Founded in 1996
John Wayne and Jean Arthur in "A Lady Takes a Chance" (1943)
IN THIS ISSUE
STAYING AND EATING
By John Mariani
NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
NOTES FROM T
THE WINE CELLAR
HOW TO MAKE WINE TASTES BETTER
WITH A LITTLER SALT, PEPPER AND FAT
By John Mariani
STAYING AND EATING
By John Mariani
Pavillon Restaurant at Hotel Baur au Lac
Every great city of the 21st century needs hotels and restaurants with equal amounts traditional character and true modernity, which is certainly the case with Zürich, both in the older and newer parts of the city.
As an established classic, the Baur au Lac hotel, opened in 1844, has hosted everyone from Sophia Loren and Brigitte Bardot to Marc Chagall and Alfred Hitchcock. In this century it has kept pace with contemporary ideals of comfort and cuisine through a $50 million renovation that reconfigured 32 rooms and suites into 22 larger ones with luxurious new marble bathrooms, Bose sound systems, 25 English channels on TV, dependable WiFi and a magnificent new rooftop patio overlooking the city. The entry hall and hall lounge have been completely refurbished, now with a glorious raised glass dome ceiling. Yet, somehow, everything seems the same in so many cherished ways.
Over two visits in five years I’ve seen the evolution first hand while enjoying the same warm congeniality of a staff whose members speak several languages and lack any of the pretensions I too easily find in so many five-star hotels. If relaxing is at least as important for business travelers as it is for romantics, then the Baur au Lac, located on the quieter left side of the River Linmat and less than ten minutes from the Bahnhof train station, is ideal for both.
There are three restaurants—La Terrasse, which has become one of the city’s most popular cocktail settings, with a light menu; the casual Baur (not yet open when I visited); and the graceful Pavillon, done in flora pastels and rich colors of violet, with a welcoming arcade and a panorama of the gardens. Acoustics are perfect for conversation, despite an unintended “whispering gallery” effect that allows some corners to hear conversations from across the room, which, I’m told, is why lawyers won’t sit at those particular tables.
This year Pavillon earned its second Michelin star for chef Laurent Eperon’s cuisine, while its enthusiastic sommelier, Marc Almert, who looks too young even to drink wine, was awarded the Association de la Sommelerie Internationale’s “Best Sommelier in the World 2019,” overseeing a 38-page wine list, with an admirable focus on Swiss labels under 100CHF.
There’s a two-course lunch at 76CHF, as well as à la carte, and at dinner both an à la carte and a “Harmonie” menu of nine courses (205CHF, with wine pairings at 95CHF and 110CHF)—prices that, while expensive, are considerably below what you’d find at two-star hotel restaurants in Paris, like Le Meurice Alain Ducasse and Le Gabriel at La Réserve.
My wife and I asked for two different three-course menus, each exquisitely presented. There were, of course, complimentary amuses like gougères puffs with caviar and vegetables in a dashi broth. We went on to King crab lightly flavored with red curry, and a scallop graced with an emulsified olive-lemon sauce. Next came a delicately thin raviolo stuffed with wild turbot and osietra caviar.
One main course was really several combined: Rabbit meat in a ballotine; the loin roasted with fragrant rosemary; its liver within cannelloni; the leg meat in a parslied yogurt. Veal came “Metternich style,” with morels, foie gras and a bouquet of celery puree, with carrot gelée. Our desserts were hazelnut truffles brought dramatically in a smoking glass cloche, and juicy pomelo with a light meringue.
The meal showed how cannily Eperon marries tradition with his own modern creativity in every dish. And Almert’s accompanying wine choices were spot on throughout.
Very different in style and every bit as modern as any hotel in Europe, the Park Hyatt focuses on a contemporary approach based on efficient and congenial service by a young lobby staff imbued with a mission to go beyond all the requisite answers to business and tourist queries along with personal insight into what is going on in Zürich, from the new restaurants to the arts and entertainments.
The hotel is only 12 years old, with just 138 rooms. (Oddly enough, Zürich has no Ritz-Carlton, Mandarin Oriental or Four Seasons hotels, so the Park Hyatt is ideal for those expecting that level of five-star luxury and service.) Largely encased in glass, the very spacious rooms, not least the 1,722-square-foot Presidential Suite on the top floor, get plenty of light and have both a large marble tub and separate showers. Zürich is a quiet city, and the rooms at the Park Hyatt are quieter still.
There are two restaurants. The Onyx Bar and Lounge, set just off the lobby, are casual, chic and comfortable spaces set with sofas and club chairs, with high ceilings, fanciful modern artwork and a soothing fireplace. The menu is on the light side but the cooking is substantial. My wife and I enjoyed dishes like risotto with white garlic and poached egg (17CHF); fragile pastry tuiles stuffed with a luscious cheese mousse (25CHF); lake pike perch with fregola in a subtle reduction (38CHF); and a burger made with Alpine chicken and an egg and French fries (38CHF). Two desserts—crème brûlée (13CHF) and a melting chocolate fondant (14CHF)—were excellent, as you expect in Switzerland.
The slightly more upscale dining option (for breakfast, lunch and dinner) is the parkhuus (left), a vast paneled room with soaring ceilings, glass walls and candles on the tables. You pass an open kitchen with wood-burning oven as you enter, where chef Frank Widmer produces a sophisticated, modern cuisine based on Swiss ingredients. The wine list is superbly selected.
We enjoyed a lavish dinner beginning with an amuse of smoked trout with tiny lentils; an impeccably reduced beef consommé with a beef-stuffed raviolo; a classic rack of lamb persillade wrapped in parsley, with mashed potatoes (56CHF); a massive veal chop in a lush demi-glace, with mushrooms and fried potatoes (78CHF; right); a selection of cheeses; and a bitter orange dessert.
