Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Salzburg and a Sneaky Meal

Before coming out to Vienna, my handsome Bobby told me he had a surprise lunch reservation for me. Over the course of a few days he gave me the following hints: the restaurant is a 3 hour train ride away from Vienna; I need to bring a nice dress; it's Mexican food; it's located in an airport; it's associated with a company I once considered working for; and once there we might be able to get a drink 'that gives you wings.' Well, needless to say, I was worried. Mexican food in Europe is usually pretty awful, and it could only be worse if it was served at an airport! The clues just didn't add up and I had no idea what to expect. It turns out I should trust Bobby a bit more because we had a wonderful meal!
Bobby found out about Restaurant Ikarus through some work colleagues. Located in the private airplane hangar of the energy drink company Red Bull (the company in based in Salzburg, and the hanger, known as Hangar 7, also houses some of the Red Bull race cars, planes, and helicopters), Restaurant Ikarus has a Michelin star. The restaurant brings in a new guest chef each month, and the restaurant only serves the menu of that chef for the entire month. For February, the restaurant was host to Mexican chef Enrique Olvera, whose Mexico City restaurant Pujol is in the top 50 restaurants in the world. We sat down to a 11 course, 4 hour lunch, and I loved every minute of it! The first course was a mini coun with coffee powder and ants (yep, you read it right, ants. That's the second time we've been served ants on purpose at a restaurant; the first time was at Noma) served with a salty corn infusion. The second course, pictured here, was beef tartar with herbs and jalapeño, served with a glass of 2011 Grüner Veltliner 'Hochrain' by Veyder-Malberg (Wachau, Austria).
The third course was a souffléed tortilla with scallops and celery, served with a 2008 Chardonnay 'Jungenberg' by Markus Altenbuerger (Neusiedlersee, Austrai) - such a fantastic wine. The fourth course, pictured here, was a cebiche of loup de mer (a type of fish) taco with avocado and hoja santa (hoja santa is an aromatic herb found in South and Central America), served with a 2010 Riesling Smargd (Emerald) 'Weissenkirchner Achleithen' from Rudi Pichler (Wachau, Austria) - also a fantastic wine.
The fifth course was Mexican octopus with tomato and olive cream. The octopus was perfectly cooked, and the flavor combination with the creams was great. This course was served with a 2009 Malvazija 'Sv. Jakov' from Giorgio Clai (Istria, Croatia). That was the first wine I've had from Croatia and I must say I was pleasantly surprised. The following dish was a roasted turbot with zucchini, jalapeño and three herbal creams: radish leave cream, arugula cream, and leek cream. This was served with a 2010 Bourgogne Blanc from Domaine Roulot (Burgundy, France).
The seventh dish was a black bean tamale with sour cream. At first, the dish looked like it was covered in about 3 cups of sour cream, but it turns our the sour cream was whipped into a foam and was therefore quite light. It was delicious! This was served with a 2009 Sauvignonasse from Marjan Simcic (Goriska Brda, Slovenia). Again, this was a new wine region for me, and I wasn't disappointed. The eighth dish, pictured here, was a suckling pig in bean broth with sweet and sour vegetables, served with a 2008 Spätburgunder G.G. 'Untertürkheimer Gips' from Ger Aldinger (Württemberg, Germany), the only red wine of the meal. The pig was really, really good; the skin was nicely crisped while the meat underneath was tender and creamy. Paired with the earthy bean broth and tart pickled vegetables, it was a winner.
We finally came to the desserts. First we had the pictured ripe banana with macadamia nut and cocoa bean, which was served with a 2000 Arbois Vin Jaune from Domaine Rolet (Jura, France). The banana was wonderful, but the wine wasn't our favorite. Next we had an avacado cream with coco sorbet and passion fruit, which was served with a 2006 Rieling 'Undhof Auslese' from Salomon-Undhof (Kremstal, Austria). Both the dessert and wine were spectacular. We ended the meal with a chocolate mousse and petit fours: Bobby picked a bell pepper and raspberry fruit jelly (a surprisingly delightful combination), while I chose the orange-bergamot macaroon (what can I say, I'm a sucker for both bergamot and macaroons!). If you're ever in Salzburg and want to go to an excellent restaurant, I'd highly recommend Ikarus. The food was outstanding, we were introduced to a lot of new and very good wines, and the service was fantastic.
After our 4 hour lunch, we had a few hours to spare before taking the train back to Vienna. We headed into the Old Town. Many of the shops and attractions were closed (it was late Sunday afternoon), but it was nice to just walk and see the beautiful sights, and we didn't have to fight any crowds! When we return for a proper trip to Salzburg, we'll be sure to visit the Hohensalzburg Castle, which is one of the largest medieval castles in Europe.
Salzburg is the birthplace of Mozart, so we saw plenty of shops, streets, and cafés named after him. We even saw his childhood home, albeit from the outside. Again, something to visit the next time we're in Salzburg. I loved the narrow, winding streets of the Old Town. Walking through these romantic streets was the perfect end to our romantic day: a wonderful meal planned by my wonderful husband.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Long Weekend in Vienna

