of the Schlumberger. The dosage consists of wine and sugar. The level of sugar determines the taste. Dry sparkling (Extra Brut) contains no dosage. The exact composition of the dosage is a well-kept secret of Schlumberger.
The Schlumberger Wine Selection:

Schlumberger Sparkling Brut
Grape variety: Welschriesling

Schlumberger Extra Brut 1996 Vintage
Grape variety: Welschriesling

Schlumberger Sparkling Brut 1998 Vintage
Grape variety: Welschriesling

Schlumberger Chardonnay 1998 Vintage
Grape Variety: Chardonnay

Schlumberger Blanc de Noirs
Grape Variety: Blauer Burgunder (Pinot Noir)

Schlumberger Cuvée Klimt
Grape variety: Welschriesling

Schlumberger Rosé 1998 Vintage
Grape variety: Blauer Burgunder
We are convinced that a process this unique, which produces a wine of such a high caliber, will announce its presence to the world in a fashion consistent with the greatest champagnes now on the market. Schlumberger is reaching for the stars, one bottle at a time!
Helmut Oesterreicher
Helmut Oesterreicher
The Steirereck
Vienna - Austria
6 Stars & 6 Stripes
September - 2003
6 Stars & 6 Stripes
Overall - 'Cuisine & Service'
The Ultimate Award:
Seven Stars and Stripes®
The American Dream Magazine Team is proud to present the Steirereck Restaurant with 6 Stars and Stripes for outstanding world-class, innovative cuisine and superb, ultra-professional and conscientious service. Hats off to Family Reitbauer and Executive Chef Helmut Österreicher and his capable staff:

The Steirereck: Steirereck Bienvenue at Austria´s leading cuisine:

As the well-dressed head valet from the Grand Hotel Wien hailed a cab for us, I was still busy fumbling through my Knopf City Guide for Vienna to see if I could determine the exact location of the Steirereck Restaurant, represented by Relais & Chateaux as one of the finest restaurants in Europe. Rolf and I decided that apart from being a compulsive map freak, our efforts would be for nothing since every cabby in Vienna must know precisely where this superb, elegant eatery is located.
‘Ja freilich’ was the cabby’s response when given the name of the restaurant and this just confirmed our private theory. The restaurant is located on the Rasumofskygasse, 3rd district just a few minutes from the inner ring center of Vienna.
Rolf Staehler - Steirereck The atmosphere began as we stepped out of the cab and headed toward the door past rows of mature chestnut trees being stirred by an east wind probably originating somewhere out there on the vast Hungarian plain not far from here.
History has made Vienna a veritable melting pot of cultures and traditions, as we were about to experience as we entered the establishment through dimly lit portals.
A quick glance to our left through an elegant atrium grudgingly revealed the most serene vision of well dressed Viennese locals happily dining and conversing with one another, a favorite pastime of residents.
Our reservation was quickly noted and we were seamlessly escorted to our table past the same happy campers we saw from the outside, oblivious to our entrance and quite content to enjoy each others’ clandestine conversations, as if a scene were lifted out of the movie ‘The Third Man’, the classic spy thriller about Vienna after WW II. Frau Reitbauer & Chef de Cuisine & John Lomitola
Frau Reitbauer and John Lomitola
accompanied by the Chef de Cuisine
Upon being seated, we were greeted promptly and introduced to the owner Frau Reitbauer who graciously welcomed us and began laying the groundwork of what was to become a memorable evening. As she made her way around to all the other guests,
Rolf and I started to realize that every interaction by all members of the staff contribute to the total experience of every guest's satisfaction.
As we were perusing the extensive menu, which emphasized the diverse cultural influences of Vienna's imperial past, we were greeted by two lovely, impeccably dressed servers with impish smiles pushing a garadon piled high with every kind freshly baked bread one could imagine.
Our appetite began to develop with every mention of the next special bread to be combined with fresh cream butter or pumpkin seed oil, a regional specialty for the season. Rolf and I were still pondering the bread choices, seemingly overwhelmed by the anticipation of so many flavors about to assault our senses, when the sommelier arrived with the first of the all-Austria wine selection to be served with each of our courses.
My course of consume with semolina dumpling topped with caviar, was accompanied by 2002 Zieregg Müller, (Cabernet Sauvignon blanc, Muskateller & Riesling) while Rolf's goose liver pate coated fresh fig, was paired with a 2002 Welschriesling Spätlese lieblich, Feiler - Artinger (Rust, Burgenland).
Next came the delicate flavors and aromas of fried yellow boletus (chanterelle mushrooms) sliced very thin and arranged in a spiral, together with 2001 Weissburgunder Jägerberg, Sabathi (Südsteiermark).

