New Yorkers have been surprised over the past few years by a spate of Viennese restaurants of a sort never seen in the city before. Leading the pack is Danube and its shadow, Wallse, the former clad in gilded fin de siècle excess, the latter ensconced rather plainly in a West Village apartment building. Either place you can score a decent wiener schnitzel the size of a Victorian lady’s handkerchief that will set you back $34 and $24 respectively. But real Teutons sneer at such diminutive schnitzels, and those who frequented the old Café Ideal on East 86th Street still sigh in memory of a veal cutlet so vast that the giant blackened skillet across the counter couldn’t contain its entire expanse as it smoked in hot oil. Another difference was that that specimen required a sharp knife. The linen-tablecloth models of today are simperingly tender.
Café Steinhof, offspring of Park Slope bistro Max and Moritz, has the intention of translating the current Viennese phenomenon for plain folks. While not plate-flopping, the wiener schnitzel ($12) is a nice tough cut pounded into submission, coated with an admirably thin layer of crumbs, and fried to perfection. It’s big enough that you won’t go away hungry. Sides include a decent potato salad dressed with sharp white vinegar and a cucumber salad that’s reasonably cool and dilly.
Other choices run from snacks that go well with the large beer selection (smoked trout salad, cheese and charcuterie assortment) to bulging sandwiches (meat loaf, cod salad, avocado and tomato) to full-scale dinners. In the former two categories, it’s possible to eat well for under $10, which is quite an accomplishment in the Slope these days. For slightly more, you can get standard Germanic single-plate meals like smoked pork loin with sauerkraut, chicken paprika with spaetzel, a pair of bratwurst with fried potatoes, or sauerbraten and red cabbage.
What made me particularly curious, though, was a sign that warned that the kitchen is closed on Mondays, but offered as consolation $5 bowls of goulash. It was a few Mondays later that I finally made an appearance on a warm evening that found the windows thrown open in lieu of air-conditioning. The place was packed. After claiming our beers, we ordered goulash all around. I’m sorry to report it wasn’t all that good. Though the bowl was generously crammed with beef and potatoes, it tasted of refrigerator, and there was a grittiness that you might accept in chili, but is to be deplored where goulash is concerned. Wait for Tuesday and go with the wiener schnitzel.
While most upscale Greek restaurants in Manhattan pick the easy route to riches, concentrating on expensive but simply grilled whole fish, PERIYALI (35 West 20th Street, 463-7890) serves a Panhellenic menu, painting a fairer picture of Attic cuisine. At a recent lunch, we enjoyed a brick-red rabbit stew bombarded with baby onion bulbs, the meat copious and tender, and a chorus line of tender sautéed shrimp kicking in olive oil and lemon. The dining rooms in the rear are preferred, rustic within but offering a dizzying cityscape through the skylights.
The combo Indian-Indonesian restaurant TIKKI MASALA (71-03 Grand Avenue, Queens, 718-429-0101) might be called the “Miracle of Maspeth” for its unusual menu, odd location, and small, semi-elegant dining room. Find plenty of South Asian dishes unavailable elsewhere, like chicken sabjee (boneless poultry in a mellow yellow sauce loaded with green vegetables) and Malai curry (lamb chunks bathed in rich coconut sauce). The Indonesian dishes are pallid by comparison, but desirable in the context of a broad-ranging meal with many diners—so bring your friends. Breads are a strong point, though the addition of sugar to several proved somewhat unnerving.