Grüße von Wien! (Greetings from Vienna)

April 16, 2010

After two excellent meals in a pair of the most overtly touristy restaurants in Vienna this week–Figimuller and Plachutta, I found myself wondering why Paris can’t do as well as the Austrian capital when it comes to responding to certain culinary cliches with quality. To wit, even though it may make many serious food-lovers roll their eyes, most travelers go forth with a short-list of gastronomic experiences they just have to have in a given city, region or country. Pizza in Naples anyone? Paella in Valencia? And Wiener schnitzel, and maybe tafelspitz in Vienna?

Figimuller, in business since 1905, is tucked away in an alley off of Wollseile strasse in the heart of the city, and the only reason to eat here is for a transcendental experience of wiener schnitzel, which they do brilliantly. To be sure, they ham it up a bit–their schnitzels are so enormous they’re larger than the plates they come on, but the quality of the breading, made from three different kinds of crumb, and the veal itself is outstanding, and with a side salad of greens on top of potato and cucumber salad and a mug of Gruner Veltliner, you end up with a very good meal for a very fair price.

Just down the same street, Plachutta specializes in tafelspitz, another of Vienna’s signature dishes, and a sort of Austrian take on pot au feu or boeuf a la ficelle, or beef poached in bouillon and served with garnishes of fried potatoes, cream spinach, apple sauce, and horseradish cream sauce. I prefer tafelspitz to the two French dishes, though, because I find it’s juicier and usually has more flavor. Plachutta, which was founded in 1987, uses only best quality Austrian beef, and it takes every part of this meal very seriously, with delicious results.

Having enjoyed these Austrian meals as much as I did, I found myself musing over the relatively few restaurants in Paris that successfully specialize in a single dish emblematic of the French kitchen. To be sure, there’s Le Relais de l’Entrecote, with its reasonably decent steaks and over-hyped secret sauce, and La Poule au Pot in Les Halles, which does a pretty decent version of the dish from which it takes its name (chicken poached in broth with vegetables), and Le Souffle, specializing in same, and J’Go, which does a pretty good roast leg of lamb (‘gigot’ in French) but what about other emblematic Gallic dishes like boeuf bourguignon or cassoulet? And why isn’t their a restaurant that specializes in duck dishes?

Paris is also sorely lacking a restaurant aux fromages, or cheese restaurant, since the wonderful old Androuet shut down in the rue d’Amsterdam. And I keep a list of restaurants specializing in onion soup, since so many visitors want same, and also roast chicken, ditto. Oh, and because I knew you’d ask, you’ll find my cheat sheet of great places to eat roast chicken in Paris below.

Le J’Go Paris Drouot, 4 rue Drouot, 9th, Tel. 01-40-22-09-09. Métro: Richelieu-Drouot or le Peletier. Open Monday-Saturday. Average 35 Euros.

La Poule au Pot, 9 rue Vauvilliers, 1st, Tel. 01-42-36-32-96. Metro: Les Halles or Chatelet. Open 7pm-5am Tuesday to Sunday. Average 40 Euros.

Le Relais de l’Entrecote, 15 Rue Marbeuf, 8th, Tel. 01-49-52-07-17. Metro: George V. Open daily. Average 40 Euros.

Le Souffle, 36 rue du Mont Thabor, 1st, Tel. 01-42-60-27-19. Metro: Concorde. Open Monday-Saturday. Average 40 Euros.

THE BEST ROAST CHICKEN IN PARIS

1. L’AOC, 14 Rue des Fossés St Bernard, 5th, Tel. 01-43-54-22-52.

2. L’ATELIER DE MAÎTRE ALBERT, 1 Rue Maître Albert, 5th, Tel. 0-1-56-81-30-01.

3. LA BASTIDE DE L’ODÉON, 7 Rue Corneille, 6th, Tel. 01-43-26-03-65.

4. LA CANTINE DU TROQUET, 101 rue de l’Ouest, 14th, no phone, no reservations.

5. CHEZ FLOTTES, 2 rue Cambon, 1st, Tel. 01-42-60-80-89.

6. LE RELAIS PLAZA, 21 Avenue Montaigne, 8th, Tel. 01-53-67-64-00.

7. LE PÈRE CLAUDE, 51 Avenue de la Motte-Picquet, 15th, Tel. 01-47-34-03-05.

8. LA ROTISSERIE DU BEAUJOLAIS, 19 quai de la Tournelle, 5th, Tel. 01-43-54-17-47.

  • Laidback

    You forgot about the duck restaurant right in our own heighborhood, Le Petit Canard.

  • alec Lobrano

    Le Petit Canard is okay, but I think the quality of French duck merits someplace seriously better.

  • Nicholas

    For a duck specialist have you tried "Le Petit Sud Ouest" there are a few in western Paris.

  • alec Lobrano

    Thanks, Nicholas. I know "Le Petit Sud Ouest," but I want someone to do a duck restaurant in Paris where the bird will be cooked as well as it is at La Tupina in Bordeaux.

  • Now you find me surprised. Figlmüller is considered to be a tourists’ trap in Vienna. And nobody there (I am from Vienna) would recommend going there to visitors. The Wiener Schnitzel consists mainly of "Panade" because they flatten out the meat to extreme forms.

    Please try the Schnitzel at Skopik & Lohn next time you are there.

    But we agree completely on Plachutta. I even searched the dictionaries to find out with would be the French name for Tafelspitz to try and recreate that Austrian signature dish here.

  • I know Skopik & Lohn, and it’s very good, but I still have a soft spot for Figlmuller, because for a tourist restaurant, the quality is actually very decent, especially for the prices they charge.