The inclined reader of this blog, has discovered that I like Saturday noon outings. This time we went to Sierre to the restaurant of Didier der Courten at the Hotel Terminus. Thanks to the new Loetschberg tunnel, Sierre is less than 3 hours by train from Zurich. The Hotel Terminus is a mere 3 minutes walk from the train station, so this is very well feasible for a lunch. The restaurant sports the same air, any other decorated food temple does. Sombre, aristocratic and not the most welcoming. No idea who the interior designer was, but I’m sure he’s famous for his airport lounges and conference rooms worldwide. Enough complaining about the interior, the food is simply fantastic. Yes there is a tendency to fancy schmancy dots and carres on the plate, but the taste sensation is fantastic. Just look at the pictures and be dazzled by the presentation. My favourite was a duck foie gras with a smoked corn ice cream and slices of caramelized apples. The combination reminded me of life on a farm, just a perfect memory which was recalled by the taste and smells of the dish. Another nice touch was the bergamotte, which was added to the langoustine. On the downside,
he’s serving three desserts plus friandises, which was way too much sweetness for me, I’d have preferred another two appetizers more. None of the waiters seemed to speak german, we didn’t mind and communicated in our guttural french. I told the sommelier that “nous avons beacoup de confiance en vous” and he disappointed us on the red wines, there is a heavy focus on the wines made from the indigenous grapes of the Wallis. Still not all these special wines were pleasing my palate. A nice touch was that the coffee was served in the bar. It looks pretty cool with the backdrop of stone and green behind the large window, plus the movement is needed after roughly three hours of nonstop eating. I had to censor parts of this bill, simply because the total amount for this lunch was obscene, keep in mind that we had at least a glass of wine for every savoury course of this meal. You can still see what just the food cost, at the end of this article. Still, right now Didier der Courten is the best restaurant I’ve been to in Switzerland.
The Yuppisiation of the Langstrasse is in full gear. The Seefeld is dead at night, except for some german immigrants who read the Lonely Planet (instead of your favorite web site right here) and even worse is the Niederdorf, where all the idiots with pimped automobiles from Aargau spend their time. A new trend seems to be the “Beiz-light”, for people who can’t take a real “Beiz”. A Beiz is a restaurant built in the last century which hasn’t been renovated for at least 20 years, filled with wooden furniture and old junk on the walls. The owner works behind a buffet (counter), where all the drinks are filled and a reach-through leads to the kitchen where the plates are prepared. A Beiz is always a smoking restaurant, 50% of the revenue is made with drinks and the Stammtisch is in the hands of Swiss people over 50 with a tendency to vote conservativley. You grab a free seat, hope not to get involved in a boring conversation with your neighbor (for example with Nemo or Kari at the Rheinfelder) and order a “Grosses” (big beer). Surprisingly the food tends to be great at these places, even if the surroundings look like 1962. Now obviously for younger people this is deemed too rough and a lot of these old great “Beizen” have been replaced. Aargauerhof is the prime example, but places like Eichhörnli or Lade are essentially the same type of “Beiz-light”. But there are some gems! And one of those is the Schlössli at Neufrankengasse (just off Langstrasse). Here even the waitress is already drunk at 7 pm (we had to repeat our order multiple times). The menu is very classic and we go for the Suppentopf. It’s advertised as a broth with vegetables, sausage, meat and bone marrow. The lady who does all the cooking, really knows traditional swiss food, no wonder, she cooked almost ten years for Mrs Rosa Tschudi. It feels homey and soothing when a big pot filled with sausages, lumps of meat and vegetables is placed in front of you. The broth is light and tasty, simply a surprisingly well balanced soup. Everybody smokes, everybody drinks and the few eaters do so while being reminded of the good old days. Welcome to a real Beiz!
O Tabe is yet another Sushi place, located near Paradeplatz. What drove me here, was that they offered Bento Box lunches, something which I’ve come to enjoy abroad. Since I was hungry, I did order some Sushi and added a couple of Inside-Out rolls to beef up on the amount of Sushi. The system is quite foolproof, you tick off boxes on a piece of paper and hand it to the waiter. I didn’t care much for the Inside-Out roll of the month (scallops), but I really liked the Spicy Tuna roll which I added to the regular Sushi. Prices are okay for lunch (figure the rent plus food costs) – with 25 CHF for a Bento at lunch.
