La chasse: worth the game?

When it comes to fall flavours, I have a very hard time choosing what I love the most. From butternut squash, to roasts, to every last variety of apple pie you can think of, in my mind, the fall harvest has it all.

Until recently though, I must admit that I was overlooking a key season specialty: “chasse”. Yes ladies and gentlemen, the fall is chasse season, better known in English as “game”. Perhaps because I was a cough cough vegetarian cough cough for so many of those early years of adult life, I somehow managed to miss out on the whole game party.

What does game even include? And what is particular about game in this region? Well it seems like it has become quite a fad in recent years. Restaurants of all kinds and butchers alike seem to have grasped on to game as a seasonal dish, and nowadays you can see announcements that the “chasse” has arrived in almost every restaurant window. On top of it, boar, deer, venison and most game is incredibly lean meat (apparently 15 times less fatty than lamb and 10 times less than a pig!) making it particularly appealing to certain more health-conscious types.

A taste of two places: Omnibus vs Olivier de Provence

Whatever the reason, chasse, right now, is highlighted everywhere, so this week, between extended work travel and vacation travel, I managed to squeeze in two, no THREE, game nights (but you get it right? There was no Monopoly, UNO or charades involved). Two nights brought me, somewhat accidentally, to the ever-so-popular Omnibus, and one night to Carouge’s much lauded Olivier de Provence.

Now I hesitate to draw any real comparison between the two restaurants, since they clearly don’t compete in the same weight class. Omnibus packs a genuinely good flavour punch, but Olivier de Provence clearly only gets in the ring against its award-winning neighbors, les Dix Vins and Café des Négociants. Nevertheless, here is a glimpse of what I tried and what the verdict was on what might have been my only Geneva “chasse” for the season.

Up first was Omnibus, where the plan was to finally have a taste of their famous bison burger that comes served with foie gras. Now now, don’t get too excited. This burger is officially off the menu (though insiders might let slip that if you call ahead, they might be able to give you a fix.)  Needless to say, I was gutted. But a glance at the menu showed promise with its nice variety of seasonal dishes, featuring marcassin (wild boar), chevreuil (roe buck/venison) and perdrix (partridge). I went for the perdrix in the end, which sounded like it would be roasted golden and served with a cranberry reduction.

I’ll give this to you straight, I was disappointed. The meat was so tough, I could hardly cut through it, and once I’d managed to rip a piece off, it felt like I was chewing flavored rubber. I really don’t know what went wrong there, as Omnibus usually serves up a mean plate.

The second night I went back with the intention of snacking on the bar food next door at Omnibar. As luck would have it, Omnibar was occupied by a TV shoot of some sort, so back to Omnibar’s game menu it was. I took the autumn salad, which included some very tasty cured boar meat. I also snuck in a few bites of my friend’s chevreuil, which largely made up for the perdrix the previous time. Rosy and tender, this cut of meat went marvelously well with the amaretto sauce.  Sorry birdy, the venison takes this one.

The bistrot at Olivier de Provence also had a nice variety to choose from. I eyed the caille (quail) for a minute, but concerned about another tough bird, I opted for the cerf roti (deer), which came with a cranberry reduction (yup, again, but no complaints here) and basil spatzle. Now there was a dish that just delights the palate. The cerf was cooked to absolute rosy perfection, not too cooked, not too raw, and the cranberry sauce was very refined and natural – unlike Omnibus’ jam-like do. The spatzle weren’t my first choice of side for this type of meat, but they were neutral enough not to make themselves noticed. All in all? Amazing. And that’s before we got to the homemade, 70% dark chocolate mousse…

In the end, maybe not so green? 

After a little research, I’ve found that game is a bit of a tricky food industry. As demand for these meats has skyrocketed, grocers and restaurants have had to import as much as 80% of game, and even the local “chasse” is actually not hunted at all, but farmed (except for the case of chamois, for example, which can’t be kept held captive). This won’t necessarily affect the quality of the meat, but if you’re conscious about these things, you may want to ask where the game came from. And while tons of restaurants offer chasse, it is apparently very difficult to find very good game, as the best, the real, the fresh, is short supply. Would you believe me if I told you there are even rumors of an underground game market??

For more info (in French), check out this 2008 article from the Hebdo.

Happy gaming!

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