An Austrian Night to Remember in the Heart of Brooklyn

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Those of us who have a large appetite for travel and food have memories of rare and special nights that uniquely capture a country’s culture and essence in a special way, and some of those experiences remain in our heads and hearts for years to come. I had an opportunity to participate in such an experience recently in New York.

What made it so uniquely special? In the heart of Brooklyn, together with ten other travel writers, I was bathed in classical music by some of Austria’s greats, performed by the talented Brooklyn Symphony Orchestra, which was led by music director Nick Armstrong. We weren’t there to celebrate Brooklyn or New York City however, but Austrian culture, food and wine. While Mozart delicately danced in the background and the cello lit up my evening in ways I hadn’t anticipated, Kurt Gutenbrunner, one of New York’s top Austrian chefs, whet our appetites with one dish after another, all of which came pouring out of the open kitchen in this artistic and historical Red Hook loft.

This funky loft on Van Brunt Street wasn ‘t short on charming features, with its brick walls and urban architecture not to mention the stunning view of the Statue of Liberty off in the distance and the water which we were able to breathe in at sunset. With the almost perfect light, it was hard to imagine we were anywhere else but Europe.

Then of course, the Austrian wines started coming!!

Starting with Gruner Veltliner Sekt, NV, Szigeti, a sparkling wine with the earliest of appetizers, we quickly moved onto a 2012 Spatrot Klassik Gebetshuber and a Sauvignon Blanc Umathum, which we had with the rabbit, our third course.

The table setting was just glorious, with a large image of an outside Austrian feast in the background, a table as perfectly set as our own, complete with sunflowers for an added special touch.

Above four table shots – photo courtesy of Austrian Tourist Office.

If the wine pairings, table settings, classical music at its best and views are not enough to put you in the mood for a trip to Austria, then the culinary delights are sure to do the trick. We started with Canapes – Wiener Schnitzel, Mini Bratwurst with Riesling Sauerkraut.

The sounds of the Brooklyn Symphony Orchestra with such perfectly paired food was exquisite. Listen for yourself…

Below was a sampler they passed around before dinner! And, no, these dangerously deep fried specialties aren’t stuffed with cream, but with foie gras. Above orchestra shot and below food shots taken by Renee Blodgett.

After the Canapes, we moved to a Smoked Trout Crepe with Salmon Caviar, Green Apples and Dill Oil (YUM!!) Then came the Spatzle with Corn, Chanterelle, Tarragon and Braised Rabbit which we paired with the Umathum Sauvignon Blanc noted above.

Although I’m still thinking about the braised rabbit dish over a week later, my favorite of the evening was the Roasted Venison, which he served with braised red cabbage and semolina dumplings. They paired this with my favorite wine of the evening, a 2011 Blaufrankisch / Schiefer.

Below, plum strudel with buttermilk sorbet. We paired this dessert with the 2010 ZweigeIt Eiswein, Hager Matthias.

Chef Gutenbrunner, who btw, is also the founder of the KG-NY Restaurant Group which includes Wallse, Blaue Gans and Cafe Sabarsky, had a boat load of fun cooking in our presence. The frying pans were alive and so was he, as he moved from dish to dish to ensure the temperature and presentation was perfect!

He is also renowned for his celebrated book Neue Cuisine, which he signed for each of us. I’ve already started picking out recipes I’d like to try so be sure to order a copy if you love Austrian cuisine or are at the very least, curious…

All above food, book and chef shots courtesy & credit of Renee Blodgett.

And then of course, there was dessert. Can we say chocolate anyone?

Above two dessert shots photo credit: Austrian Tourist Office.

They’re currently hosting a cool new contest where you could win a dinner for you and your friends that is similar to the dinner we had here.  More info can be found on their Facebook page – Feel free to spread the word — #MyAustrianEvening is the hashtag and @austriatravel  is the Twitter handle.

Austria may not as renowned as France for its cuisine or its wine, however it has its fair share of incredible surprises for any foodie. Vienna continues to grow in global acclaim for its dining and since it’s not surrounded by an ocean, its dishes tend to be heartier and more meat centric rather than the salad and seafood centric Mediterranean destinations which line the coast. That said, Austria has a ton of lakes and rivers, so there are loads of fresh trout, pike perch and carp to be had.

They also have woodlands for hunting wild mushrooms, berries and game and they are well known for their venison and venison shoulder, especially served with red wine and root vegetables. There are also numerous pig farms in Austria, so you’d be hard pressed to not find a pork schnitzel you couldn’t love. They serve it with bacon, chanterelles and cream sauce at every country Gasthaus.

While farm-to-table may be a growing trend in the west, it was the status quo in Austria before it became a movement elsewhere. In fact, Austria has the largest percentage of organic farmland in the EU. Since there is so much meat and pork, it’s worth getting to know Austrian red wines by visiting its wine capital Burgenland. Here’s where you’ll find that delicious Blaufraenkisch we had with the venison at this dinner, as well as the lovely hybrid of two Austrian Reds, Blaufraenkisch and the more earthy St. Laurent.

You can sample a variety of wines at the Weinkulturhaus Gols where 95 Gols winemakers are represented in the town’s oldest building. Don’t miss the cellar and its “land of giants” bottles shot through with a mysterious light. More information at

While I’ve yet to travel through the culinary wonders of Austria but hope to in the near future, destinations worth noting for the foodie schedule include Bregenzerwald, which is famous for its alpine and mountain cheese. Think cow grass aromas, fresh country air and delicious mountain cheese. The province of Tirol, which is known for hiking and skiing, has its hearty “Speckjause,” which is delicious slices of famous Tirolean cured bacon, which goes really well with home-made dark bread and cheese.

The Salzburg province has the highest density of organic farmers in the EU and here is where you’ll find award-winning chefs. This is also the region for cozy inns and rustic restaurants which serve more hearty Austrian fare such as the “Troadsuppn” (grain soup). There’s also the dumplings in Upper Austria, which are stuffed with hash, crackling or bacon.

Then in the southern province of Styria, there’s Schilcher wine, made from the rare grape variety of Blauer Wildbacher and Styrian Pumpkin Seed Oil, where you can go from one oil mill to the next. Sounds lovely!

Also worth reading up about is Carinthia, the southernmost Austrian province and Burgenland, which borders Hungary in the east. You’ll get Hungarian influences here, such as roast goose and paprika chicken.

Note: we were all hosted as guests of the Austrian Tourism Office however I was not expected or asked to write an article and all opinions expressed here are entirely my own. The food is fabulous, the country is amazing — what’s not to love?

Photos not marked photo credit Austrian Tourism Office are credit of Renee Blodgett.

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