(one visit, September 2005)
Tucked away in the sleepy village of Werfen about an hour’s train ride from Salzburg, at the foot of the Austrian Alps, is the delightfully refined restaurant and hotel, Obauer. Run by brothers Karl and Rudolf, this ten-roomed cottage on the main street of Werfen boasts a Michelin 2 star restaurant on the ground floor.I had planned to make a day-trip to Werfen from Salzburg. Unfortunately, my visit to the tiny town was plagued with an unseasonably cold rain and windy weather. I arrived early, around 09.00 and immediately headed out on foot to ascend the steep mountain to visit the Hohenwerfen Berg – one of the three fortresses built by the Archbishops of Salzburg.Having hiked a mountain, toured the unheated castle, and trekked back to town worked up a considerable appetite. By the time I reached Obauer, I was sorry sight – chilled to the bone, I was wet and slightly disheveled.
Thankfully, the staff did not compound my self-consciously un-presentable self with looks of disapproval when I arrived. Instead, they graciously showed me to a changing room where I refreshed myself and changed into finer threads.The restaurant is small – indeed, only seating about thirty, if you squeezed. The interior surprisingly modern, given the quaint centuries old façade.
The lunch menu is a tempting offer at just 35 € for three courses. As well, there is another three-course offering at 45€, or you could opt to add another meat dish to that for an additional 10€. However, what caught my attention was the six-course menu (75€). None of the dishes on the smaller menus appealed to me – but each dish in the six-course sounded amazing.
Hesitating just slightly from having dropped a considerable chunk of change on earlier meals in Salzburg (more posts to come!), I sucked it up and decided to feed my hungry and cold body… besides, it was the perfect day for a long lunch! The only thing pressing on my schedule was a planned visit to the nearby ice caves. But, I wasn’t too worried as it was noon and the bus for the caves didn’t leave until three – just blocks from the restaurant.
Before I could put in my order, I was greeted with an onslaught of “welcomes from the kitchen.” First, a dish came out with four pretty one-bite darlings, each with it’s own utensil. A single clam shell held a perfectly buttery-yellow cube of oyster gelatin topped with demi pickled herring. I thought the cube was cheese at first, as it looked firm and was creamy in colour. House-cured horse carpaccio enrobed a single white grape on a toothpick. The horsemeat was a beautiful garnet red and tasted of Italian bresaolo cavallo. It was an excellent combination. A dice-sized filet of beef covered in coconut shavings tasted just like coconut curry… very Asian. Lastly, a strip of pink ham wrapped around marinated artichoke garnished with a single rosemary leaf.Before I could even finish the quartet of welcomes, I was greeted with my amuse. A large shot glass held a generous dose of heady “tuna crème.” Bathing in the peridot layer of olive oil that capped off the treat was a single (very happy, I’m sure) mussel. The crème came with it’s own savory tuile to crumble into it for added texture (I found the tuile too delicate to use as a scoop, as I originally thought it was for. Regardless, it all made into my tummy. It was like uber upmarket tuna salad.
My “welcomes” came to end with a dizzyingly impressive “scoop” of breads. Multi-grains, sourdoughs, pumpernickels and others crowded in a rustic wooden trowel, of sorts. Accompanying the lot was a hunk of quality butter and – pumpkin seed schmaltz. Ohmygosh… who knew lard could be so appealing? Generous chunks of pumpkin seeds lent a toasty autumn welcome to the unctuous spread.
First course: St. Jacques (diver scallops) halved width-wise sat atop a generous filet of monkfish. Underneath, a single large round cross section of red beetroot. A shallow pool of brilliant magenta beet juice with swirls of lemony golden beet juice surrounded the seafood like a water colour palette – an organically nebulous wonder!This dish was surprisingly bland – despite its bold plumes. However, I didn’t find it wanting… it was very lightly seasoned, if it all which enabled the briny sea scallop, meaty monkfish and earthy beet to shine. I had been so used to pickled (everything) that it was quite a shock not to taste the tang of vinegar. Simple, unpretentious and exceedingly exquisite. One interesting garnish – spearmint!
