Friday, July 24, 2015

Fabios: Mediterranean cuisine in the heart of Vienna (Austria)

After four wonderful days in Prague, we took a train over to Vienna for the second leg of our vacation. During our scouting out of the food scene in Vienna, we had taken notice of a Two-Michelin-Star restaurant named Steirereck and asked our hotel to make us a reservation. They were unable to do so because the restaurant was booked three months into the future. After a little more searching, I came upon Fabios (no apostrophe) and liked what I read so I gave them a call. The person who answered said that they were very busy and could not seat us prior to 10:00 pm. That was late but I wanted a better food experience than on the previous night so I took the seating (after consultation with my wife, of course). My rationale was as follows: (i) If they could not take us before 10:00 it meant that they were busy and (ii) if they were busy that late, the food was probably good.

The restaurant is at 4-6 Tuchlauben and (after a longer-than-expected walk) we approached it from the east after making a left turn from Brandstätte. This approach allowed us an extended view of the restaurant's layout and energy as we walked from the corner to the entrance at the other end of the structure. It is a large establishment with seating both inside and out; and both sections were packed. We stepped into a darkened foyer, which opened into a large bar, and made a left turn to the reception area fronting the seating area.

We were told that Fabio would be there to seat us and, after a while, he showed up. He introduced himself as Fabio (The thought ran through my mind that the person with his name on the marquee was also answering the phones and seating patrons. What better way to get to know your customers.) and welcomed us with a bright, pleasant smile. And no. He was not "the" Fabio and did not look like Fabio. He thanked us for coming to his place and led us to our seats, chatting amiably along the way. The wife and I looked at each other and smiled simultaneously. We had a good feeling about the place.

I took a perfunctory look at the menu -- it passed the smell test -- and then turned my attention to the wine list. There is a small list which they hand out with the food menus and that has a good selection but if you are serious drinker, you ask for the wine list. The list was heavily weighted towards Italian offerings but had an extensive Champagne selection and meaningful offerings from the other major European wine regions. I ordered a Ruinart Blanc de Blancs.

Once the Champagne was ordered, I switched my attention back to the menu and the restaurant. The menu had a broad range of offerings which Fabio described to me as being Mediterranean in origin. While Italian ingredients are apparent, they are meshed with various spices and other ingredients from the broader Mediterranean region in order to so describe the cuisine.

The sense of high energy that we got as we walked along the outside of the restaurant was very palpable inside. Staff moving quickly between tables, cleaning, delivering, decanting, enveloped in the laughter and conversation of obviously -- and infectiously -- happy patrons. It was going to be a good night.

The Ruinart was delicious. I ordered a Deep Fried Calamari with Lemon Cream as a starter while my wife ordered a Melon Salad with Shrimps and Dried Seaweed. The consistency and flavor of the calamari were excellent and the cream sauce balanced the spiciness of the Jalapenos. My wife's salad had a hint of red chilis. The champagne cooled the spices in both dishes while enhancing the "baked-in" flavors.

For the second plate, we split a Spaghettini from Gragnano with Round Clams, White Wine, and Peperoncino. One of the strong suits of this restaurant is the availability of gluten-free breads and pastas for those so inclined. My wife is so inclined so we had the gluten-free version of the Spaghettini. It was wonderful. It was cooked al dente and the resulting tension, combined with the spicy peperoncino and the roasted texture/taste of the clams, provided excellent complexity and immense pleasure.

For my main course I ordered a Filet while my wife ordered a Sea Bass Filet with Fried Polenta and Cherry Tomatoes. I ordered a 2012 Valdicava Rosso de Montalcino  to go along with my meal while my wife continued with champagne. The Filet was cooked to the perfect temperature and accepted the knife the way that a slab of butter would. It was flavorful with an earthiness and an aged character. The rugged saltiness of the exterior married well with the warm, soft, pink receptiveness of the inside.

Fabio visited our table regularly during the course of the meal. We discussed the food scene in Vienna and the US, his favorite restaurant in New York City (Balthazar) and Vienna. We discussed the cuisine and styling of the Michelin-starred restaurant in town and how his restaurant differed. He is a serial restaurateur who has opened, and sold, five restaurants prior to opening Fabios. In an extended conversation towards the end of our meal, our server described him as "tough but fair."

The Author, spouse, and Fabio

Between the excellent food and wine, and conversation with Fabio and his staff, we closed the place down. We were too sated to walk back to the hotel so we hopped a ride.

We were so impressed with the restaurant that we promised Fabio that we would be back for lunch on the following day. I will cover the lunch in a follow-up post.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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