By Hannah Reimann
These days, an oasis in the city to me is more than a watering hole. It’s a sanctuary where I can eat well, experience comfort, culture and be treated well, a temporary escape from the speed and pressures of the day-to-day in a calm and attractive setting. With or without the COVID-19 pandemic, these are qualities we rely on in the West Village. We remain lucky even if we need to search for an oasis at times.
The night before the “shutdown” in 2020, my last visit to a restaurant was to the extraordinary Wallsé on West 11th Street, home to the finest gourmet Austrian cuisine in the city. I folded my coat and put it on the barstool next to me so that the barstool would remain empty, creating a barrier to the bar patron closest to me. I took off my mask and had a glass of Grüner Veltliner. I was as at once happy to be there as I was sad and concerned, not knowing when we’d be reunited. Wallsè has always been an oasis for me for special occasions or for an aperitif before I go home to cook.
Although table service was closed for a year, I was amazed to see that both Wallsé and its little sister around the corner, Wallsè Next Door, had stayed open to serve the community uninterrupted. The former sold meals to go until table service reopened and, the latter, provisions throughout the entire pandemic. I would stop by for pastries, coffee beans, cookies, jams, mineral water, bottles of wine and many other delicacies. I saw chef and owner, Kurt Gutenbrenner, and manager, Matthew Neele, coming and going, eventually arranging preparations for indoor and outdoor seating, keeping up beautiful appearances of both places despite the emptiness and dreariness of the city. Next Door had weekly $4 “specials”—usually desserts Matthew was testing—which cheered me up and brought back memories of my half-German upbringing (especially the apricot fruit dumplings).
Formerly known as Upholstery, Wallsè Next Door is an affordable and casual alternative to the white-glove dining at Wallsè, albeit with many of the same wines, small dishes, desserts and friendly, attractive staff. The outdoor seating has comfortable large cushions, good heating lamps and appropriate shelter for late fall and winter evenings, close to a big tree. You can also sit indoors if you please. It’s a bit of a secret, hidden away a block from the river, and you should know about it.
On a cold November night under velvety blankets, my colleague, Caroline and I started with the Warm Pretzel with Liptauer (a soft Hungarian cheese with paprika and other seasonings) and two warming cocktails, a Figgy Martin—cognac infused with fig named by a charming waiter, Ellison—and Alpine Lodge, a gingery bourbon literally topped with smoke in an upside-down glass stacked above the cocktail, removed upon serving and imparting a subtle autumnal taste. We warmed our hands around steaming cups of flavorful Lobster Bisque drizzled with pumpkin oil. The burrata plate came with tender butternut squash, fresh figs and sprouts. We shared a cheeseboard with Murray’s unusual Alp blossom, an aged Swiss cow cheese which has a rind coated with chervil, cornflower, lavender, lovage, marigold, marjoram and rose petals and Murray’s Cave Aged Original 80-10-10 (percentages of cow-goat-sheep milk, respectively, in one cheese). This all paired perfectly with the full-bodied 2017 Iby Hochäcker Blaufränkisch red.
I love figs, however, if you’re not as into them as I am, I assure you that there are plenty of fig-less selections including the Krainerwust, a rich, gourmet version of Keilbasa with sweet, tangy mustard and the best rye bread I’ve ever had. There are also oysters, charcuterie, Tapenade Toast and Smoked Salmon Toast; all you need for a nourishing end-of-the-day respite.
We found the Bründlmayer “L&T” Grüner Veltliner to be delightful with our apple strudel mit schlag and fluffy vanilla pudding topped with sliced fresh ripe figs.
Wallsè Next Door
713 Washington Street
Between West 11th Street & Perry Street
344 West 11th Street
on the corner of Washington Street