344 West 11th Street, 212-352-2300
Wallse is the pioneer establishment of Chef Kurt Gutenbrenner’s trio of Austrian restaurants (others: Blaue Gans and Cafe Sabarsky at the Neue Gallerie). It is a “modern take on traditional Viennese cuisine.” We chose Wallse to mark the end of our weekend of celebration and food because Alex and Stephanie’s mother is Austrian, and they grew up in Vienna. I took Alex to Wallse for his birthday last year and he was so enthralled with the cuisine, staff, and wine, that it would have been remiss not return to celebrate Stephanie’s graduation.
We had an early reservation, which allowed for some great photos as light pours into the restaurant from its large front windows. The atmosphere in Wallse is sophisticated and cool, without being too stuffy. There is fantastic art on the walls that make for good distractions. When the sun goes down, later, the place takes on a warmer feel that begs the diner to stay for just one more schnapps (which I recommend!).
Being a party of ten in a small restaurant, we had a prix-fixe menu with three choices for each course. Alex took care of choosing the menu items, and let them know of my gluten dietary restriction. To my slight disappointment, there was only 1 item per course that was gluten-free, the others would have to be modified. I found our waitress slightly flippant in regards to both my gluten and another diner’s shellfish allergy. I won’t die from eating gluten (at least not immediately), but this shellfish allergy is deadly and scary. I would have appreciated a more thoughtful response than, “you should be fine” in regards to our concerns about cross-contamination. In contrast, when I was here for Alex’s birthday, our waiter was attentive and knowledgeable, and I have a feeling the allergic diner’s experience would differ slightly with different waiters here.
Anyway, onto the food. I didn’t want to eat seafood for both my first and second course (as I had done at Nougatine) so I chose to get the pea soup with mint, sans lobster ravioli. There is one thing Wallse doesn’t have in common with other high-end restaurants: small portions. My soup was served in a large bowl that could have easily been lunch. Those that had the spaetzle were served entree sized portions of small-variably sized dumplings with rabbit mixed in (and it was a hit!). I tried to eat only half of my soup as to preserve my appetite, but that was a failure. I slurped down the whole darn thing. This was my first non-split, pea soup and it was flavorful, slightly sweet, not heavy, and a beautiful hue.
so much green!
As I alluded to earlier, I chose the steamed halibut with cucumbers, dill, and seasonal mushrooms as my second course. After having fish each night, I was getting bored, but this perfectly cooked, tender halibut broke the mold. IN addition to the quality of the fish, the dill sauce was sweet and a perfect contrast to the earthy mushrooms. Together, it was perfection. It was also too much fish, and I couldn’t finish it after my heaping bowl of soup.
I thought it couldn’t get better, but it did. My only choice for dessert was the salzburger nockerl with huckleberries. It was the group favorite (yay!). The salzburger nockerl is an egg-white souffle and it was served over huckleberry sauce. The soufflee was sweet, and I mean, sweet- almost too much for me which is saying something. But it was just right, and when paired with the tarter huckleberries, it was heaven in my mouth. Despite its intimidating size, I finished the whole thing. It was that good. Honestly, memories of the salzburger drifted through my mind the entire next day.
Despite the lukewarm experience with the waitress, Wallse’s food is so good, its a must-go restaurant for the gluten-free diner on a special occasion. I’m already thinking about how I can get back there for the tasting menu and wine pairing…