The group that brought you Upland, Le Coucou, The Clocktower and Pastis just unveiled their latest scene-stealer – Veronika. Named for the patron saint of photography and located on the second floor of the newly debuted Swedish photo-museum Fotografiska, this über-elegant dining room with unfathomably high ceilings, elaborate brass candelabras, solid marble tables, Fabergé egg-shaped lamps, touches of gold in the tiles and wall panels, speckles of white marble mosaic here and there between the oak floors is going to be the next match that sets the Flatiron dining district on fire once and for all.
After your eyes adjust to the caramel-colored ambiance, you’re confronted with an impressive beaux arts bar pyramiding upwards well out of the bar tenders’ reach but still not quite touching the ever-evasive ceiling. You forget you’re on Park Avenue South and for a solid minute you can’t help waxing sentimental about one of Vienna’s grand coffee houses like Landtmann, Schwartzenberg, Diglas or Central.
But Veronika is not just Viennese. What she lacks in dusty nostalgia and disdain for the bourgeoisie, she more than makes up for in gold leaf and polish. Fortunately, Stephen Starr is far too hip to cutesify the space with odious waltzes or operatic orchestrations, and so the cool rock track keeps things somewhat unexpected and undefinable.
As is fairly customary these days, the magnificently gilded Rosenthal porcelain chargers are removed almost immediately, but they get replaced by even larger and more elaborate versions of themselves which encircle Instagram-able dish after Instagram-able dish in meticulous baroque frames. The silverware feels well-worn, heavy and historic, as if this very knife and fork have been cutting schnitzels and piercing goulash for a good hundred years.
The menu connects central and eastern Europe as effectively as a night train from Paris to Budapest – with border stops in Zurich, Vienna and Berlin along the way. I’d define this as the quintessential cold-climate restaurant with shamelessly hearty dishes like a soft and foamy cheese Souffle Suissesse freed from its ramekin and drenched in a decadent gruyere-laden sauce Mornay, or a scattering of soft-as-ravioli Potato Pierogis that take on a royal austerity when dolloped with a jolt of whipped caviar cream, or a perfectly fluffy pillow of Wiener Schnitzel that breathes a sigh of delight when you pierce it’s golden crumbed balloon, or the way the never-ending puddle of parsley-flecked melted garlic butter dribbles out of the immaculately sealed torpedo of Chicken Kiev nestled against a floral garnish of pomme purée. Even though this kitchen appears to be drowning in continental confidence, it’s hard to find a flaw.
The four cakes that make the rounds from table to table via a glass and brass trolley include a tidy but predictable Lemon Tart which felt a tad home-grown for such European surroundings, and the Sacher-torte-adjacent referred to as a Viennese Chocolate Cake (leaving dark-brown moustaches all around the room), has been overly Americanized. I’m hoping that with fewer layers, a less bitter chocolate (at least for the glaze) and a brighter Marillen (Austrian apricot) jam filling we might be within lip-smacking distance of one of Austria’s most popular perishable exports.
The other three desserts required more kitchen prep including the oddly familiar Omelette Norvégienne, (aka baked Alaska) – clearly on loan to round out the menu from Soho crowd pleaser Le Coucou. The two-man table-side flambee performance is about as dramatic as some of the Klimt-like, gold-framed photography glaring down at us with veiled looks of typically Austrian indifference. “Ah geh bitte” (give me a break already), they seem to whisper under their photogenic breaths. But biting through the gloriously tight froth of rum-toasted meringue into the velvety salsify ice-cream and spice-cake biscuit, who even gives a damn.