Thursday, July 26, 2007

Blaue Gans

The third and latest wave of Chef Kurt Gutenbrunner’s Austrian invasion of the New York culinary scene, Blaue Gans (Blue Goose) opened in late December 2005 in the Tribeca space formerly occupied by Le Zinc. As he did previously at Wallsé and Café Sabarsky, KG has created an authentic dining experience and deftly presented it with an appropriate balance between formality and ease. The room has a warm, inviting feel, funkified by the walls plastered with gallery, music and theater posters, holdovers from the previous owners. Kurt apparently liked the look and couldn’t bear to part with the cultural history. The restaurant is a single large room, longer than it is wide, the entrance centered in the front wall under a slightly arched ceiling. To the right inside the door, a small zinc bar provides a perch for imbibers, regulars or for those seeking the most casual approach to their meal. Banquettes along both long walls look out over the simple dining room of small café tables and wooden rung chairs. Large mirrors on the wall reflect the riot of artwork, lend brasserie-like writing space for menu additions and provide some extra viewing opportunities for patrons with a face to the wall. The overall feel is less formal and serene than at Wallsé, not as dainty as the traditional Viennese Kaffeehaus aura at Sabarsky. If I lived in the neighborhood, I’d be tempted to eat there weekly.

With proper discipline, one could actually afford to do just that. The menu, though ambitious in some corners, includes a basic array of wursts, salads and simple appetizers. Finished off with a simple glass of beer – Gösser or Bitburger perhaps – one could leave with a full belly and only $25 poorer for the experience. As this was my first visit, I couldn’t bring myself to eat so simply, though. After all, I’m far more likely to cook up some simple wursts and kraut at home than I am to make duck spätzle, kavalierspitz or any of the other more involved dishes on the menu. That said, even with the occasional nod toward the creative, I think it’s safe to sum up the Blaue Gans table as authentic Austro-German comfort food elevated by a well-carried air of sophistication. Let me describe what I mean.

Smoked Trout Palatschinken Torte, Horseradish Crème Fraiche and Baby Beets

An appetizer option from the regular menu, this was essentially a substantial yet delicately textured smoked trout mousseline presented in a quiche-like form with Palatschinken – German crepes – serving as a torte shell. Accompanied by dill and freshly grated horseradish condiments, a trio of lightly pickled red beet wedges and a small salad of radishes and mâche, it made for an ideal summer starter. Its presentation was lovely enough to draw questions from diners at neighboring tables.

Local Green Asparagus, Soft Boiled Egg and Hazelnut Vinaigrette

A daily special, this course was the epitome of simplicity. White asparagus would have been more traditional but, as it’s not in season, locally grown green asparagus was a smarter option. The asparagus spears were blanched for two minutes and then served chilled, their subtly flavored hazelnut vinaigrette dressing enriched by the intermingling of yolk oozing from one perfectly soft boiled egg. A spray of frisée completed the composition.

Natural Raised Suckling Pig, Zweigelt Onions and Brioche Dumplings

The description of this special reminded me of a hybrid between two of the most memorable meals I enjoyed during a trip to Vienna last fall. I couldn’t pass it up. It also turned out to be the dish which most clearly encapsulated the restaurant’s dialog between comfort food and sophistication. Rustic presentation belied the subtle nuances given rise by the skilled hands in the kitchen. The Zweigelt onions were tender yet still toothsome, made just sweet enough by their slow braise. Also tender, the roasted pig’s ample layer of fat, neither over rendered nor over crisped, remained distinct from its flesh and was teeth-sticking good. Even the dumpling – symbol of central European home cooking – was well done, successfully balancing moisture and texture and elevated by a dash of thyme and the use of brioche.

Golden fried “Free Range” Chicken and Potato-Mâche Salad

My dining buddy again opted for simplicity, perhaps feeling the effects of a long day walking the city. A staple on the regular menu, it should be pointed out that this is Viennese fried chicken, a far cry from the crispy, juicy and greasy pleasures of southern fried chicken. If the chicken had been pounded flat or cutlets had been used rather than on-the-bone pieces, Chicken Wiener Schnitzel wouldn’t have been an inappropriate name. The golden crumb breading was the give away; lightly sweet and served with a wedge of lemon, the breading’s flavors clearly derived from the same mother recipe as for schnitzel batter. As moist and well cooked as the chicken was, it was the only disappointment of the evening, if only because it did not hold either the interest or purity of the other savory dishes nor the decadence of the dessert to come. Elevation was there nonetheless, this time in the form of an addictively good potato salad that I’d like to try to replicate at home.

ohr im hemd with Chocolate Sorbet

Here’s where my smidgen of German fails me. I’m sure there’s a more appropriate or clever colloquial meaning behind this dessert’s name, which literally translates to something like “ear in the shirt.” The shirt would seem to be the warm chocolate sauce which blanketed the airy chocolate cake hiding beneath. The interplay between temperature, texture and varying levels of richness was extended by the third part of the trio, a scoop of chocolate sorbet presented in the cradle of a Japanese soup spoon. Gelato may have been too rich in combination with the chocolate sauce; the icy lightness of sorbet allowed for flavor intensity without burying the palate. As at Wallsé, Chef Gutenbrunner has avoided one of the major pitfalls of smaller, chef driven restaurants. The desserts and pastries are not a let down; rather, they’re every bit up to the level of the main menu, making for a complete dining experience.

Wachau Riesling Federspiel “Steinriegl,” Prager 2005

The wine list at Blaue Gans is appropriately scaled to the ambition of the menu and the casual, neighborhood feel of the space. I understand that the list was originally, as at Wallsé, entirely Austrian. Smartly, the decision has since been made to diversify, the end result being a tidy collection of offerings from Austria and Germany with a smattering of choices from France, Italy and the US. However, there are two distinct shortcomings to the list. First, there is not a good value to be found. Prices are not astronomical in plain dollars and cents but the average 3x markup is out of scale to the moderate menu prices, particularly given the simple stemware and casual service level. Second, the list would benefit greatly through the addition of a selection of half-bottles.

As there were no splits in the house and I rarely opt to buy wines by the glass, we settled on a single bottle in the hopes that it would stretch through the meal and work with the wide array of choices we’d made. Weingut Prager’s Riesling Federspiel “Steinriegl” was a solid selection, well balanced by its medium acidity, minerality and clean orchard fruit driven flavors. It was surprisingly fleshy and structured for a Federspiel, perhaps an expression of the concentration provided by the 2005 growing season. The wine, as we’d expected, worked wonderfully with our first courses but was not quite up to the task of the hearty character of the suckling pig dish which would have been more ideally paired with a red such as Zweigelt or Blaufränkisch.

I’d better go back and try again, just to be sure.

Blaue Gans
139 Duane Street
New York, NY 10013
Blaue Gans in New York


Brooklynguy said...

I work several blocks away from this placem never tried it, read the review in Art of Eating, have been meaning to try it, this is the straw that breaks the camels back. I am going, and soon.

Bill said...

gee dave, i thought the chicken was pretty good.....

seriously, i really liked this place. the beers were very good and obviously in good condition.

the wine list would benefit from more variety and a little easier pricing, however.

David McDuff said...

You must. It's absolutely worth the stop. I'm already envisioning a KG tour day: breakfast or lunch at Blaue Gans, mid-afternoon pastries at Sabarsky and dinner at Wallsé.... An over-the-top triangulation, yes, but a good mission.

Agreed on all points.


Little_Jewford said...

brunch at Blaue Gans? what wine do you serve with Musli anyways?

Not sure I'd be much help on this mission with my culinary limits. We can always fly Stacy out.

David McDuff said...

With muesli, I might have to opt for a good dunkel bier. I think you'd better both fly out and give it a try.

See you there!

Lyle Fass said...

I love Blau Gans. Truly authentic Austrian food, killer winelist and a great vibe. Have not been there in while. Need to go back.

David McDuff said...

Hey Lyle,
I was just there a couple of weeks ago and am more than ready to go back. Sorry we missed you at Chambers Street that day. I stopped in for the Muscadet tasting and picked up a mixed case of some of them along with a few Burgundies and, at your recommendation on Rockss and Fruit, a bottle of the Allemand Cornas ('04). Looking forward to trying it.

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