Lake Country Escapades: A Deviation to Switzerland with French cuisine
An escapade into another culinary venture
Business trips to foreign countries can be time-challenging because you are at the discretion of your hosts. So I plan for extra time to explore, especially cuisines of countries visited. In my books, I often refer to special dishes found in world travels and try my take on those dishes. This trip is no different.
My client’s company is extremely rural — I call it Heidi Land. A village of less than 1,000, Villaz St. Pierre, like many medieval villages around Europe, has a magnificent 13th century cathedral in the town center. It is on the main train route between Fribourg (the dividing line between German-speaking to the east and French-speaking to the west) and Lausanne — a major industrial and academic hub on the northeastern shore of Lake Geneva. Being so rural, reaching the village by car can be challenging. You have to know the Swiss Canton road system as the village is far removed from the autobahn.
Last year, we traveled to the village from Zurich because we wanted to spend time in both Bern and Zurich (both special during the holiday season, with major Christmas markets), but this time I opted to peruse Geneva, which is about half the drive time.
Plane delays limited time so I went directly to the hotel, and that proved to be special. The Hotel d’Angleterre is, in its entire splendor, everything you would want in an old world hotel, and selected because it is within walking distance of several restaurants of choice.
Making a restaurant decision
After quizzing the hotel concierge and the boys at the elegant, classic European bar called the Leopard Room (everything is spotted), I quaffed a couple bullets (Kettle One martinis), enjoyed some delicious appetizers consisting of smoked salmon, crudites and pastry dough sticks, then made a decision.
On the way out, I overheard a French person and a Swiss German talking in English (In Europe the most common cross-cultural language is English – even the Germans, Swiss and Austrians use English because they cannot understand each other’s German.) saying the Restaurant Windows (one wall is all windows overlooking Lake Geneva) in the hotel is one of the best in the city. Not having placed Windows on my list, I had to have a look at the menu. The decision was easy! Windows had everything I wanted in local French cuisine.
French cuisine with a Geneva twist
Being a foie gras freak, that was an easy choice for a starter. Sadly, there was no Sauterne by the glass. Instead they recommended a local Riesling (The south-facing hills above Lake Geneva produce some mighty fine grapes). This buttery lump of goodness did not disappoint. Clearly goose liver — the consensus in the U.S. trends toward duck liver — it was more than four ounces of splendor sitting on top of a light custard, which screamed crème brûlée because of the caramelized sugar crust. It didn’t last long!
For to the entrée, I was torn between a venison filet and something more classically French. I chose the sole meunière — a classic French dish consisting of sole dusted in flour, pan fried in butter and served with the resulting brown butter sauce, parsley and lemon. This dish is rarely offered in Lake Country restaurants. The only area restaurant that does justice to this classic is Joseph Decuis in Roanoke.
RELATED: Springtime trip to Paris inspires recipe for Choucroute de la mer et son beurre Nantais, March 28, 2015
Deboned at the table in the classic French fashion, then laced with the sauce, the fish literally melts in your mouth. It was served with small copper pots; one had small, parsley-buttered potato rounds and the other a veggie medley. The copper pots kept the veggies warm throughout the meal, which progressed nicely accompanied by a favorite wine: a crisp Grüner Vetliner from Austria.
There was no room for dessert after that culinary onslaught, so I opted for coffee. Even that was extraordinary! Served with two small vials of liqueurs, one was definitely Baileys, while the other hinted of orange. Suspecting the latter to be Grand Marnier, I tossed them both in the coffee then sipped away while enjoying an accompanying tray of house-made candies. I was stuffed and happy, but there is always room for a nightcap in the Leopard Room, where I enjoyed a local brew called Calvinis, which was served with a raw ground cherry with its husk folded back and a stem of fresh red currants.
Business lunches the Swiss way
The CPA Group is a Swiss holding company that operates from a 300,000 square foot building in this pristine surrounding. Besides everything any of the 100+ employees would want on a daily basis, there is a full-time chef and a complete, professional kitchen.
The lunches served to the business group were top-notch. Salad, consisting of mache, and watercress mixed with a light mayo-sour cream dressing then topped with a slab of aged Le Gruyere cheese – so classic Swiss.
The first day lunch entrée was a baked chicken breast with gravy and a vegetable medley. The chicken breast presentation was cleverly done as each breast included the first joint of the wing protruding vertically from the breast. The next day, the entrée was more German in nature with boiled potatoes and a lunch portion of prime rib. Each lunch concluded with a dessert tart.
Dinner in Fribourg
Like all towns in Europe, Fribourg’s history goes way back. Back to 1157, in fact. The streets are old and narrow, especially in Old Town. The University of Fribourg is a popular liberal arts university, causing the population to be rather eclectic compared to other similar-sized Swiss towns. This diversity has spawned a number of quality restaurants over the years. One such is Restaurant L’Aigle Noir, just across the river Sarine from Old Town.
RELATED: A visit with kindred spirits at a bakery in Paris, March, 20, 2015
My hosts suggested the tasting menu. Not to be denied the opportunity to taste as much as possible, I was all in. Le Menu Decouverte (Discovery Menu, which was all in French) turned out to be a seven course delight. The start was a tart of vegetables served with a black garlic and beet fumée (smoked beet and garlic sauce). That followed with cubes of sashimi-grade tuna with sesame and wasabi cream. These cold nuggets were refreshing.
The first course was Maine lobster medallions layered on a hibiscus coulis. These chunks of perfectly done tail were wonderful!
Selecting from two second course entrees of veal medallions or a capon dish, I chose the former, and it was succulent. The medallions were laid in a consommé of oxtail marrow with a hint of horseradish and chopped lovage.
Before dessert, and with Fribourg being the center of most cheese-making, a tray of local cheeses was offered. One take-away is that you can age Chèvre for an extended time and it becomes hardened just like other aged cheeses. That was wonderful as were the other choices.
RELATED: Cheese fondue thaws bodies on a cold day, Dec. 26, 2014
The Swiss staple: Fondue
The next night our hosts took the entire group to an Old Town fondue restaurant, called Restaurant de la Clef. Here we enjoyed the Swiss national dish, dipping mostly bread and al dente potatoes. To share this evening, below is a classic.
- 1 clove garlic, peeled and mashed but still whole
- 2 cups dry white wine
- 4 teaspoon lemon juice
- 3 cups Emmentaler cheese, shredded (this is the real Swiss cheese, totally unlike the so-called Swiss cheese in local stores)
- 3 cups Gruyere cheese, shredded
- 1 heaping teaspoon corn starch
- 1 shot kirschwasser (cherry brandy)
- Pepper to taste
- Pinch each of nutmeg and paprika
- Rub the fondue pot with the mashed garlic to coat all over.
- Add the wine and juice and heat, then add cheeses.
- Bring to a light boil. Dissolve the corn starch in the brandy then add to the fondue, stir to combine.
- Season as desired and keep warm while dipping crusty bread or any other delight.
I hope to return to this delightful country where there are few if any political issues and the food is outstanding wherever you go. The flight home on Austrian Air was also another treat!