Not to forget the rock lobster tail served over steamed chicory, served with 2000 Weissburgunder “Kranachberg”, (Sattlerhof, Gamlitz). We must say that at this point we were wondering how it was possible to improve upon this imaginative bucolic and earthy presentation, which again reminded us of what it must have been like dining with the aristocracy during the Imperial days.
A small interlude was in order now as an opportunity to savor the incredible tastes of what was being woven for us by such capable hands. One of the adorable little bread girl returned to our table offering further gifts of 'brot' when we noticed a small lapel pin that she was discretely wearing. Upon asking, she informed us that it was symbolic of her qualification as a sommelier, which of course made us applaud the incredible depth of knowledge reserve as a further indication of 'World-Class' service to go along with the cuisine in the Steirereck.
Our next courses began to arrive with anglerfish coated with fresh crisp breadcrumbs and served over a light tomato broth with octopus, joined by a 2000 Sauvignon Blanc smaragd, (F.X. Pichler, Wachau) from the banks of the Danube. Rolf received the saddle of venison with traditional red cabbage, together with a 2000 Domovina, Konrad Mariel, (Wulkaprodersdorf).
It is now time to reflect on just why it is that Executive Chef Helmut Österreicher was voted the best chef of the decade in all of Austria, by Gault Millau, the foremost gourmet guide in Europe. The rating bestowed upon the Steirereck of 19 chef’s hats out of a possible 20 classified it as one of the world’s best, and the dinning experience so far has held this to be true.

While our senses were running wild and our imagination unabated as to the next course, we paused to ask if we could possibly meet the man behind all these incredible visual and gustatory creations for the palate.
John Lomitola and Helmut Oesterreicher
John Lomitola and Helmut Oesterreicher
Instead of entering the kitchen as expected, Rolf and I were led to a narrow stairway leading down to what seemed like a dungeon. The lower we went, the cooler it got until we arrived at the bottom where we were met by the sight of Executive Chef Helmut Österreicher sitting at a table in the middle of the room with a bottle of Canard-Duchene Brut champagne on ice surrounded by several glasses.

Here we were, face to face with the country’s best chef deep in the bowels of the Steirereck’s world-class wine cellar.
Chef Österreicher’s philosophy is simple and straightforward, to give every guest the very best by sight, smell and taste while using the freshest of ingredients in an uncomplicated way.
Little did we know that upon our arrival back to our table, we were about to be surprised by one of the most creative innovations which we have yet to see used in a restaurant. One of our cute little impish bread girls was now standing in front of a gara don loaded to the top with fresh live herbs of every color and scent.

As we were being instructed as to the difference between the herbs we began to make choices that would result in the finest, freshest pot of tea we have ever experienced.
Immediately following the herb cart came an assortment of Austrian cheeses that would have been a feast on its own without the rest of the dinner if we had had the choice in the beginning.
Cheeses from Austria are some of the finest and are virtually unknown outside of the country. Milk used in the processing of these cheeses still arrives fresh and unpasturized to the small boutique style cheesemakers doors, and is minimally processed before being released for sale.

The fact is that these cheese selections were by far the most flavorful and fresh tasting we have ever experienced, and we were encouraged to drizzle some Styrian pumpkin seed oil on the plate to use as a compliment to the cheeses.
American Dream Tip: Take a few bottles of this fine product home with you to give as gifts!
What could possibly top this already delectable and innovative assault on the senses? We were well prepared for the final event as we sipped our Viennese coffee specialties, a 'Grosse Brauner' and a 'Mélange'. As we were presented with a chocolate-soufflé with chestnuts and rowanberries together with a glass of 2000 Port vintage, (Burmester), it became apparent that we had just finished perhaps one of the greatest culinary experiences to which we had ever been exposed.
An excursion to the Wachau

It seemed highly unlikely that we could just sit still and take in all the fabulous culture and luxury of our unique surroundings in Vienna without at least one excursion somewhere outside the city limits. To start with Rolf and I challenged the concierge at the Grand Hotel Wien to map out a special tour for us so that we could see what there is out there 'am land' and at the same time put the VW Phaeton through the paces and have some fun. Without hesitation the concierge mapped out a self-driving tour for us, pointed west and said "Wachau"!

