“Ah, good morning Wien!” Sliding back the heavy window curtain, she smiled at the sight from her window.
The yellows, purples, and pinks made the vibrant blue canvas come to life.
Today was the day she had been waiting for: she was finally having a swanky lunch at a Viennese cafe. After all, the Wiener (Viennese) thing to do was to spend an afternoon sipping elaborate coffee and nibbling sumptuous desserts at one of the grand coffeehouses.
She bundled up, the temperature hovering around 5 degrees Celsius. Scarf knotted, coat buttoned, purse secured. She made her way through the windy streets to Cafe Central, a Viennese staple since 1876.
A rush of warm air swathed her as she stepped in the doorway. She felt right at home amongst the well-tailored waiters, opulent surroundings, and the refined aires. From across the room, she spotted her dining companions.
Cheek by cheek, she greeted them, then took off her outer coat and hung it on the nearby coat rack.
She saw the stack of menus lying on the table and picked one up; its weighty heft a true indicator of the number of menu items, “but also the prices,” she thought to herself. She traced the golden lettering carefully before opening the menu.
First, lunch. She perused the menu, reading the German description first, then verifying her translation with the accompanying English. Her finger fell upon one dish, and after reading the description, her mind was firmly made up:
Tomatenschnitte mit Basilikumgelee und Topinambur-Mousse, Makronen, Baby Mangold, und Pesto. Tomato terrine with basil jelly and Jerusalem artichoke mousse, macrons, baby chard, and pesto.
The sophisticated, fancy lunch she longed to have. “Perfect,” she thought. Dessert would follow, but for now, all the focus was on her company. Her stomach gave a slight growl, and she wished her lunch would arrive. No sooner had she thought this than a starched waiter presented her with her dish.
The first bite brought a burst of flavors: the deep umami-like flavor of the tomato puree, the creamy-tart acid of the Jerusalem artichoke mousse tempered only by the herbal aroma of the basil gelee, the crisp bite of the macaron that provided the textural contrast to the smooth, rich terrine.
The dish more than met her expectations; it was exactly what she had wanted.
After sweeping her plate to catch the last bit of pesto, she lay her fork and knife across her plate; a couple at 5 o’clock, indicating she was finished with the dish. She lingered just a moment before catching the waiter’s eye to ask for a dessert menu.
The combinations of coffee were endless, and each had their own special name; the “lingo” known by Austrians and puzzled over by visitors:
The Pharisäer: Großer Mokka mit Rum und Schlagobers. Large espresso with rum and whipped cream.
She remembered reading about the story behind it: it was created by townspeople who had been admonished by their pastor for their drinking habits. They surreptitiously added rum to the coffee, then covered it with a layer of whipped cream to hide the aroma of the alcohol. When the pastor found out, he allegedly cried, “You Pharisees!” and thus the name of the drink was born.
“Cafe Central” Kaffee: Großer Mokka mit Marillenlikör und Schlagobers. Large espresso with apricot liqueur and whipped cream.
Melange: Verlängerter mit aufgeschäumter Milch. Light coffee with frothed milk.
Her dining companions ordered Melanges with abandon, as they were the closest to an American cappuccino. She eschewed the coffee in favor of a large pot of Pfefferminze Tee (peppermint tea), a German favorite second only to Roten Früchte Tee (red fruit tea, which leads one to imagine just what “red fruits” this tea contains).
When it arrived, she was pleasantly surprised to see she had a whole silver tray to herself:
The tea saucer contained the sweet surprise of a chocolate almond candy, a custom European coffeeshops are wont to do.
To select her dessert, she rose and walked over to the display case, which was packed with various ornate pastries, each marked with a sign detailing its name and an identifying number. She vacillated over the Sacher torte, a traditional Viennese dessert consisting of apricot jam sandwiched between two layers of chocolate sponge cake, topped with a chocolate ganache and served with a side of unsweetened whipped cream, or the house speciality, the “Cafe Central” torte, a multilayered cake.
“Sieben, bitte.” “Seven, please.” She told the waiter the number of the “Cafe Central” torte, which she figured would be one of their best desserts, as it was their specialty. And she was right.
It arrived on white china, with a small silver fork, a white chocolate disk coated red and made to look like a wax seal with the words “Cafe Central” embossed in gold, and was wrapped up in a thin film of plastic, again bearing the name of the cafe.
As there was no description, she tried to guess what it was made of. First, she tried the cake layers all together. Her fork slid into the cake, breaking off just the tip of the cake, her favorite part. It tasted of chocolate, almond, apricot, and a bit of alcohol.
She tried to guess the anatomy of the cake:
Bottom layer: a thin slice of chocolate cake saturated with orange liqueur.
Middle layer: a dryish yellow cake crowned with raspberry preserves.
Top layer: marzipan (sweet almond paste) enrobed in a thick chocolate coating
She sipped her tea and savored each bite of her cake, happily taking small forkfuls of her dining companions’ desserts, but deciding hers was one of the best.
She sat back in her chair, smiled to herself, and savored the perfect moment.