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Swiss Postcard

From the train to MĂĽrren

I’m just back from spending a week of early summer vacation in Switzerland. See that purty photo? I took it from a train window with my iPhone. The Alps look exactly like they do on candy wrappers and paint-by-number pictures.

During the trip we ate well but not lavishly. Michelin-starred restaurants tempted here and there, but the high price of everyday food deterred us from splurging. In Montreux we tried good European thin-crusted pizzas (similar to the ones at Varasano’s and Fritti) for $20. In the exhibition hall at Art Basel (a huge contemporary art show for high-rolling buyers), a bratwurst served on a paper plate with a hard roll and mini-tube of mustard went for $8.

We did have a few memorable meals, however, that I’d recommend to anyone traveling to the CH:

Entrance to Blindekuh, Zurich

Entrance to Blindekuh, Zurich

Blindekuh in Zurich. This 10-year-old restaurant was the first to serve food in pitch darkness, though others have since sprung up in Germany, England, Russia and China. The food we tried was perfectly accepetable if slightly stodgy European fare (fish swimming in sauce, heavily dressed salads), but the experience was wild. I wrote about it here.

Interior of Zeughauskeller

Interior of Zeughauskeller

Zeughauskeller in Zurich. This sprawling beer hall in the center of Zurich’s old town is the kind of place that both locals and tourists like for its over-the-top kitsch decor in a centuries-old armory, wonderful service and lengthy menu that specializes in regional sausages from around Switzerland. I think it is to Zurich what Mary Mac’s is to Atlanta.

Bratwurst at Zeughauskeller

Bratwurst at Zeughauskeller

I tried a good bratwurst in brown onion sauce with potato salad, which was the safe/traditional/when-in-Rome choice. But I looked longingly at the table of four Japanese women next to us who ordered the “Kanonenputzer” (why does German make me think of raunchy spam?) — a three-foot long beef sausage wheeled to the table and served on the spit. That, and a huge bowl of salad.

My daughter got a delicious version of vitello tonatto, which we noticed was popular all over Switzerland. The paper-thin, rosy slices of veal really perked up to the pickle-y flavor of their tuna sauce.

Le Relais de L'EntrecĂ´te, Geneva

Le Relais de L'EntrecĂ´te, Geneva

Le Relais de ‘EntrecĂ´te, Geneva: A friend who often travels to Geneva recommended with much affection this restaurant in the downtown business district. An outpost of a small Parisian chain, it serves one meal and one meal only: steak frites.

The formula is simple, unchanging and not for the finicky or vegetarian. Once you sit down, you tell the waitress how you’d like your meat cooked: bleu (rare), saignant (medium rare), Ă  point (medium) or bien cuit (well done), though I always find in Europe that my notion of medium rare lies somewhere between saignant and Ă  point.

Then the food starts arriving. First up, a green salad with a mustardy dressing and toasted walnuts. Next, your entree: a 10-inch plate of food holding a mound of fresh matchstick fries and 4 or 5 slices of contre filet (sirloin) swimming in an ugly, greasy and fantastic-tasting sauce. What’s in it? A secret, that’s what. But I detect tarragon, mustard and (I think) a hint of anchovy. It isn’t overwhelming, so you feel fine mopping your plate clean with the last of your fries.

But then the waitress appears with a sliver platter and doles out seconds of meat and sauce, returning quickly with piping hot fries. The second serving is just as large as the first. Who can resist? Your appetite perks up. There’s more wine in the bottle. And so you eat until you can’t anymore.

Navarin at EntrecĂ´te, Geneva

Navarin du Relais

Do you want dessert after this gut-busting meal. Strangely, yes, because the dessert menu is so lengthy and filled with housemade confections. We did serious damage to this stack of meringues with hazelnut and vanilla ice cream in a warm, bittersweet chocolate sauce as well as a coupe of unblemished yet juicy raspberries with crème fraîche.

You have to love a restaurant that does one thing really well.

4 comments Add your comment

virginia willis

June 17th, 2009
10:21 am

John, My mouth is watering for those steak frites. Have fun! Best VA


June 17th, 2009
5:09 pm

Nothing reminds me of Swiss food more than Rosti, the Swiss version of really, really good hash browns.

John Kessler

June 18th, 2009
12:45 pm

Thanks, Virginia! Hope you event in Philadelphia is loads of fun. I know the food will be great.
Barbara — My daughter became a rösti expert in Switzerland. She had to order them everywhere.

Bill Bounds

June 20th, 2009
12:29 pm

A restaurant similar to La Relais de l’Entrecote just opened in NYC. Named LE RELAIS DE VENISE- L’ENTRECĂ´TE, it just opened at Lex & 52nd. $24 fixe prix. l’Entrecote in random Paris bistros beats almost every steak that I have had in the U.S. The meat has so much flavor. It will be interesting if this concept can catch on over here. It’s not the typical big steakhouse steak.
Keep up the great work, John. Come see us in Dallas.