It seems that the 'Wachau' has been cited by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site which means that it is an area in which material evidence of its long historical evolution has survived to a remarkable degree. We weren't even half way out of the lobby when Rolf told the bell captain to 'crank-up the car' and get going! We hadn't even so much as packed a lunch and in minutes we were cruising west along the beautiful Danube towards as yet an unknown ultimate destination.
The road west out of the city passes through a narrow gorge near the picturesque areas of Grinzing, Kahlenberg and Leopoldsberg where it is said that in 1529 the defenders of Vienna were able to hold off the siege of the Turks under Suleiman the Magnificent. In the Turkish camps after the battle, they found bags filled with coffee beans - their first appearance in Europe -, which were used by the Turks as a stimulant, alcohol being forbidden.

The stuff caught on, and coffee was soon a European sensation. By now my mind was spinning with the strongest desire to stop at the first place to have a Café Mélange, but I put my head back down in my Michelin road map and played the part of Tonto leading the Lone Ranger Rolf out of an ambush.
Once safely past the invading armies, the landscape changed to a low flat floodplain and on the map we noticed we must pass the town of Zeiselmauer. It intrigued us to think that around 900 years ago, the Roman's set up a military camp and settlement here of which there has been found the remains of wall fortifications. Could it be that the Romans also saw this location as a good forward base to alert and defend the main camp of Vindobona, now Vienna, just to the east?

We looked out of the smooth sailing Phaeton to see if the ruins are visible and notice acres and acres of vineyards. The wall must be buried somewhere in the midst of all those grapes and then it occurs to Rolf that the vineyards began while we were still in the Vienna city limits and have continued in profusion. Scholars have it that grape growing in this area began with the Celts a few centuries BC.

I guess the Romans needed a little diversion to handle the loneliness of their outpost, and we read that Vienna today is the only city with over a million inhabitants that has considerable wine production (approx. 700 acre).

We crossed the peaceful meandering Danube at Krems and entered the ethereal region of the 'Wachau', which is now part of Austria and full of history and folklore. Crusaders and pilgrims of the High Middle Ages as well as merchants and travelers have used the second largest river of Europe, the Danube, extensively and we could now see modern pilgrims using the waterway for sightseeing on one of the many riverboats competing for business.

This is a place where some of the best attractions are free, or nearly so. A stroll along the paved pathway through the vineyards of the Wachau Valley costs nothing and you can use the money you save to splurge on a slice of Sachertorte in Vienna.
Our modern day chariot glided around each bend of this fabulously beautiful enclave and suddenly we see the village of Dürnstein up ahead perched on the side of mountain, the sheer cliffs of which cascade straight down to the Danube.

As we entered the town I see no reason to go any further and seize the moment to convince Rolf to pull off the road to explore. Hundreds of people have been smitten with the same notion and the village is an ocean of peaceful strollers in dappled sunlight. Heads turn curiously as we parked the Phaeton and prepared to enter the fray. Our goal seemed to be to find the best location from which to photograph the rhythmic cruising taking place on the river.
Dürnstein is a village where history comes alive in the small lanes of the old-town, the monastery and the castle ruin above the town. The capture of King Richard I (Lionhearted) in 1192 attracted attention throughout Europe. It is said that when King Richard returned from the crusades, the Austrian duke Leopold V decided that because of an insult Richard should spend several months imprisoned in Kuenringer castle until a hefty ransom was paid.

A much smaller ransom was needed to purchase souvenirs in the quaint shops that lined the narrow cobblestone streets. I couldn't help but remind Rolf that souvenirs aside, we still needed to find a place to have our favorite Café Mélange so we wandered under a beautiful archway into Schloss Dürnstein, a picture perfect castle built in 1630.

It was like stepping into the 'Twilight Zone' and Rolf realized that a simple costume change was all that was needed to put the icing on the cake. We could imagine a contemporary Brothers Grimm being inspired enough to use this Schloss as a backdrop while directing a 'Lord of the Rings'-type sequel.
Frau Thiery the hospitable proprietor now asked if we would like a tour of the hotel, and our interest peaked as we walked through the lobby and up the grand staircase to the upper levels.
The rooms are palatial in size and décor and appropriate enough for the Emperor Franz Joseph himself although we don't think he could have handled some of the modern technical amenities without a lot of coaching.