Families and children are welcome; they even offer special children’s china bowls as well as little books to occupy their time.
(This winter the Park Hyatt Zürich is offering a winter package that includes two days in Zürich with transfers to the Grand Bellevue Gstaad for four nights, starting at CHF5100)
Requisite to a visit to Zurich is a traditional meal of Swiss raclette, and the Raclette Factory (Rindemarkt 1), on the right bank since 1985, bustles at lunch and well into the afternoon and dinner time, so the cook rings a cowbell whenever an order is ready. It’s a one-room affair, with counters, a bright, gemütlich atmosphere and an innovation in Zürich—take-away raclette. You can buy a t-shirt reading “SAY CHEESE.”
Raclette is made from cheese of the same name, which is matured between three and six months, and this eatery offers variants (15CHF to 19.90CHF, or all-you-can eat at 49.90CHF) of regional cheeses like blue Blaue Schalk from Schalchen, truffled from Käserei and goat’s cheese from Girenbad. In addition there are to some wonderful, smoky tarte flambées (21.90CHF to 22.90CHF) decadently topped with crème fraîche, bacon and other ingredients (right).
One of the most popular Italian restaurants in Zürich is Santa Lucia, part of a Swiss chain, located on the corner of Waagstrasse and what is rightly called Paradeplatz, affording a broad view of the passersby. Inside is a pleasant two-level dining room with a fleet-footed staff in constant motion, taking orders, pouring wine and delivering delicious pizzas (18CHF to 22CHF) and well-wrought pastas like spaghetti all’arrabiata with red peppers (19CHF) and risotto with wild mushroom (24CHF).
For those seeking a very traditional Swiss restaurant, the venerable Kronenhalle (Ramistrasse 3), dating to 1924, endures, still arrayed with its astounding original art by Picasso, Giacometti, Chagall, Bonnard and others hung nonchalantly on the walls above your table. The Swiss beer is good, the Wiener Schnitzel enormous and the desserts rich. But prices have become very high, and this, once my favorite go-to places in Zürich, is now something of a think-and-think-again splurge.
Remember: Prices quoted include tax (3.7% for hotels, 2.9% for restaurants) and service charge. The Swiss franc is about on par with the U.S. dollar.
NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
256 West 52nd Street
Photo by Stefano Giovannini
of Brooklyn’s gargantuan Russian banquet
halls—where the flow of vodka makes up for the
taste of the food—Russian restaurants in New
York are few and far between. In Manhattan,
along with the Russian Tea Room, which opened in
1927, Russian Samovar is one of the keepers of a
Russian culinary flame, serving both the cuisine
of the Tzarist aristocracy—with plenty of smoked
salmon and caviar—along with dishes enjoyed by
Russia’s common people, like pelmeni
dumplings in broth and both cold and hot
my wife and brother-in-law, both with Russian
blood and both fluent in the language, we ate from
all over the menu and found it convincingly
authentic from the pickled herring ($16) to the
beef stroganoff ($29) to a sour cream cake called
smetannik ($13). Portions are generous. The
menu is amazingly long, the wine list absurdly
short and the service staff, on two visits, seemed
immune to guests trying to get their attention.
For a true Russian closing, have the Russia tea ($7), which is served with cherry preserves and lemon on the side. By tradition, sipped in a small glass with a spoon in it with which to eat the preserves, it is an ending that makes Russians pine for a time when, as the words of “Those Were the Days, My Friend” go, “Oh my friend we're older but no wiser/For in our hearts the dreams are still the same.”
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
HOW TO MAKE WINE TASTE BETTER
BY ADDING SALT, PEPPER AND FAT
BY John Mariani
It was an epiphany,
though not the first of its
kind, when I happened to taste a grain or
two of coarse salt on
crabs before I had a sip of Vermentino,
which, tasted on its own, would have
been a pleasant example of its kind. But
those two grains of coarse salt
sparked my palate and increased the
flow of juices so that when the wine
washed in over my tongue, it seemed to
burst with flavor, definitely enhancing
the wine and, of course, the meaty
OH, JUST SHUT UP!
OH, JUST SHUT UP!
A NEW HOLE IN HELL WAS JUST
A NEW HOLE IN HELL WAS JUST
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❖❖❖FEATURED LINKS: I am happy to report that the Virtual Gourmet is linked to four excellent travel sites:
Everett Potter's Travel Report:
I consider this the best and savviest blog of its kind on the web. Potter is a columnist for USA Weekend, Diversion, Laptop and Luxury Spa Finder, a contributing editor for Ski and a frequent contributor to National Geographic Traveler, ForbesTraveler.com and Elle Decor. "I’ve designed this site is for people who take their travel seriously," says Potter. "For travelers who want to learn about special places but don’t necessarily want to pay through the nose for the privilege of staying there. Because at the end of the day, it’s not so much about five-star places as five-star experiences." THIS WEEK:
Eating Las Vegas
JOHN CURTAS has been covering the Las Vegas
food and restaurant scene since 1995. He is
the co-author of EATING LAS VEGAS – The 50
Essential Restaurants (as well as
the author of the Eating Las Vegas web site: www.eatinglasvegas.
He can also be seen every Friday morning as
the “resident foodie” for Wake Up With the
Wagners on KSNV TV (NBC) Channel 3 in
MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET
NEWSLETTER is published weekly. Publisher: John Mariani. Editor: Walter Bagley. Contributing Writers: Christopher Mariani,
Robert Mariani, Misha Mariani, John A. Curtas, Gerry Dawes, Geoff Kalish,
and Brian Freedman. Contributing
Photographer: Galina Dargery. Technical
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