Schilling, the Austrian restaurant that has become my go-to in recent years, offers diners traditional Viennese specialties under the helm of Chef Eduard Fraueneder, who earned his first Michelin star at his earlier West 58 Street Austrian restaurant, Seasonal.
Until this year, I had never dined out on Thanksgiving except when traveling. In 2020, I ordered a delicious prepared meal from Friend of a Farmer on Irving Place, and last year prepared dinner myself.
But the pandemic has made for strange bedfellows and it seemed right to try something different. Schilling offered a decidedly non-Austrian menu for Thanksgiving (I was relieved that turkey schnitzel was not the entrée) with the exception being the Apfelstrudel for dessert and I bravely went with three friends and sat largely sans mask in the corner table that has become my Stammtisch.
I had originally no intention of writing a review of the meal but, as the courses kept coming, each being more delicious than what preceded it, I decided I had to say something so I made mental notes in between bite after satisfying bite.
There was a short wait when we arrived at 4 p.m. for our reservation. The party at our table was lingering so, while we, at first, waited outside chatting, we took advantage of a space the host had cleared for us at the bar and enjoyed a cocktail. The bar experience was the only thing that didn’t match the restaurant’s otherwise flawless delivery: The Manhattan my friend and I both ordered tasted off. It turned out to be due to the vermouth used and replacements were quickly proffered. This time I ordered something on the cocktail menu, the King’s Gambit, made with bourbon, lemon, dark amber maple, Kings ginger, and baked apple, and it was sublime.
As soon as our corner table was ready we made our way across the busy dining room (the house was running at full steam) and I took my seat in the very corner, giving me an excellent opportunity for people watching on the street as well as to keep an eye on the goings on inside as well.
I had ordered a vom Donabaum Grüner Veltliner for the table, which arrived shortly after we were all seated. It was quickly followed by the first of many courses to come.
“Thanksgiving is meant to invoke a sense of time and place that’s specific to the celebrant,” Chef Fraueneder told me in a conversation a few days after the meal.
His description of both his kitchen and the holiday borders on the poetic: “The smell of sage and butter browning in the oven, the light sizzle of turkey fat, a crisp sharpness of chilled wine shared with family, maybe estranged by time and distance; the cold frost on the window, the touch of wool on your grandmother’s arms.”
First, we were presented with a sublime warm honeynut squash accompanied by lightly smoked local burrata, rye-brown sugar agrodolce, and caraway streusel. This was followed by a platter with Nuß Schinken served with Asian pears and rosemary oil. Each slice of the lean, dry ham was heavenly.
The third course to precede the entrée was a quartet of cups of celeriac velute. This lightly truffled and very aromatic soup made me wonder whether I would make it to the main course but, fortunately, the pace slowed down and we continued to take delight in the first three courses and enjoy the first glass of the Grüner Veltliner, which had a light gold color, green apple and olive on the nose, melon tasting notes, a rather innocuous start but a wonderfully acidic finish.
As we finished our starters the heritage black turkey arrived at the table. The breast was slow roasted and accompanied by giblet gravy and there was a single confit leg, which I quickly claimed. The leg was extraordinary and the breast was tender and juicy with just the right flavor. The Heritage Black Turkey is an old breed, the Joyce Farms website explains, one of the first to have been developed from Native American stock. Heritage turkeys, I have learnt, are bred to retain historic characteristics that are no longer present in other domestic turkeys and they can be raised in a manner that matches the life cycle and natural behavior of wild turkeys.
The stuffing and herb infused compound butter under the skin of the organic turkey was intended to be “a call back to freshly hunted wild turkeys and sage dug just barely still green from its protective layer of snow,” Fraueneder said. “It’s been injected with a light brine and immediately interred to the oven where it spent a few hours at a low temperature, until the skin revealed its golden crispness.”
The staff wasn’t done filling our fairly large table to the brim with food. Immediately following the turkey’s arrival came a wonderful baked sourdough-brioche stuffing with roasted chestnuts, lady apples, and sage, green beans with wild mushroom cream and crispy fried onions. The sweet potato brulée – the potatoes had been baked over salt and olive oil and whipped with cream and cloves – was topped with marshmallows and lemon thyme. A delicious Jersey cranberry compote with orange peel and bay leaf came soon thereafter, and the chef told me that the cranberries had been “treated brutally but respectful to the farmers who rake them from their bog, [then] crushed for an hour fresh, with orange zest and fresh bay leaves.”
I can’t leave out the gravy, and I learnt the secret ingredient from Fraueneder, namely a “whisper” of rum.
One accompaniment simply outdid the next and I stared at the table in wonder.
One might presume that we were done once we finished the heritage turkey and four accompaniments, but stopping there was not an option. After the table had been cleared, individual plates with a miniature pumpkin pie accompanied by pumpkin seed-candied ginger ice cream and a miniature Apfelstrudel (not just a slice but an actual miniature of what my grandmother would have made), were accompanied not by Schlagobers but by crème Anglaise and vanilla ice cream.
One day a year, the Wiener Schnitzel steps aside and makes way for turkey with all of the trimmings. In this case, with Edi Fraueneder at the helm, it turned out that this had been in fact a very Austrian Thanksgiving, one celebrated with a top Austrian chef and with small Central European influences to boot, and for that, I truly gave thanks.
109 Washington Street
New York, N.Y. 10006
(Photos: Accura Media Group)