The overall architecture of the Schloss is in the Renaissance style, precious antiques decorate most of the rooms, and it accurately radiates an atmosphere of refined elegance in its purest form.
We were about to bid farewell to our charming host, when her distinguished face lit up and she suddenly made a phone call chatting enthusiastically while motioning us to sit back down on the patio.
In a matter of minutes two gentlemen arrived and we discovered that she had arranged for us to be escorted by her son and the winemaker Anton Robert Bodenstein for a private tour of the nearby Prager Vineyards.

What a pleasure it was to have met such a wonderfully accommodating person such as Frau Rosemarie Thiery.
The Wines of the Prager Vineyard

Inspired by the rich nature of the Wachau and the fortunate spontaneity of our gracious host at Schloss Durnstein, we decided take a break on our inspiring journey through the Wachau with a privileged visit to one of the leading wine producers in Austria, the Prager Vineyard and Winery.
The Prager Winery
5 Stars & 5 Stripes
September - 2003
5 Stars & 5 Stripes
The Ultimate Award:
Seven Stars and Stripes®
Anton 'Toni' Bodenstein, the congenial winemaker welcomed us to the premises of the vineyard and the old country house above the river Danube. The estate is a warren of terraced beauty from which the verietal makeup is heavily Riesling at 65%, Grüner Veltliner with 25% and 10% Chardonnay. It appears as though the Prager Estate is the fortification that safeguards the lovely village of Weissenkirchen, which is nestled therein.
While being recognized as a leader in Wachau viniculture, one of 'The Rising Stars of the Century' according to the World Gourmet Summit 2001, Bodenstein's goal is to create quality wines of extraordinary harmony and agreeability. Before tasting the jewels of his efforts, he took us directly to where it all begins, into vineyards where we spent the next hour or so traipsing up and down the most charming and ancient cultural historical landscape in Austria.

Bodenstein informed us that while the rest of Austria continues to use the general Germanic wine terms: Kabinet, Spätlese etc., the Wachau has evolved its own nomenclature to designate the hierarchy of its wines. There are three categories: Steinfeder, Federspiel and Smaragd.
Steinfeder is the simplest. The name comes from a grass that grows in the rocks among the vines and these are light wines, for drinking soon after bottling. Next is Federspiel, named after a device used in falconry to lure the hawk back to the glove and these wines need a year or two in bottle before consumption. Finally we have Smaragd, which means both emerald, and an emerald-colored lizard natural to the Wachau of which these wines need time and will keep well.
Rolf and I became even more determined now to learn the secrets of finding the right time to harvest the grapes. We were astonished by Mr. Bodenstein's knowledge of the terrain, its chemical makeup and the influence it has on the quality of the wines.

His nick name in the region "The Terroirist" and there is no doubt about his deep knowledge of the local geology while his skills in introducing us into this complex matter were impressing, too.
Before we knew it we were fast at the heals of Bodenstein as he sped through the acres of vines while he did his work measuring the "Oechsle" level of the grapes. This is the German method of measuring the specific gravity (therefore sugar content), of the must or grape juice prior to harvest and fermentation. It is similar to the brix system used in the United States.

Our education process now intensified as we were invited to visit the cellars of the Prager Winery. Mr. Bodenstein allowed us to taste the different stages of winemaking from the sweet grape juice to the bottled Rieslings and Veltliners. Often referred to as the "jewel of the Wachau", Prager Winery is one of the most recognized producers in the region and has become renowned for noble Rieslings that reflect finesse, delicacy and excellent distinction.
It is the aim of this winemaker and others in the region, to ensure that all grapes used in their production come from recognized vineyards in the Wachau and each wine receive approval from the local Vinea Wachau Nobilis Districtus a sort of quality control board for Austrian winemakers.

Modern equipment with long family tradition enables The Prager Winery to produce the best wine that the weather and ground conditions allow year after year. While collaborating with the near by university, Bodenstein exchanges his experience with the crème de la crème of wine producers and rating specialists. He has nothing to hide and so much to offer as we have happily found out.
Just take your time when being in the Wachau and consider visiting this outstanding winery to relax with a glass of one of the finest Rieslings we have experienced so far.

