On the frequently rotating menu at Wallsé, Chef Kurt Gutenbrunner's Austrian restaurant in the West Village, there is one dish you'll always find available: the Salzburger Nockerl ($16).
The nockerl tastes exactly how it looks; light and airy. The pillows of soufflé, lightly brûléed and dusted with powdered sugar, disappear one after the other to reveal a bottom layer of poached violet huckleberries. The flavors, though different, amplify each other; the bright tartness of the huckleberries underscoring the subtle sweetness of the souffle. The eggy richness, rather than lingering, fades into the huckleberry and leaves your palate refreshed. The sweetness comes and goes with each bite, leaving you with an empty bowl and a spoon licked clean despite any initial reservations
If only the appeal of this soufflé were so simple. There's a reason this particular item has lasting power on an ever-rotating menu; people are ordering it for dinner. I joined these ranks with enthusiasm several months back. When I considered shamelessly indulging my sweet tooth in lieu of an actual meal one evening, I was encouraged when the bartender divulged that I was not alone.
The nockerl is one of three traditional Austrian desserts on the menu, but is perhaps the rarest of the bunch. Outside the restaurants owned by chef Kurt Gutenbrunner, the staff couldn't think of anywhere else in New York that the dish is offered. While a taste for home explains the expat regulars, the word has spread far beyond these cultural bounds.
There are different manifestations of clientele devotion to the dish. Most common are the restaurant hoppers who stop by specifically for a dessert of Salzburger Nockerl after a dinner elsewhere. But one of the Wallsé bartenders, Jesse Anholt, revealed that one man regularly comes in for a three course meal, followed by not one, but four rounds of nockerl.
The most unique expression of this loyalty, however, persists at the bar. Anholt has come to expect a formulaic order from a certain amount of customers: the Salzburger Nockerl and a couple of drinks—for dinner. One bite of the dessert was all it took to convince him that these dinner goers knew exactly what they were doing.
I have to confess, the bite of their Bourbon Maple Old Fashioned ($14) between sweet spoonfuls of souffle is my favorite kind of balanced meal.