Twenty-three years ago David Bouley’s Danube opened with a bang in Tribeca, occupying a lavish triangular room channeling Gustav Klimt, with an Austrian wine list running to well over 100 bottles, and such stunning dishes as tomato water mousse, glazed pig cheeks with green spaetzle, and seared foie gras with apples and rosemary — opulent food in a gilded setting. The next year Kurt Gutenbrunner’s Wallse arrived in the West Village, and soon thereafter his konditerei Café Sabarsky appeared in Fifth Avenue’s Neue Galerie – proving the perfect pairing of Expressionist Art and towering layer cakes.
We’ve had to wait over two decades for an Austrian restaurant of a similar level of opulence and caliber — and that restaurant is Koloman. The space will be familiar: The maze-like, bilevel former site of April Bloomfield’s Breslin, just off the lobby of the Ace Hotel, where hangers-on still nod off over their laptops. Yet Bloomfield’s lamb burger no longer dominates the menu: Instead, diners will find a more formal and ambitious restaurant.
Koloman — named after Koloman Moser, whose design work inspired the interior — is the kind of restaurant the city rarely sees nowadays (backed by the deep pockets of EHV International, the group behind the ritzy Indian Accent in the Thompson Central Park with locations around the world). It offers dishes artistically plated with Paul Klee colors; a thoughtful wine list via Katja Scharnagl, favoring Champagnes, and service that might be deemed stuffy if it weren’t so warm.
Koloman had been open two months when I went recently with a friend to enjoy an extended meal; this isn’t the kind of place intent on rapidly turning tables. We were seated in a quiet cushioned alcove, with a busy kitchen visible over a partition, the slightly noisier barroom behind us, and heads bobbing on the balcony above. Dinner started with a basket of twisted poppy seed rolls. A glass dome was doffed from a miniature dish of whipped butter with a flourish. We wondered if we had time-traveled to 1980 and were in one of the city’s fanciest French restaurants.
But the food from chef Markus Glocker is mainly Austrian, though neglecting noodles, compotes, ragouts, and the like, while retaining the cuisine’s earthy flavors and principal ingredients in inventive presentations. Celery root tartare ($21) was one, a culinary trompe-l’œil of steak tartare, but with a crust of parmesan and color like a baby’s cheeks. Somehow, the mustardy celeriac tasted almost like meat.
The cushiony gougeres ($14), three to an order and delivered warm, were dominated by an Alpine cheese labeled bergkase – a generic term that identifies cow’s milk cheeses that include Gruyere. These two dishes were typical of the first and second of the menu’s four sections, featuring smaller dishes of appetizer size, comprising a total of 11. One we didn’t get to try, but wanted to, was a short rib and tafelspitz (“devil’s spit,” i.e., boiled beef) terrine flavored with pumpkin oil and tarragon.
The next two sections consisted of a similar number of larger dishes — and who could neglect the souffle? It arrived puffed up like a businessman after a fresh acquisition but sided with a dirty-looking mushroom jam. It was probably our least favorite dish of the evening, perhaps a little too retro for our contemporary tastes. This doesn’t explain why we were so excited by the veal schnitzel ($34), the savory dish most associated with Vienna, and the chef here consciously resisted the sort of tinkering he might have done with it.
With conventional sides of chunky potato salad and cucumbers with sour cream and dill, the veal schnitzel still set hearts fluttering. The cutlet is tender with the breading clinging like a koala to its mother. Our last dish was salmon en croute ($49), a pair of fish planks pressed inside a crust more cakey than flakey. The bright greens and oranges knocked our eyes out, and, with the mahogany-colored beet gravy that underpins it, this entree might have been a painting in the Neue Galerie.
We finished up our meal with a strudel from pastry chef Emiko Chisholm, with sweet apples sparkling with a touch of liqueur. When was the last time you had a meal you would remember years later? For my companion and me, this was destined to be one.
A few days later, another pal and I went to breakfast at Koloman — they didn’t have lunch yet. By contrast to dinner, this meal seemed aimed squarely at hotel guests, and featured such items as granola, French toast, Scottish smoked salmon on a toasted bagel, and bacon and eggs. But a careful scanning of the menu reveals some estimable choices more consistent with the restaurant’s theme.
Don’t miss the buttery croissant, which reminds you that Vienna is celebrated more for its pastries than for its savories. Palatschinken are crepes found throughout central and eastern Europe, here oozing apricot confiture and crowned with whipped cream. And this is one of the few spots I know of where the choice of breakfast sides includes a bratwurst.
Best of all — but only for hearty eaters — is a blowout Viennese breakfast ($34) with a miraculously peeled soft-boiled egg; that perfect croissant just out of the oven; several cheeses, some hard, some soft; sliced charcuterie, including a pepper-rimmed ham, and grapes, plus coffee and orange juice — which, alas, didn’t taste freshly squeezed. But otherwise, the Viennese breakfast is your best introduction to Koloman and one you won’t need a reservation to enjoy.