This tiny gem of a restaurant has fewer than 10 tables (30 patrons on Christmas eve, the night we went), very reasonable pricing, and authentically Germanic, brusque but welcoming service. The food is quite good, too!
Zum Kuckuck is located on a side street close to St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the central landmark of Vienna’s Stephansplatz. We secured reservations on the advice of the hotel concierge, since most restaurants in the city are closed on Christmas Eve, which is celebrated with more festivity in Europe than Christmas Day. The concierge provided us with a copy of the Christmas dinner menu (which can be found on the website) and we were very much intrigued. What could they possibly mean by Creme brulee of gooseliver? It must be a foie gras pate, we concluded. And what was a fried mushroom ravioli? We would find out!
The night came cold and rainy… Marriott bundled us off with cheery red umbrellas and off we went. Two right turns and a few blocks later, we found ourselves at the tiny threshold of a tiny restaurant, where a bustling matroness confirmed our reservations for the 20:30 seating. “Two, ja, ja. You will have an aperitif, ja? Right around the corner, ja?” Out the door we went, and around the corner as she directed, into a tiny covered cobblestone alley, where a smiling man poured us two steaming mugs of Gluhwein – hot mulled wine traditionally served around Christmastime. I realized then that the restaurant was still full from the previous seating and they needed time to clear out before second seating. No matter. The alley was cozy and beautiful, with Christmas lights, the Gluhwein was warming, and it was pleasant to chat with the other patrons before dinner.
Soon we were waved in to dinner, but when the smiling man saw my dinner companion trying to drain the last of his Gluhwein before returning, he topped off his mug and gestured that he should bring it in with him. This warming and friendly gesture set the tone for the rest of our meal. We were seated in close proximity to the rest of the dinner guests, but in the restaurant’s cozy quarters it seemed festive and friendly. Periodically throughout the evening the namesake cuckoo clocks on the wall would chime (though none were synced with the time), marking each half hour, which passed shockingly quickly.
After a second aperetif of home-flavored vodka, we tucked into the first course. It was, indeed, creme brulee, over a layer of goose liver, and one of the best creme brulees I have ever enjoyed. The goose lent a further level of richness to the dish, and the sweetness of the creme was a wonderful companion to the savory liver. Though all the entrees were good, this was by far the best. The mushroom ravioli turned out to be a small spring roll. The menu in full was such:
Creme brulee of gooseliver with homemade brioche
Consomme of deer with fried mushroom ravioli
Deep fried carp from the Waldviertel region, with jelly of cucumber salad
Braised rump of veal in vegetablesauce with truffled sliced dumplings and port cranberry pear
Strudel of gingerbread with cinnamon sauce and stewed sour cherries with pepper
The experience, as a whole, was eternally relaxing, though I was incredibly stuffed by the end of the meal. The food was the expected Austrian fare, but done very well. I particularly enjoyed the cinnamon sauce on the gingerbread strudel, which was incredibly light. We were one of the last patrons to leave, and as we left we were presented with a jar of sour cherry jam. It was a wonderful experience, and I would be pleased to go to Zum Kuckuck again.
Recommended: Gooseliver creme brulee, Gingerbread strudel with cinnamon sauce, cucumber salad jelly on the carp was very tangy and refreshing!
Price: About 300 USD
Rating: 4.5/5 bacon slices. Definitely would go back, but try not to be so seduced by the atmosphere that you forget your wallet.
[edited 2.10.09] Having been to another $300 restaurant, I am reducing this rating to 4 bacon slices. I think I was seduced by the Gluhwein.