Category Archives: Restaurants

El Catrín: authentic Mexican at last

Fans of the Americas and their culinary traditions, you should all be extremely pleased to hear that Geneva has recently seen the opening of a new Mexican restaurant. Long time residents of Geneva will know that we have been deprived of authentic Mexican (or something like it) for far too long. At El Catrín though, the tacos are made with real corn tortillas, the tacos are adorned with queso fresco, cocktails are made with a base of smoky mescal, and palates are refreshed by the a variety of agua frescas- all ingredients that are authentic parts of the smoky, earthy flavours of southern Mexico.


The setting also takes you out of the grey streets of the Paquis: at El Catrín, energy bounces off the walls like a Mexican jumping bean. On any given weekday (except Monday!) you’ll find a young crowd sipping down cocktails and Negra Modelos, and munching on nachos after work. The colorful walls and a minimalist spattering of kitsch keeps the environment buzzing.


Feeling indecisive about the menu? As a starter, their guacamole is creamy and consistent, and served in larger portions than at your average Geneva Mexican restaurant. While the molletos verged towards the dry side, the tacos did not disappoint: the pork options (pibil and al pastor) were tender, juicy and aromatic. The Taco Trio menu gives you a nice tasting of what the place has to offer, and at 35chf, the Combo El Catrín is a steal – by Geneva standards. Only item that failed to impress is the starting green salad, which departs too much from Mexico.   

Basically, an evening here promises lots of goodies all wrapped up in a colorful piñata. But better reserve ahead- with just a few tables, the spot fills up quickly.

PS – Before leaving, don’t forget you can buy their corn tortillas to use at home.

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Jazz and Rösti at Café du Bourg de Four

As a rule, I would say that a restaurant situated right next to a city’s main historical attraction is going to be bad. I would never select the closest restaurant to Notre Dame, Westminster Abbey or the Colloseum. The exception to that rule is the Café du Bourg de Four, which is just a stone’s throw away from the Cathédral de Saint Pierre. Head there for the best rösti in town- and if you can make it on a Tuesday eve, you’ll be rewarded with a live duo/trio of guitarists serenading the joint with jazz standards. 


Open since 1874, this restaurant is a cross between Cheers and Sardi’s in Manhattan. Local legislators and politicians who work down the street have dropped in here for lunch for decades. Their legacy lines the walls now, in the form of cartooned portraits, mixed in with local news covers throughout the restaurant’s history. The overall feeling is not unlike stepping into a time capsule to turn of the century Geneva.

Except for two things. The owners of the day are Swiss with ex-Yugoslavian roots, and the menu embraces their mixed heritage: a true illustration of contemporary Geneva. Rosti, a kind of large potato pancake typical of Germanic Switzerland, is at its best at this Café, crispy on the outside, moist on the inside.

 To get the full effect of the restaurant though, order the cevapcici rosti menu, which includes a starter of a Serbian Salad (which looks remarkably like a Greek Salad if you ask me), followed by a main course of Serbian beef meatballs or sausages with raw onions and a side of rosti. It is divine, but if you’re feeling less adventurous, the plain rosti with a fried egg and ham or bacon on top is another classic. (Better known to Brits and Americans as breakfast for dinner).

L’Aigle d’Or: Still Livin’ the Dream

It could be argued that Geneva is the city that always sleeps. Living here is a little like a fairy tale, particularly in the summer: a city that sparkles in the sun, a richly diverse population and virtually no crime… and also a city that took a big bite out of Snow White’s apple once upon a time and is now stubbornly stuck in its slumber for eternity.

Or so the youth would have it. I’ll be the first to applaud new restaurant openings in Geneva, and recently there have been many. But while the new generations go running around reinventing the restaurant wheel, our wiser and more experienced brethren are gettin’ down at restaurants that have stood the test of time. You’d be wise to follow their lead: this is a group that clearly put their finger on Geneva’s pulse a long time ago and have stuck to it. At the top of that list of hidden gems is l’Aigle d’Or, a classic bistro serving classic fare, but that still beats its drum somewhere in Snow White’s dreams.

On a Saturday night, a lively crowd of silver haired patrons streamed in to the restaurant, warmly welcomed with a thirst quenching rum punch and glass of white wine. They had arrived that night because the restaurant was holding one of their regular live music sets: excellent live bands, a fixed menu, and pretty much all the wine you can drink for the heart-stopping price of 60CHF. (And yes, that includes the welcome drinks). After a little tipple on the restaurant’s shaded terrace, the cheery bantering crowd found their way to well broken-into wooden chairs for the main event.

