132 West 58th Street, New York NY 10019 (between 6th & 7th Avenues;
; map); 212-957-5550; seasonalnyc.com
Service: Excellent: precise and Germanic
Setting: A clean, modern room sets the perfect stage for cuisine that's just that
Cost: $27 for three courses
I can think of few cuisines so in need of an image makeover as those of Austria and Germany. Even British cooking, once the brunt of so many jokes, has gained foodie credibility, thanks in large part to the fine work of April Bloomfield. While we are justifiably enamored with the cooking of the French and the Italians, Germanic cooking has not really won over the fine dining crowd. David Bouley found this out when he shuttered Danube a few years back; and even Wolfgang Puck, Austria's most celebrated culinary export, made his name cooking French food rather than his native cuisine. But I think Seasonal, which is less ambitious in size, but not in vision, may succeed where Danube ran dry.
Seasonal is located in the shadow of some of the titans of continental cuisine just south of Central Park—Jean Georges, Per Se, Marea, A Voce and Anthos are all located within a few blocks of the small restaurant. And while it may not quite scale the lofty heights of its neighbors, Seasonal can stand proudly as a member of the European Union, serving up cuisine that any Austrian would be proud to call their own. And to be fair, while hardly cheap, it is more cost effective than dining at its neighbors. Especially at lunch—when $27 gets you three courses.
As the restaurant's name implies, the food at Seasonal is calendar-driven. So these days you can start things off with a white asparagus soup that looks like it is creamed but is instead light and silken like a consomme. Or perhaps a poached egg served with tender morsels of lobster underneath a foamy canopy. Then move on to a main course of spaetzle with a tangy mountain cheese, strewn with zucchini and mushrooms. But I recommend the Wiener Schnitzel—three beautifully breaded escallops of buttery veal served with a warm potato salad laced with mustard and cucumbers cut in to pasta like strands.
The dessert options are no less compelling. Choose between the Seasonal cake—a mocha cream-filled sponge cake—or a rousing rendition of apple strudel.
Forget any preconceptions you might have about dense, leaden schnitzels and oily, gummy spaetzle—the food at Seasonal is light and delicate, the flavors clean, beautifully paired, and allowed to speak with their own voices. While there are global tinges (mushrooms from Japan, lobster from Maine), the food is fundamentally Austrian, and surely among the cuisine's highest expressions.