  • FEDERSPIEL 2002 Ried Steinriegl
  • SMARAGD 2002 Ried Hollerin
  • SMARAGD 2002 Ried Steinriegl
  • SMARAGD 2002 Ried Kaiserberg
  • SMARAGD 2002 Ried Achleiten
  • SMARAGD 2002 Ried Klaus
  • SMARAGD 2002 Wachstum Bodenstein
  • FEDERSPIEL 2002 Ried Hinter der Burg
  • SMARAGD 2002 Ried Weitenberg
  • SMARAGD 2002 Ried Achleiten
  • SMARAGD 2002 Ried Zwerithaler
  • SMARAGD 2002 Ried Achleiten

  • Gr. Veltliner Beerenauslese 1998 0,5l
The Steierstöck
Vienna - Austria
5 Stars & 5 Stripes
September - 2003
5 Stars & 5 Stripes
Overall - 'Cuisine & Service'
The Ultimate Award:
Seven Stars and Stripes®
"Eine gemütliche Gaststätte" (a charming eatery) the concierge at the Grand Hotel Wien said when I asked if he had ever heard of the Wirtshaus Steirerstöckl. As I started up the V-10 TDI Volkswagen Phaeton and punched in the restaurant's address into the GPS, I again felt reassured when the doorman wished us a "Guten Appetit" and reminded me to save room for dessert. What struck me as strange was that in a matter of a few minutes two people in this world class hotel had spoken so highly of this 'Wirtshaus', which is located within 15 minutes of the city center and offers "A little bit of country in the city" as a recently published NY Times article had stated.
As I drove up one of the many streets that radiate out from the center of Vienna, I began to see the character of the area changing from Imperial cityscape to gently rolling hills marking the start of the famous Vienna woods in which I will soon reach my destination.

Steirerstöckl is well known for its authentic regional cuisine coming from the Austrian province of Styermark and by the looks of the multitude of cars parked all over, the Viennese population has discovered its bountiful pleasures as well. The construction of the restaurant is rustic in keeping with the traditional cute cottage-like wayside structures that dot the countryside of provincial Styermark just waiting to offer up great cuisine in a warm chalet atmosphere.
Upon entering the front doors decorated with the fruits of autumn's bountiful harvest I was greeted warmly by a friendly smiling waiter as if I was invited to his home for a family dinner. I was shown to a table and even though the place was a buzz with animated patrons conversing in their sing-song Viennese dialect, our host still managed to exchange reassuring small talk to make me, a single diner, feel completely at home.

The Goach family, owners and operators of this restaurant and its companion Wirtshaus Jagawirt in Reinischkogel, Weststeiermark pride themselves on being able to offer exceptional regional cuisine, using local produce and meats in this especially well run and homey atmosphere.
I decided that I would first read the menu carefully to get a feel for what traditional 'Steirerisches' cuisine has to offer and then ask the chef to use his imagination to put together his own version of a fabulous dinner from start to finish complete with wine parings for each course. I was delighted to be offered a glass of 'Schilchersturm' as an aperitif as I had heard that it is most sought after by wine enthusiasts all over Austria at this time of year.
An adorable rose petal pink liquid arrived with a very fruity nose and a hint of raspberries; this is the fruit juice from red grapes gone over just slightly to almost wine. Next, I was introduced to Executive Chef Dieter Skrobanek who earnestly took the time to explain what was in store for us from a culinary standpoint.
I could now see how all the creative pieces began to fall into place as the first course arrived introduced by the delicate earthy aroma of fresh wild chanterelle mushrooms. This first course was served over the pungent flavor of arugula and topped with the perfect foil of sharp grana cheese and balsamic vinaigrette dressing.

The conscientious waiter seamlessly placed a glass of 'Gelber Muskateller '02', Riegelnegg Vineyards Südsteiermark next to my special starter.
707 - CURRY
I noticed a deep golden hue wafting big fruit and a dry finish with suggestions of apple blossom and rosebuds. So far so good I thought as I made a mental note to applaud the creative efforts of Chef Dieter and his capable crew, when the next course arrived. This time a consommé of black truffles baked in a crock covered by a puff pastry shell paired with a 'Sauvignon blanc '02', Sabathi Vineyards of Südsteiermark. Both were delightfully light and refreshing, a definite prelude of things to come.
Just when it occurred to me that I had finished two courses of which both contained wild mushrooms of various preparations, along came the third course of homemade spinach noodles, truffle filled potato croquets and you guessed it, more mushrooms!!

