In 1981, a staffing shuffle thrust a then 24-year-old sous chef Thomas Ferlesch into the executive role at Peter Grunauer's acclaimed Vienna '79 on the Upper East Side. When haughty critics returned expecting to assess the damage, the toque-in-the-making not only maintained the restaurant's glowing three-star rating, he shot it to four stars with a pitch-perfect rendition of traditional, golden-crusted wiener schnitzel and his own riff on delicate leberknodel suppe, juicy chicken liver dumplings afloat in a rich consommé. Both of those time-honored plates are reprised over a quarter century later at Ferlesch's latest experimental kitchen (werkstatt means "workshop" in German), which he helms alongside wife Robin. Here, the Viennese-born chef calls up his country's influences on plate and off—five draught wines include a Wien-vinted Gruner Veltliner and a 1966 Puch 250 two-stroke motorcycle anchors a white-brick wall—but with twists, like tempura-battered cod tacos that nod to a brief period of Hasburgian rule over the Mexican state. Touting to his acclaimed tenure at famed Austrian chocolaterie Demel, Ferlesch also taps into sweets, including kaiserschmarn soufflés and chocolate-hazelnut palatschinken crepes.
Time Out tip: Order the pretzel with Hungarian cheese.