NEW YORK — To speak to restaurateur Kurt Gutenbrunner is to be unwittingly drafted for a revolution — albeit a culinary one. It’s been a busy fall for the indefatigable chef, who seems to be singlehandedly striving to vitalize Teutonic cuisine in New York.
In September, he opened the well-received Thor, on the Lower East Side and in October, he created Café Fledermaus to act as an auxiliary space for his ever-popular Café Sabarsky in the Neue Galerie. Now, he’s taken over the Le Zinc space in TriBeCa from Chanterelle’s David Waltuck and is gunning for a Dec. 5 opening.
It’s his most accessible place to date — a casual gathering spot modeled after a typical German bistro. “I wanted to do something low-key,” explains Gutenbrunner, relaxing for a moment in a booth while workmen mill around him. “When I look back at places in Germany or Austria, every village has a restaurant called the Black Eagle or the Golden Swan, and all the artists would meet and work out of there. Just sit with friends, have a bite and a glass of wine.” To that end, his latest spot will be called “Blaue Gans” (the Blue Goose).
By Christmas, the kitchen will be open from breakfast until 2 a.m., helmed by Gutenbrunner’s Wallsé-trained protégé Martin Pirker and pastry chef Pierre Reboul. “I want to be Joe Torre,” says Gutenbrunner, explaining why he’s taking a step out of the kitchen. “I want to be the coach. I’ve been cooking for 30 years and it’s time for my guys to be on the front line.” The food, of course, will retain Gutenbrunner’s Germanic touch, including dishes like lake perch, sausage and apple strudel. But patrons don’t need to eat at all, as he plans to serve German beers and Austrian wines at the long bar that was a hallmark of the restaurant’s previous incarnation. The only thing patrons won’t find in the 90-seat space are modern conveniences — there will be no menus, no tablecloths, and no telephone. Nor will they be taking reservations, just walk-ins. “My friends who want a table can just call me,” says Gutenbrunner.