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All the oldies of your dreams performed by Chocolat Blanc band members Cyril Azzam and Manu Araoz

That by itself is a formula that should be convincing enough. But then of course we’re here for the food: comfortably nestled on a corner in Carouge, l’Aigle d’Or has had one man at the cooker for 28 years. And the experience shows, not only in the impeccably delivered classic menu, but also in the subtle inventiveness that keeps the place current. The chef opened our appetite with a playful mouthful of white fish ceviche that was elegantly juicy and tangy. He kept it fresh with a green bean and crab salad, just a touch creamy, the sweetness of the crab hugging the crunchy green beans. A main course of osso bucco in a red sauce was served rustic, with roasting pans of yellow rice and ratatouille to match the summer season: melt-in-your-mouth veal in a sauce that was quickly mopped off the plate, punctuated with very fine bone marrow on bread. No salt needed. The dessert brought us all back home, with a meringue, coulis de fruits rouges and fior di latte ice cream- I asked myself only briefly why they hadn’t stuck to the traditional side of double crème, before polishing off the ice cream.

By that time, it was pushing midnight, and the place was in full swing, the crowd clapping, dancing and joyously signing “ride sally ride” on cue with the band. Drowsy with wine I checked my bike outside to make sure it hadn’t turned into a pumpkin: surely there was not a single restaurant in Geneva still roaring at 1am. Surely I was dreaming. Surely someone in the know would know that places like this existed. At least now, we surely do.

 

 

 

Yo’Mo

An evening at Yo’Mo is full of non sequiturs and densely flavored Lebanese and Mediterranean dishes. Having a meal there makes you feel a bit like you should be having a birthday party: oversized chairs, large scale pop art on the walls, contrasting patterns and colors on the sofas, pillows and rugs. A little like a piñata threw up in an airport lounge – but in a good way? On one side, a gorgeous view of the Lac Leman and the Jardin Anglais. On the other, a print of Mona Lisa smoking a hookah. A built-in bookshelf lines the far wall and is dotted with tchotchkes and books. (Haute Dogs was perhaps a weird choice of a cookbook to throw into the mix of a Lebanese restaurant, but there it was).

On a Monday evening (and a public holiday no less), Yo’Mo was open and ready to serve, and seemed to attract a diverse clientele. Over the course of our meal, a few North American tourists, a crew of local teenagers, and a conservative muslim family all took their seats in turn.

tabouleh

 

After way too much time spent pouring over the menu, a friendly waitress quietly and patiently took our order with a bashful smile. Having ruled out the “oriental style pizzas” for the night, we opted for a spread of hot and cold mezze – mostly classics, with the occasional twist. Eggplant caviar came in smokey hues, and would risk falling flat if it weren’t for the pomegranate pops of acidity. Hummus comes two ways: served plain, it was unctuous and totally free of that overwhelming raw garlic pervasive in too many recipes. Adorned, the acidity of the beef and pine nuts were offset by a gentle aroma of sesame. Tabouleh, served as it should be, with just a sprinkling of bulgur,brightened up the hummus and meat dishes. The kebbeh (meatballs) were served with an onion jam that tasted a little more like strawberry jam than one would want. Less inspiring was the falafel, which came out just a bit dry. Rich, smooth labneh and the fresh-out-of-the-oven flatbread  was everything you needed to dress and deliver the tang to your taste-buds. 

YoMo

While the food may transport you, the music won’t let you mistake Geneva for Beirut. In keeping with the contemporary vibe, Yo’Mo rightly avoids the traditional tunes of the ‘Mediterranean’. But in its place, you get loungey electro no better than elevator music, reminding you clearly that it’s Geneve for the nouveau-riche after all. Until that random salsa song comes on, bringing non-sequitur and flavor back to the mix.

 

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Le Flacon

Last fall, after a summer full of weddings and visits and friends and all sorts of excitement, I had clearly fallen behind on my reviews. So, in the spirit of starting somewhere, I started with a restaurant I had been eager to try for months: Le Flacon. I typed this one up fresh, put it aside for review, and then totally spaced out. So without further ado:

Why it was on top of the list of places to try out? It was opened by starred Michelin Chef Serge Labrosse of “Buffet de la Gare des Eaux-Vives” fame, before his second in command, Yoann Caloué, took over the toque and ladle in early 2015.

Never heard of it? Well, thanks to the *awesome* Canton of Geneva plan to build the CEVA, thus turning the Gare des Eaux-Vives (and so many other places in town) into a long term construction site, this one star restaurant had to close down. Because why would Geneva try to safeguard these little sparks of joy in our lives?