Bobby has been in Vienna since the middle of February. As usual, he's there for a research trip, but he was sweet enough to take a long weekend away from his work to spend time exploring the city with me. The trip, which was my first time to Austria, was amazing. Vienna combines my favorite things about life in Western Europe: strong music culture, beautiful old buildings, great museums, and relaxing café culture. In this photo you can see me in the famous Café Central, which opened in 1876 and was a key meeting place for the Viennese intellectual scene. Aside from its famous clientele (which included Sigmund Freud), the café also hosted some rather infamous guests, including Hitler and Lenin. Luckily, the café was free of dictators while we ate our breakfast and enjoyed a few café melange.
There are many, many museums in Vienna. In fact, there's an entire quarter called Museumsquartier, which at 60,000 m2/645,000 ft2 is the 8th largest cultural area in the world. Here you can see the main entrance to the former Hofburg Imperial Palace, complete with horse-drawn carriages. The Hofburg Imperial Palace, which is currently the official residence for the Austrian president, was once the palace for the Holy Roman Empire's ruler. The famous Hapsburg dynasty used the palace as their winter residence. This particular section of the palace, known as Saint Michael's wing, is now home to the famous Spanish Riding School and the Royal Apartments museum.
Inside a different section of the palace, the Neue Burg or New Castle, is the Ephesus Museum, the Collection of Arms and Armor, the Collection of Ancient Musical Instruments, and the Museum of Ethnology. Can you believe how huge the inside of this building is?!? And that is just one part of the museum! We got to see some interesting suits of armor, Renaissance and Baroque instruments, and a few pianos played on by Haydn, Beethoven, and Mahler (as least we think they were played by them... all of the signs were in German). We also got to see a lot of artifacts from Ephesus, which was a lot of fun since we've been to Ephesus and have seen the ruins there.
After visiting the Neue Burg, we headed over to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, which is in yet another part of the palace. Again, I was amazed by the sheer size of the building. We saw some interesting art works, including a fair number of pieces of Rembrandt, Dürer, and Pieter Brueghel the Elder. In the Egyptian wing we saw some mummies (including a few mummified crocodiles!), tombs, and other interesting artifacts.
We also visited the Royal Treasury, which is in yet another part of the palace. We saw all sorts of items in the treasury: 16th century royal baptismal clothes with gold thread, coronation robes with ermine and gold, lots and lots of jewelry, crowns, orbs, and religious 'artifacts' (seriously, how many times have I seen a relic claiming to be part of the cross?). My favorite item was this odd vessel, which is made out of the largest emerald in the world (2,860 carats!).
Not all of the big old buildings in Vienna are part of the Hofburg Palace. There are also a lot of cathedrals. Here you can see the inside of St. Stephen's Cathedral. Consecrated in 1147, this cathedral is the final resting place of 72 members of the Hapsburg dynasty. The church is well known for its tiled roof, but we didn't get a chance to see it since it was covered with snow.
One of my favorite things to do in a new city is to check out the food markets, and Vienna didn't disappoint me with its Naschmarkt. Initially a place to buy milk in the 16th century, Naschmarkt has been the city's place to buy fresh produce since 1793. It was fun wondering around the 120 different stalls, selling everything from cabbages to jack fruit to tea. However, it was a bit difficult to get around due to the amount of snow on the ground. Between Thursday and Friday night, it snowed at least 6 inches! My poor feet were drenched after walking around the market (turns out my boots aren't waterproof).
Wet shoes be damned, nothing was going to keep us from exploring more of the city. The composer Mahler lived in Vienna for 10 years, and there are many reminders of his presence in the city, especially around the opera area (Mahler was the conductor for the Vienna Court Opera for several years). Mahler is one of Bobby's favorite composers, so Bobby was very excited to walk down Mahlerstraße. He was hoping Mahler might answer the door to this building.
Bobby even got to pose with the death mask of Mahler, which is housed in the fantastic Haus der Musik. This interactive museum has individual rooms dedicated to the important composers who worked in Vienna: Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Mahler, Schubert, and Strauss, plus a room for the Second Viennese School composers - Berg, Schönberg, and Webern.
The Haus der Musik also has an installation called the Virtual Conductor, where you can conduct the Vienna Philharmonic! After a sort introduction by Zubin Mehta, Bobby took the symphony through a slightly crazed rendition of one of Brahms' Hungarian Dances.
All of that sightseeing builds an appetite. Since Bobby had been in Vienna a week before my arrival, he already had a good handle on traditional Viennese food. We visited a few underground restaurants/bars, including the one you see here. The Zwölf Apostekeller is located on 3 subterranean levels of a celar dating back to the 14th century. We ate some very traditional food: blood sausage, grouse dumplings, pork roast, and (of course) sauerkraut. Accompanied by some almost-decent Austrian white wine, it was a fun meal.
Bobby also introduced me to another Viennese culinary mainstay, the käser krainer (or cheese sausage). The sausage is somehow filled with cheese along with the usual (or unusual?) various animals parts, stuffed into a roll, and accompanied by ketchup and mustard. It took a little getting used to (the cheese tends to squirt into your mouth whenever you bite down), but overall I enjoyed it.
Thanks for planning a great weekend trip, Bobby!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Baking Class

