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Howard V

Zürich

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A city where the basic cooking idiom is gemütlich German -- but done with incredible precision.

So basically Austria but 3x the price :P

That is EXACTLY right.

 

But also, Austria except the old buildings are medieval rather than rococo (a BIG improvement).

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The Volkshaus is a century-old workers'/bolshie arts center, still active today.  It has a restaurant.  The restaurant is often presented as a "corrective" to the much more expensive Kronenhalle (as if Kronenhalle needs a corrective), in that it serves similar homey Swiss-German food for less money (and emphasizes that it uses organic ingredients).  It's not as good, though.  I mean, it's perfectly fine, but Kronenhalle is special.

 

Old dining room:  would be shabby chic, if anything in Zürich were ever shabby.  Let's say nicely faded, then.

 

Having just emerged from a post-flight nap, I started uncharacteristically slow:  a mushroom salad.  Of course, the mushrooms were great.

 

Then, a loin of venison with port jus, more mushrooms, chestnut, pear, and -- the star of the plate -- plum brioche dumplings.  Classic, obvs.  The only thing wrong with it is that wasn't as good as a similar dish I had at Kronenhalle a couple of nights later.  But, as everybody will remind you, this was much cheaper.

 

You know, in restrospect, this was really quite good.

 

I was faced here with an almost comic example of the Old Skool European (and Zürich is nothing if not Old Skool) incomprehension of solo dining.  I had made a reservation for two, but the grad student I was visiting in Zürich had a late lecture, so I showed up alone.  I was shown a table that wasn't in the dining room but rather alone in an alcove behind the hostess desk and told that was all that could be made available.  "Come on," I said, "you can't expect me to eat there."  I was then taken to a table in the dining room.  I mean, come on.

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But also, Austria except the old buildings are medieval rather rococo (a BIG improvement).

 

 

Ok, for that you just need to leave Vienna. 

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No no I'm already back.   I mean the write-up is coming up.  OF COURSE I took no photos.

 

I knew dat!

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Dante is a cocktail bar specializing in gin drinks.  What's good about it is that even though they have a full selection of some of the over-floralized abominations that have sprung up (they taste like gardens) in the attempt to make "different" gins that (the makers never come out and admit this) are perhaps more palatable to non-gin drinkers than the traditionally astringent liquor is, at least the bartender the night I was there strongly favors more classic styles.  I had a good time tasting through them.  The house cocktail list is very good; and they have a full knowledge of the classics.

 

The Calabrian bartender and I had already bonded over our mutual love of Nonnata di Pesce.  Condiments:  the universal language.

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Maison Manesse is a Modern Cuisine restaurant.  But this is Zürich, so it serves a homey version of Modern Cuisine.

 

The room itself is funky:  this is definitely a post-Brooklyn Youth-oriented place.  Service is fine, though.  I really enjoyed being there.

 

They have a carte and a tasting menu surprise.  In a place like this, the tasting menu just seems to be the way to go.  (Sensible number of courses -- maybe six -- not one of the beasts you get in tasting-menu-only places.)

 

I found the food a little disappointing.  Earthbound, I'd say.  I do have to say, though, that the sou vided Thanksgiving wood pigeon, I think it was, was by far the best sou vided poultry I've ever had.  Because, unlike say Blue Hill Greenwich Village, these guys bothered to sear the bird after they circulated it.  Duh.  This was the one really excellent dish, I thought:  full gamey flavor, and not a whisper of a hint of dryness.  I mean, the others were good, mostly -- very good, even.  They just didn't sing.

 

I don't know that I'd run back here.  But I wouldn't tell anyone to stay away.

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Widder Bar and Kitchen, the bar in my hotel, has an excellent reputation in Zürich.  The bartender at Dante asked me why I bothered to walk over there, if I was staying where the Widder Bar is.

 

And it's good.  The house cocktails are relatively unexciting -- but they can make anything, and make it well.  And their selection of alcohols is staggering.

 

In fact, the best thing about the bar might be their whisky selection.  I didn't get as much of a chance to explore it as I might have hoped.

 

Be aware, though, that the bar gets absolutely slammed.  And stays that way until closing.

 

(The hotel itself gets my very highest recommendation, BTW.)

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At last we get to Kronenhalle.  How do I love it?  Let me count the ways.

 

First is the bar.  You walk in, it's packed with a crowd that's both jollier and a little bit noisier than you expect in Switzerland.  They're happy to be there.  And why shouldn't they be?  Here's a place where the walls are jammed with original pieces by extremely famous artists of the early 20th Century -- we sat drinking under a Miró -- but no deal is made of it, and it's not the tiniest bit stuffy.

 

Now the last thing you -- or at least I -- would expect is for a place like this to have good cocktails.  But the cocktails weren't just good, but great.  The house cocktails were classic in style, beautifully balanced, impeccably prepared.

 

I hated to leave the bar.  But we had to cross the hall to the dining room for dinner.

 

Second is the restaurant.  The same trick:  lots of great Early Modern art, no stuffiness.   Imagine being disappointed you were only sitting under a Chagall, instead of something even better.

 

As for the food, Old Skool gemütlich German prepared with finesse.  I started with a celeriac/chestnut soup that was pure heaven.  Then, a heavily trad venison loin with more chestnuts and tangy berries.  This was all just about perfect.  I wish we had room for dessert.  (I did have some cheese, and it was surprisingly lackluster.)

 

The wine list is also determinately Old Skool.  If you don't want a Burgundy, Bordeaux, Rhone, or their Italian equivalents (or older producers from Germany and Austria), don't bother.  But the vintages go deep -- and the markups most definitely don't.  (I read an interview with the guy who runs the place once where he said that wealthy people in Zürich would think it vulgar to spend nearly $1000 on a bottle of wine.)  The best wine with the food, anyway.

 

I wish I were still in Kronenhalle.

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