Thankfully, he found a new spot to call home, making very pretty dishes over in Carouge – where all the pretty things are.

What you get at le Flacon is a significant step up from the standard wannabe-classy Geneva fare. Most importantly in my book, Caloué is more daring with his flavor profile, and knows how to serve up a plate that’s very easy on the eyes. To start, I could not resist the slow cooked veal with burrata and tomato and cherry gaspacho. That’s right, tomato AND cherry, NOT cherry tomato. The combo was nothing I’d tried before, and while I can’t claim it was in perfect harmony, it was extremely delicious, and a refreshing change.

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Barely cooked veal with burrata and tomato and cherry gaspacho

Next,  I ordered the Pluma iberique (pork) as my main course, and rather than go classic Spanish, the dish came out with miso and sesame purée, and very nicely prepared summer squash millefeuille. Not oily, not overcooked, just right.

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This dramatic pluma ibérique a la Japonaise

Perhaps the most gorgeous dish of the evening, and apparently very well prepared, was the lime-infused sea bass starter, served with turnips, PEACHES, and almonds. Now how’s that for unlikely bedfellows.

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Buried under those pretty little things is sea bass

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Of course, when you take a risk on a dish, you sometimes come up short. One of us got doubly unlucky, first trying on the foie gras starter (served with a “sorbet” Piedmontese made of hazelnuts, and a cherry sauce), which tasted scarily like a foie gras dessert. Thanks, but no thanks. His subsequent order of sweetbreads that normally melt in your mouth came out relatively tough. Well, you can’t get it right every time, but for the price we paid, we did hope for a little more consistency.

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Foie gras, brioche, Piedmontese hazelnut and Bigarreau as a sorbet…

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sweetbreads with asparagus and chanterelles

Finally, for you alkies, the wine list is extensive, and they have a very friendly sommelier who will pretty much tell you want you want (it is Geneva after all). He served us a white wine to handle our fish and sweetbreads and pork that left us all dubious when he proposed it. It turned out to be absolutely delicious, and practically amber in color. Most amazing though was the gorgeous aftertaste: 10 days later, I took a long shot and called the restaurant to ask what wine we had ordered. The sommelier himself answered the phone and asked me when we came and where we were sitting. And with that information alone, he was able to inform me which wine we drank. With that, he got me hook, line and sinker.

So there you have it, a potion of rare quality for Geneva: experimental flavor profiles in a relatively casual setting (despite the obvious high-end ambition of the restaurant). It’s a bit pricier than your average Geneva meal as a result, and for now at least, the success of the experiments are a bit hit or miss. In exchange though, you get friendly service, which is a real rarity in Geneva, n’est-ce pas?

After Work at Taco Toots

Taco Toots joins forces with Brasserie des Halles de l’Ile with Mexican fare that raises the bar on Swiss Mexican food that extra bit higher for one of the cheapest meals this side of the kebab – but ¡dale! guys, crank it up notch and let those flavours you’re nursing shine. 

You and your friends have argued on whatsapp for hours about where to go for your after work drink. Arnold et Julen? Your Eaux-Vives dwelling friends will veto. Bottle Brothers? No Paquis way. For years, nay, decades this left bank right bank divide has funneled us all into Brasserie des Halles de l’Ile, but, quite frankly, they are slow, badly organized, and I’ve witnessed one too many creeps lurking around. And I don’t like their brunch. Still, I go, because, you know, Mojito.

When I went down there yesterday evening, it had been some time since I had circled that drain (where the Lac Léman turns back into the Rhone), and I was surprised to see a new addition to the cluster of businesses on the place. Behold, under the shade of trees people were sipping on Spritz Apérols and scarfing down tacos.

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Yes, TACOS.

Says the owner, sarcastically, “You know how there’s all this great Mexican food in Geneva, right?”

Oh yes. I know all too well. Mañana’s serves the best of whatever produce Coop scraped off its racks and turns it into “salsa” and “guacamole” over stale chips. Mmmm gimme some of that. Le Chat Rouge is a big step up, but still, measly portions of guacamole make you feel like Calvin is managing the kitchen.

Things started to perk up last year though when Taco Rico opened up in Plainpalais – our very own Chipotle style joint that is actually quite generous on the guac and introduced caramelized and pickled onions to the Genevois palate. (Thanks Taco Rico!)

