I hope everyone is enjoying their Labor Day! I have been celebrating the holiday by NOT laboring and appreciating some much-needed R&R. I want to share several posts from my recent trip to Austria and Hungary and thought I would start by detailing my experience at the Michelin 2-star restaurant, Steirereck. This restaurant is frequently listed as the best restaurant in Austria and was recently rated #14 by The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. I know there can often be controversy behind these ratings and I realize there is SO MUCH amazing food that doesn’t make the cut for a variety of reasons, BUT I still enjoy the prestige of eating at chef-driven, critically acclaimed restaurants.
When I explain this level of fine dining to the casual observer who may not understand why food should ever be fancier than a burger and fries, I share that fine dining is an artistic accomplishment. If done properly, it should involve all the senses with edible displays that you see, taste, touch, smell, and feel. A fancy meal isn’t just meeting the physical needs of filling your belly, but it’s an appreciation of the artists who have perfected their craft, just like visiting an art gallery or attending a concert. The culinary arts elevate our food intake through invoking our creativity and feeding our imagination. And this experience will come at a cost of money, time, and the realization that no other food will ever be as good until you come back.
I made reservations at Steirereck months in advance, as is common with many international “in-demand” restaurants. I had the luxury of dining at a Michelin 1-star restaurant last year in Iceland, so I was excited to compare the experience of a 2-star restaurant in Austria. Steirereck is centrally located in a park in a sleek, modern building. Once inside, we were promptly greeted and shown to our table. The interior boasts a large amount of the color grey and was remarkably quiet. Our table was intimate, with two plush chairs that made me feel like I was sitting in a living room for our extended dinner.
We were offered a choice of wine to start our evening while reviewing the menu. Many Michelin restaurants only offer a daily tasting menu, but Steirereck allows for a la carte options, as well. I appreciate a solid tasting menu and ordered 7 courses with wine pairings. I had the option of 2 things for each course, which allowed for a great amount of variety since my sister ordered some different items. We had multiple attendant servers throughout the meal, who frequently checked in on us, set new description place cards, and replaced our silverware.
Once settled in, our evening fell into a smooth routine. Before each course, we would receive a card providing additional details about our menu choice. We would also be provided with a new wine glass and an explanation of the appropriate pairing. All crumbs and old plates were removed and new ones were placed on our table. The dining room remained calm and quiet, even as more people entered and were seated. We began the dinner at 6:30pm, which must be early for Europe since we were one of the only couples in the room. The restaurant reached capacity around 8pm, which suggests that only one seating is scheduled per night as the dinner is expected to last for multiple hours.
I won’t go into detail about every dish since the menu frequently changes, but I will share pictures of many of our courses. The “gentle char” was a stand-out for me, as was my dessert with ground cherries. Each course involved a variety of toppings and sauces that were presented tableside over the dish. As is typical with fine dining, we received a spread of items “from the chef” at both the beginning and end of our meal. Throughout the dinner, we continued to receive verbal and written education about the different ingredients included in our meal. Many dishes are designed to highlight the best of Austria with local and rare ingredients. And if 7 courses wasn’t enough, Steirereck also utilizes a traveling bread and cheese cart that visit each table several times throughout the meal. The gentlemen bringing us bread, cheese, and wine were all expertly trained on the flavors of each options and answered all of my questions to help make unique and delicious selections.
This is definitely the classy type of restaurant where the majority of visitors are twice my age and no one else is taking pictures of their food, but I was too excited to resist pulling out my phone. This is also the type of restaurant where I knew I would be paying about $300 for my meal, but I felt my 5 1/2 hours of gourmet dining experience was comparable to paying for an expensive sports game or concert ticket. Also, I had been eating some interesting leftovers while volunteering, so I was very excited to try anything that wasn’t “mystery hash.”
Overall, I had a wonderful, beautiful dining experience. It wasn’t loud or pretentious, but very warm and peaceful. I had time to take deep breaths, engage in deep conversations with my sister, and really have a moment for reflection about what was going well in my life to allow me to have such incredible experiences. This was the kind of dinner that made me feel proud of my accomplishments and excited for future successes. The only (small) negative feedback was there was a bit of a large gap between finishing our dessert and paying the bill that caused me to become very sleepy. I think that if I have to wait an hour to pay, I should keep getting snacks or at least get some coffee while I wait. In conclusion, if I returned to Austria, I would be curious to try some other Michelin favorites first, but would then definitely want to make another visit to Steirereck. I would also want to bring my mom because this is a place she would LOVE.
So, now you know! The reviews do not lie and Steirereck is an incredible, beautiful cultural experience. It has become my new travel goal to visit a Michelin-starred restaurant in every city, so I’m hoping for a 3-star when I go to Japan next May. I would LOVE to hear about your experiences with fine dining. I’m always looking for new suggestions and need to finish school soon so I can afford to eat at all the fancy places!