Friday, January 18, 2019

Day 18: we Vienna

You know you're low on content when you leave the country to get more.

Today: we head to Austria. Vienna's been on our city-break list for a while now, and it turns out you can get a flight for chips in January - because freezing, because madness - but it's no less flipping beautiful for not being able to feel your ears or nose. WHO NEEDS 'EM, EXTREMITIES. 

It was exactly as I imagined: an entire city painted in pastels and so. clean. 

The first thing I did after getting off the plane and checking into the hotel was head to my lunch reservation at Mast. Google Maps showed it to be a brisk 30-minute walk along the river from the hotel, and in all my innocence, I thought, 'Oh, how nice! These bright blue skies, a straight path along the water, a lovely day for a riverwalk!' 


1. As cold as it was on the streets, it was ten times colder with the wind whipping off the water. I was a brittle zombie within seconds but determined. IT IS THE FASTEST WAY I'LL JUST SPEED UP AND WARM UP THAT WAY. The result? Sweating inside my coat while my agonised, frosty ears tried to extract themselves from my physical person. So comfortable, no mixed signals to my body here. This is definitely the right call.

2. Vienna's riverfront, while I'm sure picturesque in the summer - lined with bars and cafes as it was - is a winter-shuttered graffiti stretch in January. The only people on it were me and the street artists:

Don't mind this guy, we've all got work to do.  

Ten minutes along the blustery stretch, having passed two gents crafting away with their cans, a police van slowly crawls by. I stop to watch: will they shoo away the spray painters? Will there be running, chasing, shouting?

NOPE. The police didn't even pause and the graffiti artists kept up their work. It was a beautiful sight. They just businessmen doing they business.

Then I get to Mast, and - my soaking, defrosting person aside (who can stand winter temperature swings??) - it fulfilled every expectation I could've dreamed of. Even though I was technically there during the lunch session, it was late enough they had started dinner prep and they let me order off their evening tasting menu. 

First course: carp brandade, potato, buttermilk

Now normally, this dish - sounding so close to fish pie, and with the presence of the Dread Potato - would've been an instant nooooope for me, but the server insisted - INSISTED, WITH SO MUCH HEART - that it was the best best best. I mean, she LOVED it, youguys. With such pure-hearted enthusiasm, as though she could not possibly imagine a human on the face of the earth who could not also love this. And if there's one thing I can't resist, it's a server who really, genuinely adores a dish and wants you to adore it, too. I buckled, and I'm so glad I did. The sourness of the buttermilk, in contrast with the richness of the carp-and-potato-mash, combined with some sort of salty, crunchy element (what was it?? crispy shallots, maybe?) - OH Y'ALL. It was a delight. 

The second course - greaves dumplings, with spinach, pig trotter stock and cockle - was a no-brainer for me: if there's one thing I love, it's dumplings, and I don't care what's in 'em. Greaves? Don't know what that is, don't care. IT'S IN A DUMPLING, I'll take it. 

(Sidebar: I've since Googled it, and - in Austria, at least - it appears to be the bits leftover after you've rendered the fat from pork meat - aka crispy lardons. Which is exactly what it looked and tasted like, so NAILED IT.)
This was also stupid good, and I slurped the bowl dry. 

This was all I had ordered at this point - after all, I gotta look good at my SIL's wedding celebration in SF next month, I'm tryna keep things reasonable - but after these, I couldn't resist going in for one more course. YOLO, Vienna-style. 

Now at this point, I'm being served by the owner of the restaurant himself, because he's sharing the floor with the sweet server from course one. (This place is small. Did I mention that?) And the mains were so hard to choose between. I was vacillating between the veal tongue with horseradish bread sauce and parsley root, and a lamb belly with artichoke, oyster mushrooms and hollandaise (and tickled pink to see sturgeon with black salsify, THOSE STICKS, also listed). GUESS WHICH ONE I GOT: 

NOT THE STICKS, OBVIOUSLY. I went for the veal tongue. He told me it was his favourite dish at the moment, and much like I capitulated with the carp brandade, I went for it. And lawwwwwd. He was right. That horseradish bread sauce was the perfect pairing with the richness of the meat; it just cut right through it, sassy as you please.

I left, approximately two hours later, sated and lazy and slow as pig trotter stock being poured from a jug onto a dumpling. 

The perfect time to get lost in Vienna. 

Which was exactly what I did. 

Not intentionally, it must be confessed. This was not one of those romantic wanders, let's-see-where-the-lanes-go afternoons. It was me, trying to avoid the river path, while at the same time attempting to save my phone battery until I could get back to the hotel and charge it, and trying to get there by memorising the map's directions and shutting it off.

This was definitely a street I walked down. 

None of it was helped by the fact there was a sweet church on every corner BEGGING for the use of just a *smidge* more of my phone's battery for a photo.

And then I'd try to cross a street, and WHAT IS THAT DOWN THERE. MUST GO DO A LOOK-SEE.

Long story short: the thirty-minute city-street walk home took me at least forty-five minutes - who am I kidding? An hour - what with detours, wrong turns, and enticingly dark alleys. 

This one definitely held lively street urchins in Vienna of yester-year. 

But now I sit, warmed up with a fully-charged phone in the hotel's cafe, working on this blog post before heading out for dinner (at Mochi, one of the many recommendations from Mast that we'll be taking this weekend).

Looking forward to seeing you tomorrow, when Al joins me and we tackle a market, more food, and catch a local friend for a craft-beer pub crawl. Vienna, WHO KNEW.

Esssss x

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