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Blaue Gans

blauegans.jpgThis time last year, it looked like super-chef Kurt Gutenbrunner was veering dangerously close to over-exposure. Within three months, his two-restaurant empire (Wallsé, Cafe Sabarsky) doubled, opening THOR on the Lower East Side in September 2005 and Blaue Gans in TriBeCa in December.

Perhaps Gutenbrunner realized that he’d stretched himself too far. He pulled out of THOR—the restaurant least like the others—leaving himself with three unique but strongly related restaurants. At all of them, the focus is on Austrian food, a niche that Gutenbrunner has nearly to himself.

Blaue Gans (pronounced BLAU-uh gahnz), which means “Blue Goose,” is the most casual of Gutenbrunner’s trio of restaurants. It occupies a space that was once the restaurant Le Zinc, and Gutenbrunner made only minimal changes on taking it over. The walls are covered with vintage posters, most of which are unrelated to the Austrian theme. There are no table cloths, butter knives, or even bread plates to go with the excellent bread service. Servers, many of whom seem to be Austrian imports, tend to get stretched when the restaurant fills up—as it does, at least on a Friday night.

The surroundings at Blaue Gans may scream “casual,” but Gutenbrunner still takes his Austrian cuisine seriously. The chef himself was in the house on Friday night, which suggests he didn’t open Blaue Gans merely to make a quick buck. I suspect the restaurant may be his laboratory, with the more successful dishes graduating to his West Village flagship, Wallsé. (A short list of handwritten specials accompanied the main menu.) As far as I can tell, the Wiener Schnitzel you get at Blaue Gans is the same Wiener Schnitzel you get at Wallsé, except it costs $8 less.

Appetizers at Blaue Gans are $8–12, but there’s a separate menu category for sausages, which are $7–8. My friend and I tried the pork and beef sausage and the smoked pork sausage (both $8), served with sauerkraut and horseradish mustard. We thought the smoked pork sausage was a tad more interesting, but I would happily try either one again.

For the main course, my friend ordered the pork belly ($21), which must have been one of the largest helpings I have ever seen. I ordered the pork schnitzel ($22), which was wonderful—as Frank Bruni described it, “The meat had been dusted with flour and cooked with veal stock, cream, button mushrooms and bacon.”

Like everything else at Blaue Gans, the wine list has many reasonably-priced entries. We settled on a bottle of gewürztraminer at $36 that was more than satisfactory for our hearty, casual meal. The bill came to $103 with tax, before tip.

One positive development is that, as of January, Blaue Gans now takes reservations, a convenience much more helpful to those of us who want to make definite plans. And I am reasonably certain my future plans will include Blaue Gans again. As my friend put it, “I could eat like this every day.” Well, maybe not: the food here isn’t exactly lo-cal. But when you’re in the mood for a calorie splurge, it doesn’t get much more decadent than this.

Blaue Gans (139 Duane Street between West Broadway and Church Street, TriBeCa)

Food: *½
Service: *
Ambiance: *
Overall: *½

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