Friday, July 4, 2008

Postcards from Paris (and Vienna) v. 2

For me, Vienna is about two things: the coffee and pastry stops and the wienerschnitzel. I am genetically programmed to appreciate good (not necessarily foodie good, just good) food and I certainly enjoy the hell out of eating. So returning to Vienna, I focused on the positive and remembered the pastries and liquored-up hot chocolates that I loved 5 years ago. And then I was back there.

The cafe culture in Vienna is such that you pay for your coffee and pastry and then you can linger as long as you want...forever if you wish. On my last visit, I had decided that Cafe Demel was my favorite so I was anxious to introduce my dear sister to the Big Three (Demel, Sacher and Central) and see if first my opinion remained the same and second if she fell for the cafe culture as well. In less than 24 hours we had to try all three. And we did.

Our first stop was the luxurious Cafe Sacher, home of the sacher torte, which we both ordered and devoured after a day full of Klimts. The coffee here was delectable as well, quite unlike my Starbucks brews at home and just divine, so I bought a pound of ground beans to take home (which I am still nursing 3 months later!) We loved the atmosphere and the elegance of it all and I think appreciated that we were just across the street at the Albertina when a thunderstorm broke out. We smartly escaped the torrents by huddling over our snack at the Sacher.

Later that same day (remember we only had 20 hours in Vienna) we went to Cafe Central for a late night snack before bed. Again, we ran in from the rain, tucked our umbrellas under the table and sat for over an hour listening to the resident piano player as he tore through an extensive collection of global favorites in the cavernous baroque setting. My amaretto hot chocolate and apfelstruedel was just enough sustenance to get me back to the hotel and safely tucked in bed. In retrospect, I would say this became my favorite of the three, if only because we enjoyed the pastries as much as the music.

After a second day of marathon museum-going, we stopped at the Cafe Demel, which sits within spitting distance of the Hofburg Palace. At this point, we had less than an hour before we had to be at the airport to check in for our flight, but we wanted one last Viennese pastry to send us on our way. Here, we had to queue for a table for about 10 minutes because the notoriety of the cafe really packs the crowds in. Once seated, the waitress apologized but said she had it reserved for someone in 45 minutes. We let her know this worked out well for us too, and this symbiosis immediately improved the rapport between us. She told us to go look at the pastries and let the clerk at the pastry table know what we wanted and it would be brought to us. As we pondered over the glass cases, a stranger pointed to the chocolate truffle cake dusted in a thick layer of cocoa powder and says "that is heavenly." If only all international relations were so positive and helpful. I believe my sister followed that advice with aplomb and delight, but I settled on a Bailey's coffee and cheese streudel, both of which were disappointing when compared to what I remembered. And this is what I was leaving with as my "last pastry in Vienna"?

Almost, yes. That is until somewhere between Cafe Demel and the U-Bahn stop to get back to our hotel, we lingered at a local bakery tucked on a side street and so dark and empty inside that it appeared that it might not even be open. But the pastries in the window held us captive. Especially the soft-looking cushion of a donut split open with a heavy cream that looked like frosting.

"Try the creams there," says a local voice in heavily accented English. Following her finger, I notice she is talking about what we are ogling. After my disappointment at not following sage advice at Demel, I didn't need to be told twice this time. I walked in, was greeted in German, I ordered "zwei" and pointed to what I wanted. The woman carefully wrapped our creams and we just as carefully (and quite skillfully, I might add) transported them to the airport for our flight back to Vienna. Afraid they might not make it through security's evil eye, we devoured them after check-in. I was not disappointed. It was the last, and best, thing we ate in Vienna.

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