Reviewing Kafe Leopold: Serving Austrian cuisine in the heart of Georgetown in Washington D.C.
Kafe Leopold can be hard to get to, and that’s a good thing. It’s not very far from the corner of tourist crazy at Wisconsin and M Streets Northwest in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C.
To find the restaurant, you must locate an obscure gap between two storefronts on the 3300 block of M Street and descend a long staircase.
Dine in the historic Cady’s Alley
There, tucked into historic Cady’s Alley, you’ll find Kafe Leopold’s, a strikingly modern, glass-walled space specializing in modern Austrian cuisine. The walls are bright. Contemporary art is prominently displayed, and a glassy bar spans the back wall. And, in the center of the dining room, there’s an orange banquette whose swirled shape suggests a dollop of caramel whipped cream. It’s one of the favored seats in the house — and lets you know that you’re not in for an old-school Teutonic dining experience.
Elevated Scnitzel at Kafe Leopold’s
You are in for some schnitzel, however, and Kafe Leopold’s updated version is the specialty of the house. It’s a breaded pork cutlet pounded thin until nearly the size of the platter it’s delivered on. It’s perched on an arty spiral of mustard sauce and is topped with a showbiz garnish of arugula dressed with lemon. It’s all crispy, savory, bright, and crunchy, the best version of this German classic I’ve ever had. It’s served with a ramekin of delicious big-chunk potato salad.
Austrian food is distinctive yet heavily influenced by the cuisines of its neighbors Germany, Hungary, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, and even Italy. It’s hearty, meaty, and carb-y, running from goulash to dumplings to the delectable pastries for which Vienna is so well known. But Kafe Leopold updates the classics with contemporary, often lighter flair.
Try the untraditional Liptauer Crostini
Take the Liptauer Crostini. Liptauer is a Slovakian cheese, usually mild, touched with paprika and caraway seeds. Here, it’s spread on ovals of baguette and topped with a wild tangle of greens, peas, and fava beans. None of these veggies are traditional, but they add a load of crunch and even some healthy points to what is often served as little more than a cheese spread on toast.
Or the Grünkohlsalat
Speaking of healthy, my wife always orders Leopold’s kale salad — a choice you can find on the menu of any contemporary bistro. Here, the dish, called Grünkohlsalat (meaning ‘kale salad’ in German), is tweaked with currants and crunchy slivers of sliced garlic and dressed with a lemon oil vinaigrette. She often adds salmon — er, excuse me, pardon my English, Lachsfilet.
Over my many visits, I’ve had the bratwurst (modified with celery sauerkraut), mussels (clam juice in the broth), and the Croques Madame and Croque Monsieur, both basically dead-on French-style version sandwiches but with Black Forest ham. Among the few disappointments have been the Tyrolean wine soup, a traditional dish that must be an acquired taste I haven’t acquired.
Sachertorte and more from chef Herve Luigi at Kafe Leopold
Kafe Leopold employs its own European-trained pastry chef, Herve Luigi, who has been with them since 2009. The desserts are both beautiful and delectable. My favorite is the sachertorte, a wedge of chocolate cake packing two layers of apricot jam. It’s garnished with curls of gold. But I recommend you don’t let the menu guide your dessert choice. Step over to the pastry case at the end of the bar, check out the cookies and strudels and mousses, and let your eyes make the decision.
If you’re partial to wine, be sure to order a glass of the Gruner Veltliner. It’s Austria’s house wine, a crisp white that suggests a sauvignon blanc with lovely vegetal undertones. And Kafe Leopold has a coffee machine that looks like something on the bridge of a mega-yacht. It produced a very nice espresso.
One final recommendation: Go to the bathroom. I know this sounds crazy. But the facilities are wicked cool, a suite of four high-style unisex rooms whose floor-to-ceiling doors have chrome handles and whose fixtures within suggest, well, a voguish European bistro.
Which for Kafe Leopold is, of course, entirely on-brand.