On Today’s Menu

Dearest Rachel –

Since for now, the only thing that changes around here from day today is the food that I’m eating, I might as well keep you up-to-date. So, consider this to be part two of the series; part one, if you skipped over it (it was pretty long – sorry about that, that’s what happens when you describe three meals in one post), can be found here

The fellow at reception suggested that, if I got bored with the room service offerings, I could go to eat.ch and place an order for delivery to the hotel.

There are a couple of problems with that option. For one, it seems that Google Translate doesn’t do a lick of good on the site. I can get a general idea of what’s being said, but I’d worry about going through the ordering process when everything is still written in German.

Secondly, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot in the way of way I would call ‘local’ cuisine. I’m surprised at the number of Thai restaurants there are (and indeed, I saw a few stalls selling Thai food in the Christmas market that I was able to wander through as well), not that it appeals to me at all, as you’ll recall. But not much in the way of what might be called ‘Swiss’ food, assuming there is such a thing.

They also have an absurd number of places calling themselves ‘pizzerias.’ You’ll notice that each picture is vastly different from the others. As a born-and-bred Chicagoan – and therefore, someone who ought to know from pizza – this absolutely scares me. And that’s without beginning to wonder what might be implied by ‘Stripped’ Pizza. I hope that means something else in German that I’m not reading into it, but…

Anyway, since I neglected to put a request out for breakfast last night – which is just as well because I barely woke up by ten this morning – I decided to order lunch for once. Even then, I made the mistake of not requesting a beverage. Fortunately, the tap water here in Switzerland is quite tasty. I don’t think you’d have objections to it, like you did about the water on the island or in Iowa. Must be from all those mountain streams.

Anyway, the menu refers to this as ‘Tarte Flambée Alsace style,’ with a dessert of warm chocolate cake with banana ice cream and Creole pineapple:

I think something has gotten lost in the translation. When I picture a tart – and to be sure, I usually think of it in terms of dessert – I imagine something in a pie crust. And when I see the word flambé, I have to admit, I expected to see it on fire. Clearly I ordered this out of curiosity, thinking it might be a flaming cheese creation, like the Greek saganaki, but encased in a quiche shell.

This, on the other hand, is a flatbread pizza, albeit with crème fraiche in lieu of tomato sauce. It’s not what I thought it was going to be – and after complaining about eat.ch and all the ridiculous pizza places on its side, I feel a little silly about that – but it certainly looks substantial, and after not having eaten at all this morning, I am more than willing to dig in.

Let me start off by saying that, if this is how the Swiss do pizza, they could teach us a thing or two. This… is thin crust.

You and I used to disagree about pizza crust, and which one was best. You and Daniel both leaned toward original hand tossed, whereas I (when I wasn’t digging into a hearty Chicago-style deep dish) preferred my crust cracker thin and crispy. So you probably wouldn’t be as impressed buy this stuff as I am, but I want to tell you, this is impressive work. The crust isn’t just cracker thin, it’s almost paper thin. And crispy – not a hint of sogginess about it, even taking into account the fact that I keep pausing to record my comments as I’m eating.

The ham, cheese, onions and chives are generously laid out (with the onions diced into tiny pieces, unlike the virtual slices you tend to get in America), and while the crème fraîche appears to add a slightly dissonant note of sweetness, it’s not objectionable, and works well throughout the whole of the entree.

Bottom line? Nothing like what I was expecting, but actually exceeded expectations. Orazio might be offended, but I think he could learn something from the Swiss about crust thickness. Not that he would be alone in that.

As for dessert, well that was my fault. Never order ice cream when you’re going to take your time eating – and describing your meal. With regard to its taste, it’s vanilla with tiny chunks of banana scattered throughout, with a little bit of crumble around the edges of where the scoop used to be. The pineapple chunks are arranged around the cake portion, and their ‘bite’ is muted by the creamy vanilla of the ice cream.

I’m sure the mouthfeel would’ve been better had I eaten it right away, but regardless of that old joke saying you always liked to quote, I’ve never felt comfortable having dessert first, even though I’ve proven beyond a shadow of a doubt this year that life certainly is uncertain.

The same goes for the chocolate cake, which turns out to be a cupcake sized lava cake. Sauce still pours out as I dig into it with my spoon, but there’s almost no heat left in it. But there’s no question that this is chocolate; again, leave it to Europeans to make it plain that they know their chocolate. It’s dark, it’s rich, and it’s quite tasty. Even when the melted ice cream and/or the remaining juice of the pineapples seep into the mix, the chocolate of both the cake and the sauce simply surround the interlopers with flavor, telling their prisoners, “You’re coming with us.” Yes, this is chocolate with authority.

Well, tonight I’ve decided to dispense with dessert. For one thing, there aren’t that many options in comparison to the entrées, and for another, most of them do the same thing as the cake dish – which is to say, they melt. Ice cream, ice foam, they sound interesting, but I think I’d have to order them separately. So I figure I shan’t bother this evening. Besides, too much sugar and too little activity are not a good combination.

Anyway may I present: Fried Zander Fillet “Winzerin-Art”

Again, I had to look this up using Google Translate. It’s apparently fried pike perch, with Riesling sauce, bacon, grapes, mushrooms and parsley. I have to admit, I’m a little worried about the grapes; I am not much, as you know, for fruit with my meat. Of course, according to our Catholic friends, this isn’t meat, anyway, so it’s all good.

As it happens, the grapes have a similar mouthfeel to the mushrooms, but obviously a sweet flavor as opposed to the umami. The sauce, while thin, is a little sour, like a vinaigrette, which works well with the fact that the fish is setting on a bed of cabbage. The cabbage, however is raw, so I’m not dealing with sauerkraut, here. It’s every bit as much crunchy as the fish is tender and moist. It’s all very light; I feel like I’m eating healthy already.

Speaking of healthy, the fettuccine does not come with any sauce, least of all, a heavy Alfredo cream sauce. This is what the hotel considers a ‘side dish.’ I’m sorry, but pasta needs something. I don’t care if I can eat it plain – and to be fair, it has more actual flavor than the fish. And please understand, this is not a condemnation of the fish – it’s actually quite tasty – but it’s very inconspicuous and inoffensive in terms of its own flavor, which is probably why it’s surrounded by so many other things with their own flavors to offset it. By contrast, the pasta has at least a touch of saltiness that calls attention to itself, while the fish is just the guest of honor at this party, letting everyone else bring the presents for you the diner to unwrap around it.

To extend the metaphor, if I may, I was expecting the grapes to be the jester of the party, whereas they actually take a much more subdued role than I expected. Clearly the Riesling sauce is the host, despite the fact that it doesn’t seem to be much of it. The dish is not drowning in sauce, and even less so when I add the fettuccine to the piece. But it has enough savor to make its presence known, introducing all the other guests to each other, and making sure they all get along. It even pulls up an extra chair for the uninvited guest that the pasta happens to be. No small feat, all things considered.

I finish off with the Rivella, because why settle for the Coke can have anywhere, anytime, when you can enjoy something local? Besides, as it turns out…

…the stuff is not clear, but rather the color of ginger ale. Doesn’t taste a thing like ginger ale, however, which, I’m sure, would rather disappoint you. But still, I like it.

Anyway, such are another day’s meals. I know better than to say ‘I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did,’ because I know whatever you’re enjoying has got to be so much further beyond anything I can imagine. I just wish I could hear from you about it.

Until that day, honey, take care. I’ll keep in touch.

Published by randy@letters-to-rachel.memorial

I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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