Coco is a bit tricky to find, but is located very centrally near the Paradeplatz. One of the things which agitate me is, that if I’m meeting at a restaurant for lunch near Paradeplatz, why would they sit us at a four top, and then add another two diners to our table after our main course. Holding a meeting becomes impossible, since I do not want the two people eavesdropping on whatever I’m saying. But the tiny size of the restaurant doesn’t seem to leave any options. There’s a couple of dishes to choose from as a daily special. I chose a small salad and followed it up with some beef meat strips (Rindsgeschnetzeltes) with Potato gratin. Meat and sauce are nice, the gratin was okay, but the vegetables were a bit strange, especially the pea shoots, which have been cut into strips remind me of an idea gone bad. Decent place for meeting someone near Paradeplatz, check out the wine cellar, seems like a place for a small company function.
Heimelig da Bernasconi doesn’t even have a website, it doesn’t seem to need the publicity. With only a handful of tables to fill that does seem viable. The restaurant used to be called Cafe Heimelig and to capitalize on the name Carlo Bernasconi, owner and cook, just added his last name to it. The vibe the restaurant projects is that of a living room. The walls are full with cooking books, all of them which can be bought off the shelf. The Gnocchi with a hearty, meat based sauce taste the way they should, with a nice clean texture. Exactly what you would expect if you were invited to sunday dinner at your friend’s house before watching Calcio. Guinea fowl with porcini sauce, vegetables and a potato cake was my next dish. This is where you can see that this is a hearty place, the bone was still on the fowl, giving it the rustic and homey touch. The dessert was a crema di castagna, lovely smoothness, delicious sweetness of the chestnut made this a lovely ending, to a good meal. Even though I smoke roughly two packs a day (Lucky Strike no Filter), even I find the the cigar smoking at this place is over the top. If you are somewhat sensitive to smoke, skip out on the nice meal and go somewhere else. Finances:
Ah Hua actually runs two places, one of them being half convenience store and the half other restaurant. This night we entered the restaurant only place, next to the Volkshaus. Surprisingly on a sunday night, the place is packed and we have some difficulties finding a table for three. We shared some appetizers, Won Tons and Fish cakes. While the Won Tons were average, the Fish cakes were excellent. A nice combination of flavours rounded off this lovely appetizer. My main course was a Pad Sator, which is chopped pork meat with beans and some shrimp. The beans have a unique and interesting texture, they sport a crispiness which you only get with perfectly cooked vegetables. The issue I have with this dish, although interesting and strong in flavor, it also has the distinct Umami taste and dull feeling which is typical for glutamate (flavor enhancer). This is my main criticism of asian cuisine, that the excessive amount of flavor enhancers used, actually distorts the flavors, makes them mushy and uncoordinated, leading to a distraction. But with beer flowing and chatter increasing at the table, who cares? Prices are fair:
Mesa a nice place. After you look at the website or at the latest when you walk in the door, the restaurant makes one statement – fine dining. Formal attire is not necessary, but wearing a jacket doesn’t hurt. Luckily, my commanding aura makes me look I belong here in any place. Mesa sports 17 Gault Millau points and one Michelin star. To kill the suspense, it does so rightly. Interestingly enough, the amuse bouche gets served before you get to look at the menu. This startled me a bit, since I remember an incident at the Birchegg, but was reassured that we’ll get the menu after the amouse bouche. Marcus Lindner offers a Symhony of the Senses, which is essentially a six course menu. The trouble the hardest dining man in Zurich has, is that the excitement of the food clouds his memory. While this is never a good sign for a detailed field report, it’s a sign of excellence in regards to the food. The only place Mesa compares to is probably Spice. While Spice is a bit cleaner in flavors and a little less playful, Mesa is a bit wilder on the combinations of products, eg. mixing pomegranate with fish and bacon. Still the plates are great fun, sometimes the tidbits are a tad small, since you want to try out different combinations of flavors, and the permutations are thus limited. Stay off the bread, even though it’s excellent and save some room for cheese. If you compare Mesa directly say to Greulich you see why Mesa has a higher rating. The charming lady (speaking the dialect from Bern), knew everything about the dozen cheeses she showed us, whereas in the Greulich it was read of the piece of paper. Another sign for the professional charm was the fact, that even though we showed up at 20:00, we dined until almost 23:30. Not once were we rushed and even the cook Mr. Lindner stuck around until we’d finished the main courses and personally came to say hello. Dining at Mesa comes with a very hefty price tag, as most places with a Michelin star do. But think of it this way – 450 CHF was spent on food consisting of two amouse bouche, eight appetizers, two main courses, two desserts and two cheese courses. Doing the math ends you up at a price per course of 33 CHF. Now if you factor in the quality of the work and of the ingredients, you end up with a decent value for your money. The absolute numbers obviously still mark this as a very special event: