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Tim Foolery

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The Bristol Lounge

We made the mistake on our first visit to Vienna of not eating dinner before the opera – thinking we could grab a meal nearby afterwards.  We were sorely mistaken – we ended up at an awful tourist trap with mediocre food and a surly staff.  This year, we decided to eat before the opera and then grab a simple dessert afterwards.

We had eaten an enormous and long dinner the night before at Steirereck and weren’t interested in another 700€+ dinner, but I really wanted something traditional and Austrian.  We hadn’t planned on dining in our hotel, but after a rain soaked afternoon of exploring the city, we found ourselves back in our hotel grabbing a drink at the bar.  While relaxing we were researching restaurants and the Bristol Lounge (the very place we were sitting) had many good reviews about their creation and presentation of Austrian Cuisine.  Plus it was right across the street from the Opera House.  But could we get reservations?

At first the restaurant was sold out, but as we left, we walked to the concierge at the hotel and asked if he could get us a couple of seats and we reminded them that we were going to the opera (I’d been working with the concierge staff trying to get tickets for weeks) and that we’d be out and they could reseat the table by 19h00.  The concierge hooked us up.

We ran upstairs and changed into our tuxes then popped right back down for our dinner.  We arrived a little before 18h00 and were escorted to our table in the Winter Garden, which is just a glass enclosed area of the restaurant that is fully heated and covered, so it didn’t feel like you were outside at all.  The stylish Art Deco design made for a comfortable place to dine.

The menu was full of great traditional Austrian courses, but also with more classical fine dining options as well.  As we were in black tie, the waiter immediately confirmed that we were going to the opera and he guaranteed that he’d pace everything to get us out on time – but we had to put our order in within 15 minutes or he couldn’t guarantee our timely departure.  Fair enough.

We had already scoped out the menu and decided on our selections before the menus were even delivered.  We also ordered a bottle of Austrian Pinot Noir, which was light and delicious – it even had a little of that dirt/soil flavor that I love so much from Oregon Pinots.

The bread course came out with the wine.  The breadboard was great – with a small cutout for the butter, which was topped with pink salt flakes – we devoured the bread, which was served very warm.  God I hate when you get a cold piece of bread and cold butter – you just end up tearing it to shreds.  Everyone should serve bread like they did at the Bristol.

The bread course was served piping hot with rich olive oil and creamy butter topped with pink salt.

Dinner started with an amuse bouche chilled beets, which was surprisingly tasty.  So often, I find the complimentary amuse to be…well, not amusing, just forced and wasteful — or at worst, designed poorly and can start to wreck your palette.  This was neither – I did want another bite though.

The beet amuse bouche was quite chilled and refreshing

The beet amuse bouche from elevation.

I continued on with the Champagne Risotto, which had great flavors with mushrooms and cherry tomatoes, but was piping hot.  When I make risotto at home, I always make mine nice and creamy, which is easy to do with Arbolio Rice.  This risotto was pretty dry – it wasn’t quite a pilaf, but it felt closer to the pilaf side of the spectrum than the risotto side.  After it cooled quite a bit, I dug it.

The Champagne Risotto with mushrooms and tomatoes tasted great – it wasn’t a creamy risotto which disappointed me.

Finally, the entrees arrived – my Weinerschnitzel almost covered the whole plate and was served with half a dozen small potatoes with parsley.  I really hate when you get a schnitzel larger than your plate and find that the meat somehow shrunk and mostly what you have is breading.  This wasn’t like that at all – every bite had a lovely thin slice of veal and with the lemon juice sprinkled on top, made for a perfect dinner.

The Weinerschnitzel was the best I’ve had and the parsley potatoes were perfect.

We wanted dessert, but didn’t have time.  Unfortunately we still had about a third of our bottle of wine left too.  Our server suggested he reserve a table for us after the show so we could have dessert and finish our wine.  Stellar idea!

After seeing Carmen, we walked back across the street, in the snow and wind, to the Bristol Hotel to find the Lounge completely packed.  The opera let out and people flooded into the lounge for a cocktail.  We found our server who greeted us with a big smile and a hearty handshake.  Leading us to a corner table that would seat six (but just for us two), we found two wine glasses and the dessert menus waiting for us.  We had just walked past three couples waiting in line too.  It was a wonderful way to close out the day – a delightful chocolate cake and finishing off our Austrian wine.

The service and the food were really top notch.  Unless I have a compelling reason to eat in our hotel’s restaurant, I’ll usually skip it and explore more of the city – in this case, I recommend you stop by the Bristol Lounge for a wonderful dinner and if you are heading to the opera afterwards, even better.  Just be sure to let the server know you want to come back for dessert and they’ll take care of you.

What are your thoughts on dining in your hotel’s restaurant?

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