the menu cover
There are not many people who would plan the visit to a two michelin starred restaurant only as a preamble to a dinner at a trattoria, no stars, no toques, no nothing. There are even less people who would do this over one weekend, leaving regular office jobs on Friday afternoon and driving around 1400 kilometers just to eat two spectacular dinners and be back at the office on Monday morning. Yet, for a number of years now, we have been doing this with a couple of our friends. Only the two stars are new in the equation, belonging to the very hyped-about restaurant the Obauer brothers are running in Werfen, Austria since 1979.
I had never been to this restaurant before. I have read a lot about the two brothers and I have one of their cookbooks “Hemmungslos kochen” (unscrupulous cooking) which I adore for the combination ideas it gives and to which I return again and again. Two of us six on this evening had already been to the restaurant and while I didn’t know about the feelings of C., I knew that M. wasn’t very impressed with his rustic Sunday lunch here about a year ago. But then again, he adores Paris Hilton, so this opinion didn’t have much impact on me. I had also been informed that the breakfast you get to enjoy if you stay at the Obauer Hotel was something to remember so I had reserved rooms for all of us at the hotel as well. End of October being out-of-season for this region, there were not many accommodation alternatives anyways.
On this evening I chose (after elaborating for a long time on the a la carte menu) the 3-course menu; T. and K. had the 4-course version, which was like mine plus a dessert I had abstained from; and A., M. and C. had the 6-course menu. I have made pictures of only my food but tasted some courses from the big menu as well.
The first greeting from the kitchen was a platter of 4 different morsels for each person. I cannot exactly remember what each of them was, there was a slice of aromatic dried sausage, a piece of tuna, some egg foam-sushi and some bread with a spread. And there were fried pieces of a fish I can’t remember either, on a curry sauce. As you can see, these didn’t leave a lasting impression. I don’t even understand what they were aimed to be and what kind of statement was intended as to what was to follow. Was this mix meant to declare “we cook local and global and mix stuff”? This greeting was way underneath the level of what was to come.
The real amouse that followed were a lot tastier and had more character. The guys got a piece of lamb aspic with a quail egg and the girls got a cream of turnip with a tomato-olive condiment and jerusalem artichoke chips. I loved this cream, the smoothness and, well, the creaminess, went very well with the condiment (a strong and kind of sour, fresh, antipole to the taste) and the chips (a great textural balance).
Up to this point we all drank some aperitif, I had my beloved Schilcher frizzante, this time from the Reiterer Winery, filled exclusively for the Obauer restaurant. This sparkling rosé is one of the very rare rosés that I like and the aromas, hmmmm, it is like bathing in strawberries, the good old tasteful ones, mind you. And one more drink related detail: Don’t you just love this water glass? It fits so perfectly in your hand.
My first course was pickled mallard breast with beetroot and jerusalem artichoke. The breast slices were very tender and had a very light game taste, these were combined with slices of also pickled beetroot, jerusalem artichoke and cep (porcini) pieces. To make this all the more luxurious, there were slices of foie gras and shavings of black truffle, sprinkled with fleur de sel and bedded on some beetroot sauce. This was a perfect earthy dish, I loved the combination of the mallard with all the root vegetables and the foie, the natural taste of the ingredients sliding to the sweet-side, but balanced perfectly well with the sourness from the pickling. With this course we drank a Rotgipfler Rodauner 2005 from K. Alphart. Rotgipfler is an autochthonous grape from the Austrian Thermenregion. It had a golden hue, had a distinctive bouquet and some acidity, which I liked on its own but thought that it didn’t go that well with the dish. But I was alone with this opinion, my co-drinkers were happy with this straightforward wine and the combination.
The second course was monkfish on a bed of radicchio with apple balsamic vinegar. It is amazing how fresh the fish was and how great the combination with the not-at-all-bitter radicchio and the sweet vinegar… I thought about having this course again. Right after the first time. I keep on repeating myself, but the Obauer brothers have just the right touch about combining ingredients. So simple, not much more than the three named ingredients on the plate, and you have heaven. The wine accompaniment to this course was 2003 single vineyard Traminer Grassnitzberg from the Polz Winery. This was a typical Traminer, very clear and heavy-ish, with some residual sugar which went very well with the sweet/sour on the plate without overpowering the fish. Beautiful.
This great menu came for me to an end with lamb from Werfen (where the restaurant is located) with rosemary polenta and radish. The lamb was very subtle and melt-in-your mouth tender with some great jus. The rosemary polenta, which looks like a cappuccino, brought the right herbal touch and the radish catered for the wish to eat something that was not so wholly “round”, it was the rough edges that made the dish complete. Come to think of it, I want to eat the whole menu again. Now, please. The wine with this course was 2000 Peccatum cuvee from Josef Leberl. This cuvee consists of Blaufränkisch, Cabernet and Zweigelt, reminding of Bordeaux wines. A nice and go-along match for the lamb.
Some remarks about other peoples food and wine (which I have of course tasted!): Discovery of the evening for me and T. was a Grüner Veltliner old vines 2002 from Weinrieder which accompanied the turbot with scallops and pumpkin puree with saffron. I know and like Grüner Veltliner (with a real Wiener Schnitzel, for example) wines but never thought they could be so buttery and caramel-ly like this. Apropos: I loved the dish, especially the pumpkin, but the scallop didn’t really add anything to the whole and gave the impression that it was there just for the sake of luxury. This was a combination that didn’t have to be. Another dish which was very risky was the “tafelspitz” with foie gras and porcini risotto, which most of us loved but M. hated. The “arabic” pigeon with poppy seed salad was another course in the big menu which we were all not very crazy about. We felt the “arabic” came too short, there weren’t any pronounced spices in this dish.
Overall I would highly recommend the Obauer restaurant. The food is a great value (3-courses for € 45, 4 for € 58 and 6 for € 88; remember what we paid at the Wielandshöhe, whose pants have been blown off with this dinner!), and they have the best wines Austria has to offer (which is a lot!). You can go with the glass-wise recommendations of the sommelier and you would be on the secure side if you feel yourself overwhelmed with the wine list. I insisted on doing this and immensely annoyed K. who really knows his Austrian wines, or for that matter, who knows his wines, period. But still, I am happy we did this, because this way we got to drink a couple of new wines and test the sommelier.
As mentioned before, we also stayed at the Obauer hotel. This I would not necessarily recommend. The rooms are hideous. Don’t get me wrong, they are spacious and clean but just pure ugly. I think the Obauer restaurant and the hotel could both do well with a “female touch” and redecorate. The rooms were way too expensive (€195 for a double) which is a little bit moderated with the really great breakfast you get, but still. Talking of breakfast, have you ever had a potato soup with monkfish and truffle for breakfast? Here you can.
This was a great start to our gourmet weekend. The food is well worth the money, the time and the journey. I will surely eat here again. I will just look for another accommodation.
Update: We visited again in August 2007 and weren’t very happy with the restaurant performance. Some dishes were great (trout strudel) some gone terribly wrong (way too much salt on the meat) and what was worse: The service seemed not to care. How can a plate almost completely untouched just be taken away without any questions in a two star restaurant? This is not a go to anymore!