This time porcinis were added to the puree and topped with toasted almond slivers to provide depth and structure and quite honestly it tasted heavenly when paired with a 'Welschriesling '02', from the Scheucher Vineyards of Südsteiermark, a typically medium dry fruity rendition of the famous grape varietal.
Now, after a pleasant pause to enjoy the lively atmosphere of staccato laughter and the warmth of the glowing fireplace, it was time for the fourth course to be presented: Homemade sheep cheese raviolis in a light curry sauce drizzled with aromatic pumpkin oil, roasted wild onions and garden fresh tatsoy.
I had to keep reminding myself that there was more to come so I came to appreciate the delicate portions and lightness of the sauces while I prepared to take on the main course. The waiter placed a glass of CMB '02 (cabernet sauvignon, merlot, blaufrankirch) in front of me, by Rosi Schuster Vineyards of Burgenland, another of the great-undiscovered wine growing regions of Austria. While savoring the first sip I reflected on the deep purple plum color and the exciting morello cherry nose, it reminded me of an ample merlot with the youthfulness of a pinot noir and the slight tannin finish of a California cabernet.
The anticipation heightened as I relished the aftertaste of the CMB '02, when suddenly Chef Dieter himself arrived bursting with pleasure as he placed his unique creation on the table for visual dissection. Pan seared mountain stream trout filet caught in the glacially fed rivulets in the hinterlands of Steiermark, placed on top of fresh made pumpkin noodles with chopped fresh cooked pumpkin cubes and roasted pumpkin seeds.

The obvious health benefits of pumpkin aside, I truly enjoyed and savored every morsel and decided that I would have to bring a bottle of the locally produced pumpkin oil home to New York to be sparingly doled out on special occasions amongst friends and family.
I was now ready to call it a day but not so fast as I was quick to remember the prophecy of the doorman at the Grand Hotel Wien, 'Save room for desert', and at this time it had to come true. After a thorough clearing of the dinnerware and the crumbing of the table, I caught a sheepish glance from the waiter to sort of get a feel if I was in the mood to continue, and of course the answer was YES!

So far I felt the presence of steady imagination at work in the kitchen, carefully constructing each course while first building a foundation in the early stages, then adding height and depth through the use of locally grown produce and excellent selections of wines, and culminating with the gentle tease of sweetness to cap off the entire special event.
I wasn't disappointed when the pastry chef announced the arrival of a poppy seed soufflé decorated with fresh picked raspberries and blackberries, tenderly caressed by a sabayon made with the very fresh raspberry scented 'Schilchersturm' that was presented to us as an aperitif at the start.

To compliment this seductive statement was the dessert wine Ruster Ausbruch '98 from Feiler-Artinger Vineyards Burgenland, which is produced using the Welschriesling and Weissburgunder varietals.
I don't really know how to thank Peter Goach and his family for this crash course in regional Steiermark cuisine, but we must say that those who will venture forth to the foothills of the Vienna woods will always covet within themselves the glowing ember of this exciting and fulfilling discovery. Although quite past my usual bedtime, I posed for some friendly photos and made each other a promise to meet again someday at Steirerstöckl to celebrate our common love for outstanding comfort food. Happy Trails! and 'Mahlzeit'!
After a great Vienna review Rolf and I decided to have a late night glass of Austrian tradition, a delicious Rabenbraeu beer in the picturesque old bar named 'Schwarzer Rabe' located at the Ottakringerstrasse 180 in the heart of the old town. Ask the young owners of this Microbrewery when their next fresh brew will be ready. Cheers!
Take your time here especially when the weather doesn't cooperate with your expectations. Try out the nice variety of microbrews and discuss with the locals the elements that lift Rabenbraeu to the level of beers that we are used to from German and Belgium local family brewers.
Rolf Stähler & John Lomitola

Editor-in-Chief: Ingrid Lemme
© 2003 ~ Seven Stars and Stripes, Inc.

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Although the above information was accurate at the time of publication, it can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all pertinent information with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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