Our server at Grünauer Bistro called the men at our table Sir. When one of the women asked for a glass of water, he replied, with deep seriousness and an Austrian accent, “Madame, consider it done.” He set off deliberately, his chest billowing before him and his feet moving with slow, battle-weary pride. A few minutes later, he returned.
“There you are, Madame,” he said. “As fast as I could.”
Once he had hauled away the dessert dishes — by that time, we had reduced the Sacher torte to a rubble of dark crumbs and the palatschinken folded over chestnut mousse to a few stray smudges of chocolate sauce — he came back with a bottle and four glasses. The clear spirit he poured was a pear-apple brandy from Austria.
After a sip, one of the women said it reminded her of grappa. He lifted his chin and gave an indulgent chuckle. In that laugh was compressed the entire history of Austria’s contributions to European culture.
“Yes, Madame,” he said. “But … more refined.”
He was so perfect for Grünauer Bistro, and Grünauer Bistro was so perfect for him, that it’s impossible to imagine a time when they hadn’t been together. The whole restaurant is like that. Although it opened in early March, it might have been frying Wiener schnitzel and simmering tafelspitz on the corner of First Avenue and 82nd Street for decades.
More than I would have thought possible, Grünauer Bistro seems to be a holdout from Yorkville’s past, when businesses fed the Czech, Slovak, Hungarian, Austrian and German immigrants who lived side by side in microneighborhoods that replicated the arrangement of Mitteleuropa.