Saturday, January 15, 2011

Blaue Gans

Expectations have an enormous effect on restaurant experiences. My familiarity with chef, Kurt Gutenbrunner, harkens back to a memorably good dinner at Wallse', an elegant, upscale Austrian bistro in the West Village. His reputation is strong, his experience vast, and his empire expanding. I perused the website prior to visiting Blaue Gans, so I felt like I had a decent grip on the experience to be had. This, unfortunately, did not turn out to be the case. Had I been aware of what kind of a joint this place is, I might just have opted elsewhere; I am, admittedly, not the best judge for a place that designates itself a wirstshaus. But the website was deceptively sophisticated, the photographed dishes primarily exceptions to a more rustic and meat-centric menu. ( ... Tell me what you think.) Somewhat limited by that in selection, I still tried to get a good take on what Gutenbrunner was doing here. And mostly I felt like he was probably paying more attention to his newly opened and hyper-buzzy Cafe Kristall.

The room is sparse, containing much of the decor left by its predecessor , Le Zinc. It suits a sausage-and-beer house more aptly than the aesthetic I had gleaned from the website, too; I almost expected to see gritty sawdust strewn across the unfinished hardwood floors when I looked down. But appearances can be deceptive, so we tucked into ordering as best we could. but not quite knowing whixh choices might be strongest. Thus, we opted from both ends of the spectrum. Beet salad with arugula was nicely executed, a zippy tangle of greens, lightly dressed, teamed up with sweet, tender beets. A more interesting salad option might be the red cabbage with apples, or bibb lettuce with pumpkin seeds, but I'm still trying to trying to overcome my apparent beet addiction. Fresh herbed spatzle was pretty generic, the dumplings perfectly cooked but dressed in a bland, creamy sauce scant of vegetables and bereft of herbs. And salt, for that matter, a sprinkle of which improved things substantially, but didn't elevate the dish much higher than buttered noodles.

The best bargain on the menu might be the Wurst Platter, at $18 for four impressive sausages nestled in a hearty bed of expert sauerkraut... not that acrid, bitey stuff you might have encountered prior, but luxurious, meltingly tender cabbage, slightly sweet and buttery rich with just a punch of vinegar to augment the cabbage's vegetal edge. Two generous dollops of mustard (one exquisite honey-sweet, the other a sharp grainy Dijon) flank a small haystack of finely shredded, snowy white horseradish. Turns out to be an inordinate amount of food, and quite nominally priced compared to the rest of the menu. Less satisfying was a wild striped bass with cauliflower, golden raisins and pignoli. The small florets of cauliflower remained noticeably firm, while they would've melded into the dish effortlessly had they been roasted along with the fish, which itself had a pronounced fishy flavor, as if yesterday or prior it might have also been on offer. Surrounding the fish puddled a rather insipid brothy sauce, not particularly flavorful of anything... maybe a thin cauliflower broth or a watered down bechamel, which was then aerated to a foam of nothingness sort of purposelessly deposited on top. The raisins just stood out as chewy. I can reimagine the dish, though, as how I was expecting it to appear, with toasted sprigs of tender cauliflower whose earthiness balanced the sugary raisins, plumped in the juices of the fish, and maybe a lofty puree of the creamed crucifer beneath. That was what I would've wanted from this place. Instead, the food came acoss a bit too plain.. all of the austere and less of the Austrian. Brussels sprouts with bacon should have been listed Bacon with brussels sprouts. Leafed-out little cabbages belied their scant volume; there were probably five entire sprouts there, deceptively puffed up in salad form, but there was a least one littlecubed lardon for each separate leaf of sprout, which for me, was painfully disproportionate. I guess a bacon fiend would rejoice. I can't figure out for the life of me why, as chefs scourge the planet and harvest prematurely just to procure baby vegetables, they insist on messing around with the one that nature created perfectly. Leave the brussels alone. Halve them, score them, but don't destroy their meaty texture by turning them into a pile of leaves.

If ever a dessert was to set things straight, however, raspberry nockerl stepped up to the plate. Three sumptuous mounds of marshmallowy meringue, perfectly golden and and smooth that would make the Taj Mahal blush. Underneath hovers a somewhat skimpy smear of raspberry compote, but brightly flavorful to compensate. Apple strudel is another crowd-pleaser. Our server informed us that a lot of people return after dinners elsewhere, solely to enjoy one of those two desserts. Which, in retrospect, might be a phenomenon that the chef should investigate a little more thoroughly.

Blaue Gans
139 Duane Street


  1. Sure. Well, not entirely. It's not really fusion... it's just refined. I mean, slightly upscale Austrian (the chef IS Austrian, after all) I've never been to Austria, but I would assume it's what they are doing there in terms of updated classics. As opposed to like, Austrian-Korean, or something, that I would consider more "fusion". Modern Austrian, or Austrian-influenced.