Can a Chowhound thrive in Eastern Europe traveling with four non-Chowhounds, two of which are children and one elderly mother?
We did alright, with some help from this board, particularly from Michael in Vienna. It was not always easy to convince the unchurched that eating at the most convenient place was not always a wise choice, but being a Chowhound sometimes means finding not only a decent place to eat but finding the one decent item on an otherwise execrable menu.
Our greatest batting average was in Vienna, of course, where we had three terrific meals: at Zum Finsteren Stern (just off the Am Hof, a square), at Gasthaus Wild, and at Barbaro. We also ate well at Beim Czaak.
We started off with a lunch at Heiner, a pastry shop near Stephansdom which serves 'light' meals as well, (this was an exotic meal for someone used to USA food and preperation), and had 'handmade' noodles with speck at Zum Kuchldrogoner across from the Synagogue: a Chowhound Delight on an otherwise decrepit menu. To be avoided at all costs is the Schonnbrunner Stockl, near the palace, a tourist trap where the main ingredient in everything is oil.
Zum Finsteren Stern gives you the best of both worlds, traditional, I may even say peasant roots, with an eye toward a modern plate. Fish; lamb riblets; beef with a honey mustard sauce; yellow mushrooms and a deconstructed ravioli, everything was so good I wanted to lick the plates clean.
Gasthaus Wild, at Radetzsy platz on the way to the Hundertwasser Museum (KunstHaus Wien), also embraces very traditional food with a contemporary palate. Their cherry tomato sauce is about a dozen whole cherry tomatoes flavored with celery and red pepper bursting with flavor. Excellent.
And Barbaro, on Neuer Markt, does well despite devoting half its menu to avoidable pizza. I ordered from the other half of the menu and was rewarded with char over a tomato flecked risotto, two different sauces pooled alongside strips of ovened tomato and onion skins, a dish with so many delicious flavors mingled together, this time I actually did lick the plate clean when nobody was looking. Oh to have any of these three places where I live!
Beim Czaak is an informal place with a completely traditional menu, everything well executed, though nothing particularly exciting. A simple, delicious meal.
In Slovakia, everything we had was served with red and white cabbage, slightly marinated, and also fresh corn and peas. The food was uniformly simple tasting and good, handsomely plated, if predictable. In Trencin, we ate twice at Restauracia Stefany, where everything was good. It turns out later we saw it was mentioned, though not by name, in the Lonely Planet guidebook. In, Zilina, off the park opposite the Tesco is an alley leading to a pub and restaurant called Gazdovsky Hostinec where we enjoyed stuffed chicken 'Fatra' with ham and a potent sheep's milk cheese. There doesn't seem to be much invention in Slovakia, but we enjoyed what we had except for the rather upscale Hotel Tatra, where they tried to appeal to foreigners and failed miserably.
In the Czech Republic, we failed at the touristy skansen in Roznov, though again it took a Chowhound to spot the enjoyable kasha on the menu. We had excellent Chinese (!) in Kromeriz at Dragon Star (on the menu the black plates are fancy iron skillets), and in Prague our hotel was right across from a cafe previously mentioned on this site, Pricny Rez Kavarna (Thanks, David!), a block north of the residential Karlovo Namesti. We ate there twice. An imaginatively decorated neighborhood hangout where everything was good.
The best meal I had, though, was in a mountain hut, Chata pod Chlebom, in the Mala Fatra National Park in Slovakia. You have to hike about a mile to get there from the top of a chair lift, but hearty delicious food includes a goulash (in this case more like sauerkraut in gravy) with piping hot dumplings on the side plus a hefty keilbasa that spurted blood over everyone when we tried to cut into it. A spicy, potent concoction the likes of which it would be difficult to find in America. The perfect Chowhound meal.