Presenting The Faux Gourmet!

The Faux Gourmet has been on hiatus for a while. I began this blog as a creative outlet during law school. After law school, I started other blogs on other topics and no longer needed this as a creative outlet, not to mention my diminishing free time.

But I kept cooking, kept taking food pictures and garden pictures, kept wanting to share the little tidbits of what I'd made. I occasionally did this on my personal blog (to which, I'm sure, people yawned and wondered when I'd post another cat picture). But I started to miss this space. Of all the blogs I have, this format, culled over several dedicated years and incorporating that adorable illustration by Sam Wedelich (see info the left) is by far my favorite.

So I'm back!

Expect short and sweet posts. Less food porn, more recipes and tips. If you want food porn you can look at any of the 5000 million existing food blogs. I don't have good lighting in my apartment and don't have time to style plates. I just want to make something yummy and eat it. If that sounds ok with you, stick around.

Looking forward to being back in touch!


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    Tuesday, March 17, 2009

    The Kindness of Strangers

    Note: Sadly, I have no pictures of my own to illustrate the following tale, but the fact that my camera batteries ran out & the converter I'd carefully packed was the wrong one only added to the woefulness of the situation. In keeping with today's theme, all photos are similarly thanks to the kindness of strangers.

    Taste & See: My first night in Vienna, I walked for blocks in the rain. The restaurant I'd planned to visit turned out to be closed. At the next place I entered, the waiter gave me a cheerful, "Buon giorno!" before telling me he had no seat for a woman alone; "maybe, if you were a man . . . " he trailed off. I promptly left and continued to march down the dark and quiet street.

    Finally I chanced upon what appeared to be a little paradise: Eulennest, a charming wine bar run by the charming (Austrian) Stephan and (Australian) Imogen.

    Courtesy, including a review.

    I had a lovely Riesling soup, creamy but light with a touch of potato and garlic, and a simple mushroom quiche. Stephan selected three different Austrian whites (two Gruner Veltliners and a Riesling), each delightful in its way, and far from what I have had with these grapes in the US. The man next to me even treated me to a glass of champagne.


    It was all rosy until I reached for my wallet to pay--and it was gone, along with every last bit of my money.

    It was stupid of me to have put all my financial eggs in one basket, so to speak, but I wasn't exactly being irresponsible with my belongings. The theft was swift and subtle. I was, and am, rather frustrated by all the logistical untanglings that remain: for example, to get a replacement ID in the state where I'm from I must re-apply in person--but I won't be there anytime soon--, and to get an ID in the state where I live I must surrender my old ID, which I don't have.

    But as much as this put a serious damper on my holiday, it did at least begin a series of events in which I was the unwittingly recipient of the kindness of strangers, which is a strangely comforting way to experience a place. First, Stephan and Imogen took my good word for it that I'd return with the cash. The man with the champagne walked me to my hotel in the rain to ensure I arrived home safely--not that there was much left to take but my dignity.

    My bank arranged to have an emergency card overnighted to arrive the day after. My hotel--Hotel Fürstenhof, a cozy gem favored by artists and musicians, replete with photos of (semi) famous former guests, including The Frames!--gave me an extra night's stay on credit and loaned me a money to buy some food until my card arrived.

    Courtesy; see hotel website for more photos.

    Armed with 20 euros, I set out to enjoy Vienna. I opted for free entertainment, walking for hours among the grand old houses and palaces, and cathedrals, soaking in Vienna's (slightly) faded grandeur.

    My first big expenditure was at a Vienna institution, Figlmüller, known for its enormous and superior weiner schnitzle.

    Courtesy the picasa account of the intrepid Iris Osk.

    Weiner schnitzel is a popular Austrian dish. It is a thin slice of veal, or sometimes pork, coated in breadcrumbs and fried. My schnitzel, which was deliciously too big for my plate, was served with a lemon slice and a heaping basket of bread, from which I took one very long, skinny roll, covered in thick salt.

    The waiter, Christian, kept trying to offer me salad or spring water--they didn't serve tap--but I didn't want to spend any of my meager store. I was embarrassed to be too cheap to buy water so I explained that my wallet had been stolen. Before I knew it, Christian brought me water, a heaping bowl of potato salad and mache with pumpkin seed oil, and eventually, a take away pack so I could eat half my schnitzel for dinner.

    Courtesy the picasa account of the intrepid Mazilique.

    He charged me for nothing but the main dish and refused my tip, even though tips rounding up are common in Austria. (Incidentally, I also witnessed the same waiter's impeccable treatment of a family with small, roaming children and was quite impressed.) I was already pleased with Figlmüller, but Christian's magnanimosity was the icing on the cake.

    Later in the day, after a second round of wandering, I ventured out to a distinguished old cafe, Cafe Jelinek. (Coffeehouses are another Vienna institution; for a rundown, see here; see romanticized watercolors of Jelinek and other lovely spots here.)


    As the friendly receptionist at my hotel noted, the walls are brown now, but originally they were not. Decades and decades of smoke--over heated intellectual discussions, French poetry, crossword puzzles, intimate glasses of wine--have made the difference. I settled in with the Austrian baby latte known as a melange, a shot of espresso in a teacup with a good bit of hot milk and a dash of foam, and a slice of cake. Several hours later I thought I'd buy a glass of wine and stay on but didn't quite have enough; the friendly waitress gave me one anyway.

    I thought I was safe when my emergency credit card arrived, but it did not work without bank activation. Being a Saturday, the banks were closed. I walked and walked, masochistically traipsing through an open air market, drooling over mounds of plump figs and cheese-stuffed peppers I could not afford. Then I had to go to the bathroom, but it cost fifty cents I did not have, so I returned to the hotel, where I waited hours for the arrival of my sister's delayed train. I would have been miserable without the friendly man at the front desk; he let me lounge on the hotel's couch, kept me company with stories of Persian history and linguistics, and shared a candy bar and bread so I wouldn't go too hungry.

    I was aching for all of Vienna I hadn't seen in my two days of woe but at least I have these small stories of the kindness of strangers, sweet memories to hopefully outlast my frustration in the rosy gloss of retrospect.

    Do it yourself

    (Minus the missing wallet, of course.)

    Eulennest: Operngasse 30, 1040 Vienna;;

    Hotel Fürstenhof
    : Neubauguertel 4, A-1070 Vienna; Tel.: ++43 1 5233267;

    Figlmüller: Wollzeile 5, Vienna; Bäckerstrasse 6, Vienna;

    Cafe Jelinek: Otto Bauergasse 5 1060 Vienna, Tel.: ++43 1 5974113; Open 9 AM - 11 PM daily