Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Postcard from Abroad

Just got back into town from Switzerland. Sadly, not really a 'What I Did On My Summer Vacation' entry, as I was there to attend a funeral. I truly wish that I could have cooked something over there. Not just because of the ready supply of beautiful meats, cheeses, wines, and produce...but...beyond family celebrations like weddings, holidays, housewarmings, etc., it's important for those of us who cook to feed and nurture those we care about in times of sorrow, as well. Eating a good meal together is welcome and warranted under any circumstances.

On a sunnier note, though, Switzerland is a) gorgeous! and b) in Europe...where they just 'get' food and eating better than we do over here in the States.

Walking around Nyon, I was struck by the number of really great looking butcher shops, cheese shops, and bakeries that one really needs to go out of the way to find here in our country. OK...fine...your supermarket has 'everything'...but does it? I can rarely find at...oh, say...Stop & Shop the fish or meat cut called for in that tasty-looking Bon Appetit recipe I want to try. And, sorry, meat and fish purveyors of metro-west, those few butcher shops and fishmongers we have left locally, you rarely cut it. (Literally...I suppose.)

Strolling around the streets of this smallish city (town?) in Switzerland, I came across boucherie after boucherie. I'd stop in one boulengerie and get a sandwich or croissant, only to find another one a few doors down that looked better. Here at home, I can walk around the block and find...three lackluster pizza/sub-shops and a Dunkin' Donuts. There is a quote-unquote Butcher Shop in Watertown that informed me, the last time (quite literally) I called them, that they don't carry lamb.


The nearest shops I can go to for "non-standard" fish or cuts of meat are in freaking WELLESLEY! However these places rock, so support them: John Dewar and Company, Capt. Marden's Seafoods.

I have to say, though, there were some disappointments across the pond. Never got a decent croissant anywhere in Switzerland...and they speak a LOT of French over there, so...one would think... And I rarely feel competitive or want to slag a fellow cook, but whomever runs the kitchen of the lovely Hotel La Barcarolle has NO idea how to season food. (Salt, mon ami, SALT! There's such a thing as too much and too little, and you are equally adept at hitting either end of the spectrum.)

However, I ate at one restaurant that is, frankly, worth the trip to Nyon alone: Le Maitre Jacques. Mon Dieux! Classic European bistro fare. The kind of place I would want just down the street where I could eat weekly (cue the theme to Cheers, played on a tiny accordian...and Jacques would sit at my table and tell me what he was making for me, as Claudine, the sassy waitress brings over a glass of wine and an amuse bouche...). I'm not sure, but I believe our hosts at this dinner simply told the establishment a large group was coming and to prepare a dinner for us. (But, Coco & Harry, if you picked this menu then all kudos to you.)

(Again...not having seen a menu, I'm ballparking here...) About twenty of us, all seated around a long stretch of tables set out on the cobblestones in front of the restaurant, we began with a vichyssoise that had mussels and some other seafood down at the bottom like sunken treasure. Then roasted tomatoes on a small circle of puff pastry, topped with pesto alongside a light salad of greens. The main course was a tuna steak topped with a sort of corn-based salsa, accompanied by perfectly braised and seasoned baby bok choi, and The Mystery Croquettes. Deep-fried, certainment!, but what?! Popular opinion was potato and cheese, but they were too light for that. I suspect there was egg and, possibly, pureed cauliflower involved, but they were DELICIOUS. Dessert came out looking like little mugs of cappuccino, but they contained a mocha-ish creme brulee, topped with whipped cream and what we think was a shot of espresso lying underneath. C'est fantastique!

Let's see...other food memories:

Many street vendors selling sausage au veau. Straight up. You got a (giant) white-ish sausage, on a plate with a slice of bread and some mustard.

Filet de perche - perch caught fresh from Lake Geneva - is the local specialty. Much like Boston and its surrounding's ubiquitous clam chowder, EVERY restaurant offers it and there are good versions and bad. (Mercifully avoiding claims of being 'the best!'. I love seeing five adjacent restaurants on the Cape boasting "voted the Cape's number one chowda!!") The one I sampled was lackluster. (Thank you, lame La Barcarolle chef!)

My second hotel, the Ambassador, offered what most hotels here call a 'continental breakfast.' Sampling both their beautifully fried sunny-side up eggs and scrambled eggs, I looked around on the tables for some salt or pepper and found none. No need! Perfectly seasoned by the woman who prepared this fairly simple breakfast each day - before, God love her, she went on to clean everyone's rooms. (And who could show the chef at La Barcarolle a thing or two about seasoning food. End of rant...)

Frites are everywhere! B. loves himself some French Fries, don't get me wrong, but I'm not sure they necessarily had any business accompanying the really tasty veal marsala I had there on my last night.

And, something I need to try this Fall: we've all, at this point, had some form of the warm goat cheese salad. (And, frankly, I'll take goat cheese in ANY form...) But I could not understand why the one I had prior to the aforementioned veal was so tasty. Most of the restaurants were serving outside this time of year in Nyon, and so in the semi darkness I really had to get down close to the table and dissect this delectable goat cheese to discern what was going on. (With all due apologies from the strange acting 'Ugly American' to the French family eating one table over.) I believe this chef took a slice of apple, topped that with a bit of grated gruyere-type cheese, THEN sat a slice of goat cheese on top of that and threw it all under the broiler. Wow! Warm, soft, salty and sweet - offset by cold, dressed greens. Try it. So good!!

Au revoir, Nyon.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Eh oui, so beyutiful, your pick-cheres, monsieur B.

Excellent advice for those traveling to Nyon. You could serve as a foodie and travel columnist as well!

LOVE to try the goat cheese apple gruyere thing!