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My meal at Danube (loooooooooooooooong)


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My meal at Danube (loooooooooooooooong)

Sir Gawain | Oct 31, 2005 01:07 PM

So, my dinner at Danube on Friday was quite good, in fact better than I expected. Two things that weren't so great were: my entrée and our server. But nothing to get too upset about.

On Friday at 7pm my partner and I had a choice of tables, and picked one facing the street, situated against the back wall of the triangular room. The curvy couches are just firm enough to be comfortable for dinng.

The bread basket included my favorite braided rolls with poppyseed, and the butter was clean, fatty and fresh tasting - definitely not a French-style cultured butter. Very good.

The amuse was a Danube classic - a cube of fresh salmon with lemon creme fraiche. A delicious, fresh and tangy morsel.

I picked the Schlutzkrapfer, or "high altitude Styrian cheese ravioli" with smoked mushrooms, for an appetizer. I had fond memories of this dish, and it was more smoky-tasting this time than on previous occasions, but delicious. The mushrooms were pleasantly chewy and very smoky, the foam in which they were sauced didn't particularly taste of "harvest corn" as advertised but was a good neutral complement, and the ravioli themselves were delicious small packages bursting with buttery, cheesy flavor. Very very good.

For an entrée, I had the "Chestnut Honey Glazed Long Island Duck Breast with Quince Purée, Black Trumpet and Pomegranate Glazed Apples" from the "modern eclectic" menu. This was a disappointment. The breast was VERY fatty, the meat juicy but rather flavorless, and the glaze (which didn't particularly taste of honey or anything else, beyond being vaguely sweet) clearly didn't penetrate the very outer layer of skin, some of which I couldn't eat because it was inseparable from the thick layer of fat. The slab of duck breast was complemented by a small quantity of tangy black trumpet mushroom mixture, but the quince and the pomegranate, though they may have been part of the mix, didn't announce themselves as discrete flavors - not a problem, just a fact. I wish there were more of this on the plate, as it was far tastier than the duck. The breast was topped by a nugget of duck liver (not foie gras, I think), which only added to the overall bland fattiness of the dish. (And I tend to like fat!)

I really felt this dish needed more accompaniment, and thought wistfully of the red cabbage and dumplings which traditionally accompany duck in many parts of Central Europe (although this was an eclectic, not a regional-inspired dish.) Also, I was just reminded again that LI duck simply isn't a very tasty bird; but a restaurant of Danube's quality should be able to source the meatiest, tastiest duck breasts that are out there.

For dessert, I chose (not expecting to be impressed; I was peeved by the duck) the "Bohemian Liwanzen”- Pistachio Blinis with Lingonberry Ragout, Meyer Lemon Flan, Powidl, Topfen and Lingonberry Ice Cream". Being Bohemian, I was amused by the inclusion of pistachios - not a classic Mitteleuropean nut, to be sure - but this dessert blew me away. The "Liwanzen" are called "livance" in Czech, and are small, yeasted pancakes - neither sweet nor savory - that are typically topped with cinnamon sugar or plum butter ("powidl") or fruit preserves. Danube's version were pillowy small pancakes with the delicious tang of yeast, different from and at the same time reminiscent of the version I grew up with, and also reminiscent of other traditional yeasted breads. The pistachios were nearly undetectable. The "powidl" was a warm, spiced plum preserve, not a true black-as-coal powidl, but delicious in its autumny, fruity way. The poppyseed ice cream was fantastic - clear fresh poppyseed flavor coming through cream heavily spiced with dark rum. I was very, very impressed by this dessert, as it epitomized what heights the cuisine of Central Europe can scale when treated with skill and imagination. I plan to go back and have this dessert again at the bar.

There were no comments or explanations of each dish from the servers (in fact, I seem to recall that each dish was served by a different person), and I was annoyed that after ordering, the server always referred - as if correcting me - to each dish by its anglicized synonym. The "liwanzen" are no "blinis" to me - blini (which already IS a plural) are similar-looking but most definitely different-tasting pancakes than liwanzen. Note to Danube: If you want to use more easily understood names for your dishes, go with the English generics (pancakes or griddle-cakes) and don't try to use other foreign ones (blini) instead.

My partner loved his scallops and crab meat appetizer, his venison (which I've had at Danube before and enjoyed, too), and said that the caramel strudel (more of a napoleon in presentation) was fine if not too exciting.

Since we wanted to have an Austrian white even though the duck would have called for red, the server suggested a 2003 Tabor Gruner Veltliner, giving us only this one choice. (True, we said $100 or under.) It was okay, a bit on the heavy side (as befitted our hefty meal), with a somewhat unpleasant bouquet (not corked though), but certainly nothing special; it certainly would have been helpful to have more choices/suggestions.

The server repeatedly addressed us as "Monsieur" and "Madame", which I found somewhat affected as well as misplaced, since neither we, nor he, nor the restaurant are French. I remember that this same server was unable to offer comments on any of the dishes on previous occasions, instead just repeating the description from the menu. He was also very hard to get ahold of for our check, though he kept pacing past our table, never making eye contact, and generally was mostly absent throughout the meal. I'm just not a big fan of this particular guy. (We tipped him well enough, and always have; so this isn't an issue of us being "bad tippers" and him getting his revenge by doing only the barest minimum for us.)

The other patrons were an interesting mixture of nationalities and ages - beside English, I heard Russian and French and Japanese, and the ages ranged from late 20s to possibly 80s. I enjoy being in a place with this varied a clientele, and liked the fact that this seemed to be a festive occasion for everyone in the room (except the servers, of course...)

Upon leaving, we received (as usual) a small wrapped package with Danube's financier saturated with candied-lemon syrup. This was a delicious memory to have the next morning with tea.

Overall, I would rate the experience as enjoyable, with reservations about the service and my duck entrée.

I will go back and try more items from the Austrian menu - the beef cheeks in zweigelt sauce look especially promising. I've had the schnitzel before, and it was just that - a well-executed schnitzel. But the liwanzen with poppyseed ice cream haunt me, and I'll need to have them at least once more this winter.

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