Maybe it's the cold weather, but lately, Gothamist has been dreaming of escaping New York for a European city such as Vienna, Madrid, or Athens. Unfortunately, with the dollar's quick descent in relation to the Euro, it seems we won't be heading over there any time soon.

But rather than feel sorry for ourselves about being stuck here, Gothamist decided that our next best option would be to indulge in some "travel" through dining. We wanted a restaurant that wouldn't just serve up an authentic national culinary experience, but could also provide the style and atmosphere that would bring about temporary amnesia as to our actual whereabouts.

We decided on Cafe Sabarsky. For the past three years, we've been reading critical raves about the place, a restaurant patterned after the old-style Viennese kaffeehaus. Housed within Museum Mile's Neue Galerie--a museum dedicated to early modern German and Austrian art--some food critics have speculated that museum-goers probably rush through the collection to more quickly receive their "reward" of strudel and coffee at the cafe.

The reviews we'd come across all saved their highest praises for the Austrian-style desserts (linzertorte, strudel, and the like) and coffee (espresso, American-style, etc.), while also praising, to a lesser extent, the savory options. We approached our visit to Cafe Sabarsky as a full meal, so we intended on trying the savory stuff as well as the sweet.

Especially when we saw Hungarian beef goulash on the menu! (Served with fresh herbed quark spätzle for $23.) It's not every New York restaurant that serves goulash. And despite the sound of that word, "goulash," to American ears, it's really quite delicious and satisfying when made right.

As with any good stew, goulash can almost make you not mind the cold outside, what with its meltingly tender chunks of beef and paprika-laden mellow spiciness. The Cafe Sabarsky rendition of goulash matched the best of what we've tried (including in Prague, where goulash is ubiquitous) and made it even better by presenting it with a side of spätzle, the tiny Austrian dumplings. The delicate egginess of the spätzle itself--along with a simple buttery flavor--provides a hearty starchiness that complements the goulash perfectly.

Our friends sampled the sausage options: Bavarian sausages with potato salad ($10) and sauteed sausage with Riesling sauerkraut and roasted potatoes ($12). All three of us agreed that the sauteed sausages had more flavor than the boiled Bavarian sausages but the side dishes of both were tasty.

But as much as we enjoyed the enjoyed those entrees, we could hardly contain our excitement to finally try the desserts. The only problem lay in choosing which ones. We walked up to the marble mantle lined with so many sweet treats--chocolate and hazelnut cake, lemon tart, Hungarian caramel cake, and hazelnut cake with vanilla-butter crème were but a few of the options--and felt a temporary mental paralysis. How could we ever choose?

But choose we had to, and we settled on the faschingkrapfen, a doughnut with apricot confiture ($4), quark cheese cake with pears ($6), and flourless chocolate feuilleté ($6). (Please note, some of the desserts are only available Friday through Monday.)

We were intrigued by the doughnut, which had been explained to us as a pre-Lenten tradition, even though we usually prefer our doughnuts to have holes instead of jam fillings. It's a good thing we're the curious type, because that faschingkrapfen made us reconsider our opinion of jam-filled doughnuts. Not overly sweet at all, the apricot flavor was so concentrated and tart that it made a wonderful contrast to the airy dough with its sugary coating.

02_05_sabarsky_desserts.jpgThe quark cheesecake with pears had a light and tangy quality imparted by the quark, as opposed to the heavier texture of New York-style cheesecake--a rather welcome change of pace. The delicate topping of pears and the thin bottom layer of raspberry jam balanced the tanginess wonderfully.

And the flourless chocolate feuilleté tasted almost as if Nutella had magically tranformed itself into a gourmet cake, but with a crunchy crust on the bottom and some edible gold-leaf on top, gilding the lily.

Our coffee-drinking friends tried the espresso with steamed milk and the American-style coffee, and both agreed that it was some of the best coffee they had ever had in New York. The hot chocolate on the other hand, was good but not great, although Gothamist liked how it was served in a small bowl with no sugar or whipped cream added--leaving it up to the drinker to add those ingredients to his or her taste.

Gothamist chose to go to Cafe Sabarsky on a Sunday afternoon, after visiting the nearby Guggenheim, but made a mental note to return soon for a Thursday-night dinner, their cabaret night. In keeping with the Vienna coffeehouse tradition, these cabaret shows present Austrian and German music and seem promising from their description on the restaurant website.

But even without someone singing in German while we ate, Gothamist managed to (momentarily) escape New York reality, surrounded by the dark-wood walls and marble-topped tables of Cafe Sabarsky.


Cafe Sabarsky, 1048 Fifth Ave. (between E. 85th and 86th Sts.), phone: 212-288-0665, website: www.wallse.com
Hours: Mon, Wed, 9am-6pm; Thu-Sun, 9am-9pm; Tue, closed. Dinner reservations only.