Rivaling my first course in visual splendour came my second course: Bonito sashimi with wasabi-braised cabbage. This was garnished with fried sage and micro parsley (ubiquitous in Austrian/Continental cuisine). This plate also featured lobster with bundles of salmon roe, dill and pomegranate seeds.
The raw bonito sat atop the cabbage, which was a much needed counterpoint to the fishy and pungent fish. The lobster was good, but not spectacular. However, the un-garnished lobster meat was helped by the poppingly fresh roe and crunch pomegranate seeds – not only painted elements to the dish, but a welcomed colour to the tastebuds!
Third course featured a duo of liver. A bed of soft cepes in cream-foam held two thin slices of veal liver, which in turn served as an altar for a millimeter-thin slice of foie gras. The foie was topped with two micro-plane tissue-thin cross-sections of raw cepes. All this was garnished with a young sprig of thyme.This dish was delight on such a cold and rainy day! It was an earthy-flavour lover’s dream! Full-bodied and luscious, the mushrooms and livers made a spectacular coupling – each asserting its woodsy savoriness. The texture marriage was heavenly! The fatty buttery foie against the slightly meaty veal liver and silky mushrooms pleased both tongue and teeth.
On my fourth course, the kitchen did a switch-a-roo. I know from a table ordering the same menu as me that I was supposed to get a palate cleanser of sorbet. However, earlier in my meal, while browsing through Obauer’s cookbook, I inquired about an interesting “Sour Kid” recipe.Instead of a cold tart sorbet, a mini silver saucepan landed in front of me – holding slivers of veal tongue with fresh herbs. Spaghetti-thin strips of tongue sat in a creamy broth with hints of pepper and a vinegary tang. The texture and look of the shredded tongue reminded me of Chinese beef tripe served at dim sum houses. While not a refreshing sorbet, I did appreciate the gesture. However, I wondered if the change caused the delay of my fifth course…
After a wait, my saddle of venison appeared. A perfectly circular cut, the filet was topped with a crispy “juniper pastry” (a thin fried wonton-like square). The meat was enrobed in a dark maroon blackberry sauce. The meat was excellently finished a medium rare (though I tend to like my game on the rarer side).Instead of the “Elderberry sauce with licorice ice cream,” I opted for the cheese course. This featured five cheese: a local Austrian artisanal farm cow’s cheese, French Reblochon garnished with a single rosemary leaf, Austrian goat cheese crusted with black peppercorns, French Forme d’Ambert, and French Brie de Meaux. Each cheese came with its own “house chutney,” which featured various sweet and savory vegetable or fruit preserve. For pleasure, a small basket of various toasted and un-toasted breads were offered.
For dessert, I asked to get something lighter than the proffered “Raspberry-coconut cake with “zirbe”-yoghurt ice cream. I gave my preference for ice cream and was presented with a generous quartet of sorbets and ice creams: chicory and licorice ice creams and strawberry and melon sorbets. The one that most intrigued me was the licorice ice cream – which was not as offensive as I feared. The chicory, however, was my favorite – as close to coffee/chocolate as the real thing.
Petite fours came sailing out on a silver dish – gelee, granola bar, chocolate-covered cherry, and poppy seed-dipped gooseberry.
A note on service: Impeccable and approachable. The wait staff was a smattering of youngish women to middle-aged gentleman. One outstanding was an adolescent – I would guess a boy no older than fourteen – very professional and well groomed. For those who are interested, English was spoken with various proficiency, but the host was able to translate the entire menu upon request. As well, each of my servers presented my courses in English.Obauer was definitely worth the detour from Salzburg. Although the Hohenwerfen castle is sight and the nearby ice caves (which I missed the last tour by 10 minutes due to my 3 hour lunch), are draws – Obauer is the crowning jewel of this sleepy village in the Alps!