Dark Stars

Modern Dishes Join Starving Artists and Yuppie Executives

The sun set hours ago on the city of Vienna. The streets and gassen were bathed in shadows; the night was dark, very dark- even sinister… Vienna seemed to know that we were heading for a restaurant called Zum Finsteren Stern (The dark star).

Leaving the Schulhof in the first district, the only light in the Parisergasse was coming from a small, inconspicuous glass door adorned with a single clue- a simple black star. Entering, the atmosphere switched instantly, leaving the cold and uncomfortable outdoors, we were greeted by cosy warmth.

The Finsterer Stern was bathed in yellow light, complementing the ochre wooden floors. By the entrance a bar served two petite tables, surrounded by stacks of dusty wine cases. The downstairs main dining area was also small, holding maybe ten tables, yet airy and comfortable. The entire right wall was covered by a wooden board, which had small sun shapes punched into it (no, not stars!). The curved ceiling and whitewashed walls were kept bare except for three artistic, pastel-shaded lamps.

We were welcomed by a friendly waiter dressed in unobtrusive black who arrived to take our order with a plate of amuse gueule consisting of sweet potato puree, crushed nut mousse in puff pastry and the most tiny piece of delicate roast pork.

The menu, presented on a notebook holder, was also reduced to a minimum – three appetizers, an in-between pasta dish, four main courses and three desserts. The carte du jour however reimbursed us in culinary richness. Offered was a type of fusion cooking, traditional and plain fare that had been pimped to meet contemporary standards.

We decided not to go for the six course menu for 38 Euro, however tempting, but ordered a marinated Tafelspitz with classical Vogerlsalat and a fresh goats cheese dish with figs in bacon and red chicory as appetizers.

The choice of wine was difficult as the list was short; but it was also exquisite and exclusively Austrian. A Sauvignon Blanc from Ploder-Rosenberg and a Chardonnay from Loimer were the winners.

While greedily scraping the remainders of the ‘little something’ and sipping the ice-cold delicious wine, we took time to take in the crowd around us. The people, like the menu, were individual and appealing, ranging from a flashy group of ‘alternative’ students in one corner to a middle-aged upper-class couple in jacket and tie. Everyone was engaged in lively conversation, filling the room with an exciting murmur.

The appetizers arrived and looked as intriguing as they sounded, minimalist and colorful. The tastes were familiar, bringing back memories of my grandmother’s cooking, yet surprising in their nouvelle cuisine aromas, on the whole making up for the lack of dressing.

After a comfortable pause, enough for us to enjoy a cigarette and conversation, the main course followed.  A broiled fillet of sea bass was served on a bed of traditional vegetables and spiced up by a fresh saffron-lime butter sauce.  Grilled-to-perfection lamb chops were accompanied by classic tomato-chilli sauce, parsnip puree and invigorating mince beans.  The amount was just right, leaving us contently full but not stuffed.

Sinking deeper into our seats, faces flushed, the flavours of the food and wine and the oozing drone of voices lulled us into a state of semi-intoxicated bliss. Another glass of the delicate wine and a coffee that would make an Italian happy accompanied our final course –

a delicious semolina flummery with cinnamon plum compote.

Pleased with the rare combination of high-quality food yet informal atmosphere, we left this sunny sanctuary around midnight, clear that the little eatery was anything but finster.

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