There aren’t a whole lot of Austrian restaurants in the city. Which is what makes Eduard Frauneder and Wolfgang Ban such ambassadors of the cuisine with three Austrian spots of their own. Ever since opening their first restaurant, Seäsonal in midtown, back in 2008, the pair has refused to be pigeonholed, consistently showcasing Germanic dishes that go well beyond sausage, fried potatoes and Weiner Schnitzel.
“We’re constantly making an effort to redefine the stereotypes by serving lighter, modern takes on Austrian classics,” says Frauneder. “More elegant at Seäsonal Restaurant and Weinbar, rustic at Edi & the Wolf, and with a touch of glamour at The Third Man.”
The chefs are equally intent on evading labels with their other two, decidedly more funky, downtown ventures — Edi & the Wolf, an East Village tavern that serves rustic fare like Mussels with Paprika Jam, Fennel and Hefewiezen, and the just recently opened The Third Man, a 20th century-inspired bar featuring Austrian small plates and chef-driven cocktails. Frauneder and Ban’s continued success is also a testament to their relationship, which has remained constant since they first met at the Vienna Culinary Institute in 1995.
When did each of you know that you wanted to be a chef?
Edi: I knew from a young age, since my parents owned several bakeries in Austria. I always loved the idea of making others happy with something as simple as a good meal. But I knew I didn’t want to get up as early as a baker!
Wolfgang: Growing up next to my grandfather’s vineyards, food and wine was a huge part of my upbringing. I always had a passion for experimenting in the kitchen, so it sort of took off from there.
What were some of your most formative food memories growing up?
Edi: It would have to be on Sundays when my mother would make my brother and I her signature Kaiserschmarren. It’s a traditional Austrian dish, essentially a crumbled pancake with a seasonal fruit compote. It may have been the only way she could get us to eat fruit!
Wolfgang: Growing up in this quiet village in Austria, I remember following my Mom or Dad to the market for the day’s bread, then another vendor for fresh vegetables, and yet another shop for our meat. Sometimes cooking dinner required various trips into town in one day!
What made you eventually decide to move to NYC, and start a career here?
Wolfgang: After we met in culinary school and spent some time working for foreign diplomats in Austria, Edi and I decided to make the big move to NYC to open a restaurant. We had been talking about it for years and decided it was finally time to fulfill our dream. To us, New York was at the heart of the culinary world.
Most people think of Austrian fare as being very heavy… Goulash, Potatoes, Weiner Schnitzel. How have you reinterpreted the cuisine at your restaurants?
Edi: We’re constantly making an effort to redefine the stereotypes by serving lighter, modern takes on Austrian classics. More elegant at Seäsonal Restaurant and Weinbar, rustic at Edi & the Wolf, and with a touch of glamour at The Third Man. We make our Wiener Schnitzel with lightly fried, thinly pounded veal, served alongside a fresh Cucumber and Dill Salad, a bit of Potato Salad (mayo free might I add!) and a touch of Lingonberry Jam.
We’ve also got a truly of-the-moment dish at Seäsonal; White Asparagus Salad with Ramps, Honey and Porcini. There are also a number of seafood options on our menus. Lately at Edi & the Wolf, I’ve been loving the Black Risotto with Squid and Trout Roe.
You now have a Michelin-starred restaurant, a more casual tavern, and a Vienna-style cocktail bar. How did you arrive at each concept?
Wolfgang: At Seäsonal, we’re all about reinterpreting seasonal ingredients in a more elegant, contemporary way, but still imparting that sense of Austrian comfort food. After we felt comfortable with and proud of that concept, we decided to open a downtown wine tavern, which slowly evolved into a restaurant. Edi & the Wolf was inspired by the Heuriger (taverns) Edi & I used to frequent in Vienna. Essentially we wanted to invite guests to experience “Gemütlichkeit,” or coziness, with wine and the rustic Austrian fare we grew up with.
Edi: The idea for The Third Man was born out of our need for a spot to send folks before and after Edi & the Wolf. If there’s a bit of a wait for a table, we encourage guests to head down the block for a cocktail, or to visit the bar after their meal. We really enjoy being a part of the neighborhood community, and it’s been great to see the area developing as we continue to grow.
You’ve opened three successful restaurants together. What makes your partnership work?
Edi: It’s all about checking in with each other, spending time (sometimes too much!) at all of our restaurants, and listening to the feedback of our customers.
What role(s) do each of you generally take at your restaurants?
Wolfgang: Because our restaurants have a pretty small staff, Edi and I ended up playing the role of owner, chef and general manager all rolled into one! But we love being involved in all aspects, because we get to make sure everything is just right.
How do your culinary styles or points of view differ from each other? What do each of you bring to the table?
Edi: Wolfi has great attention to detail, and an encyclopedia of wine knowledge. I have a soft spot for the more rustic fare inspired by the Heuriger, or Viennese wine taverns we used to frequent, so it’s always fun to find ways to elevate those types of dishes.
If you were forced to split ways tomorrow, which restaurant would each of you fight to keep in the divorce, and why?
Wolfgang: That would be like letting go of one of our children! But I suppose if we had to choose, I might watch over Seäsonal since I live in midtown, and Edi over Edi & the Wolf since he lives a block from the restaurant.
Describe your ideal meal at each of your restaurants.
Wolfgang: Right now at Seäsonal, it would be the White Asparagus Salad, the Spatzle with Mushroom, Zucchini and Berg Kase cheese; and for dessert, the Fruhling- White Asparagus, Strawberry and Rhubarb. If I was at The Third Man, I’d order our Oklahoma Kid: Americano, Gin, Celery Juice, and Ginger Juice. Super fresh for spring.
Edi: At Edi & the Wolf, I’d start with our Crispy Flatbread with Caper Raisin Crème Fraiche, Gruyere, Arugula, and Speck. Then I might go for the Black Squid Risotto, and of course, a side of our Brussels Sprouts with Mustard Vinaigrette, Pickled Cranberries and Bacon. Killer!
We’re starting to hear a lot about “chef-driven cocktails.” What is a chef-driven cocktail, and how is the trend expressing itself at The Third Man?
Wolfgang: For us, chef-driven cocktails mean we’re utilizing some of the same techniques we use in the kitchen in our bar. Because The Third Man is so close to Edi & the Wolf, we get to implement a lot of cross-pollination with the restaurant, such as house-smoked ingredients, pickling juices and house-made cordials.
You’re on your deathbed. Sex or dinner? (and no, you can’t choose both!)
Edi: Ah, that’s a tough one. No comment 🙂