On Saturday, I (Carla) took a baking class. The class, which was a 2 hour introduction to sour dough bread baking, was offered by Meyer's Bakery. Claus Meyer, who owns the numerous Meyer's Bakeries, is the co-founder of the restaurant Noma (you may remember that we went to Noma back in October, and it has been voted the best restaurant in the world for 3 years in a row). Meyer doesn't teach the course himself, but it was still fun to be in one of his professional testing kitchens.
The course was taught in Danish. I was able to understand a good bit of it, but there was a lot I didn't fully understand. Oh well, incentive for improving my Danish. The class started with a lecture about sour dough starters, how to make one, and how to keep it alive. The teacher also explained the science behind yeast, sough dough, and baking. It was quite interesting. Then we got to the actual baking part. We ground our own whole wheat flour, mixed live yeast into water, added salt and the flours, then some pumpkin seeds and soaked wheat grains. Then we got to kneading. I learned about pulling your dough high into the air to elongate the gluten strands. After 10 minutes of solid kneading and pulling, everyone in the class was covered with flour and sticky dough. It was an amusing sight.
Since the dough needs to rest for several hours, I didn't bake my dough in class. Instead, the instructor had the class baked some dough that he made the day before. I learned about shaping and proper cutting techniques. After the bread was baked, the class got to eat it with some butter, home-made jams, and local cheeses. Before heading home, we were given a box to store our own dough, plus a container of some sour dough starter (pictured above).
The day after my class, I prepared the dough I had made in class. I let it rest, attempted to shaped it into baguettes, tried to create a bit of steam in my oven, and baked the two quasi-baguettes (let's call them rustic baguettes, shall we?). The dough didn't rise as much as I would have liked, and I created a bit too much steam in my oven. However, the bread stated pretty good. Because of the sour dough started in it, it's staying fresh longer than my previous home-made breads. I will have to keep working on the recipe and on my technique. I also have to work on keeping my sour dough starter alive! After taking it home, I 'fed' it with equal parts water and flour (1/2 whole wheat, 1/2 white flour). I stir it twice a day. I think I will feed it again before I leave for Vienna tomorrow, which will hopefully keep it happy during the 4 days I'll be out of town.

Friday, February 1, 2013

New Toys and Hallucinations

Happy New Year! Bobby has already had an eventful start to the year: 8 day skiing trip in the French Alps (hopefully he'll write a post about that soon) and a two week research trip to Porto, Portugal! I have had an eventful start to the year as well, but in a very different way. Let's start with the good news, shall we? I got some new kitchen toys! As you can see here, I am the happy owner of a pastry blender (no more tough, over blended pie crusts, yipee!), salad spinner (no more watery salads, yipee!), a fat separator (more delicious gravies and sauces, yipee!), and a mandoline (no more finger tips, yipee!). This isn't the musical instrument; this is the bad-ass, cut your fingers off just because it can, slice/shred/julienne king of the kitchen tools.
Mandolines are known for primarily two things: a super sharp blade, and a required blood sacrifice. I'm a bit of wimp, and rather fond of my fingers, so I also bought a pair of these great gloves (produced, funnily enough, by Microplane, who also make a kitchen tool that required a finger-nail sacrifice), which are cut resistent and will keep my finger tips safe. Sorry, mandoline, you'll have to get your blood sacrifice from someone else.
The first thing I did with the mandoline was slice some cabbage. Slicing cabbage with a big old chef's knife sucks; it takes forever, it difficult to get uniform pieces, and generally sucks.
With my nifty new toy, though, I shredded a 1/2 head of cabbage in 2 minutes. 2 minutes!!
My new toy allowed me to shave a carrot into these paper-thin slices. What a beauty. I love new toys!

Unfortunately, this experiment with the mandoline was the only time I've been able to use it since it arrived. The day I shredded cabbage and carrots to my heart's delight is the same day I came down with the norovirus. I literally went from being completely fine, hosting a nice dinner party, to vomiting my brains out in a matter of seconds. From Saturday night to Thursday night, the only things I could eat were broth, a few pretzel sticks, a couple of crackers, fruit smoothies, and one bowl of tomato soup. Though a fantastic way to lose weight, the norovirus is not fun, especially when you're home alone. Both Bobby and my Mom ordered food to be delivered to me (thank the gods for take-out wonton soup, smoothies, and Coke Cola), but I just had to hole myself up in the apartment, bear down, and let this awful virus run its course. 5 days later and I'm still on a restricted diet!

Whenever I have a fever, I have vivid hallucinations during the first night. And do you know what I hallucinated about during the first night of the virus: shredding cabbage. Go figure.