But I digress. Taco Toots, on Place de l’Ile has been open for a while now, and they are already attracting a crowd of tipsy after-workers who fell into the Brasserie des Halles de l’Ile pit with a serious case of the munchies. Jackpot.

Taco Toots is making a valiant effort at making Mexican food a little more authentic, but is going to need to spice it up to be truly chingon. The menu is simple (beef, pork pibil and veggie tacos, tostadas, and a quesadilla), the produce is good quality and fresh, the tortillas are sourced from the only authentic provider in town, and the service is super friendly. Win win win win, right?

But there’s more. I had two tacos with sides and an agua de jamaica for all of 14chf. WHAT??

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But, as you can see, the portions per taco are on the conservative side. The clear favorite is the pork pibil, which was obviously cradled in warm, gentle spices for many many tender hours. The result is a juicy taco with a subtle seasoning. Almost too subtle. People who like a punchier taco will have to hit the spice bar to give it that extra umph. And hang on to that napkin – as long as they haven’t invented a “taco holder” you’re gonna need it!

The quesadilla came in a close second, with its unctuous cheese melt and some tangy veggies giving it some edge. In fact, it was favored by a vegetarian over the veggie taco option, which consisted of underseasoned roasted veggies.

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The beef taco also had a lot going for it, but needed a little acidity kick in the rump to balance out the beef and the fresh diced veggie garnish. I know the Swiss aren’t known for their adventurous side but I think they can take a little more seasoning in their food without being overwhelmed with flavour. I added some of the tomato salsa, which helped, but a longer marinade or a spicier rub may have done that beef good.

And if you really love Mexican food, you’ll know it’s all about the fixings. With our tacos we got a good side of guacamole, pico de gallo and really crisp taco chips – a highly addictive trifecta.

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So what is this agua de jamaica and agua de tamarindo thing, and why is it so exciting? When I lived in Southern Mexico (for a short, but oh so delicious time) I discovered that they make agua de whatever fruit you want, and serve it by the pitcher. Agua de limon is a bit like lemonade, and agua de jamaica is a bit like cold hibiscus tea, but tartier, sweeter and fresher. For me, heaven in a glass, and I bow to Taco Toots for bringing it home to me.

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Cheers Taco Toots for raising the bar on Swiss Mexican food that extra bit higher – but ¡dale! guys, crank it up notch and let those flavours you’re nursing shine.

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The Old World, Renewed, at La Bottega Trattoria

La Bottega Trattoria

La Bottega Trattoria

Going out to a restaurant can be as dull as it can be enlightening. And let’s be honest, it’s be a loooooooong time since it was worth talking about a new restaurant in Geneva. In the last couple of years, we’ve seen the resto scene spruced up by a hamburger wave and a caravan of food trucks. Arnold et Julen and Living Room kicked some light and pizazz into our winter nights. These flecks of big city life have enlivened Geneva, no doubt.

Still, the core of Geneva’s restaurant scene has continued to degrade its customers with the same old menus and uninspired preparations. Even glossy hot spots like Da Matteo or countless others, gleaming as they may first seem, are equally dull under the surface. Because let’s be honest: the glitterati to whom they seem to cater most often barely have any interest in eating in the first place, lest it plump them out of their sequined mini dresses and Armani jeans.

Yet, with a few outstanding exceptions, this seems to be the audience Geneva’s up and coming restaurant industry has consistently targeted. There can’t seem to be too many overpriced bistros dressed up as hipster joints (the Quartier des Bains is crawling with them), cheap pizzerias, or kebab shops. But there hasn’t been a single nook in this town for an eatery that exists to impress people with the actual art of cooking, introducing us to creative, mind altering flavor combos. For that, well, we have London.

But friends, Geneva has taken a step closer to being a cosmopolitain city when, a few weeks ago, La Bottega Trattoria opened its doors on La Grand Rue. An Italian restaurant it says, and the menu structure, wine list and pasta dishes do seem to prove it is so. But this is not your traditional Da Paolo’s , your spritzed up Luigia, or your insultingly bland and simplistic Kytaly. This is the Italy of meaty ragouts and fine use of herbs. The Italy that looks outwards, to the green flavours of Scandinavia and beyond. The Italy that says Italy isn’t about the pizza or the tomatoes or even the pasta; it’s about a celebration of the ingredients, and the desire to elevate them through loving preparation and creative combinations. Move over nonna: your nephews Paolo and Fra just got back from their world tour and have taken over the kitchen.

Best of the old world, reincarnated

Best of the old world, reincarnated

Good restaurants can stop there, with a core of delectable, if not irreproachable, dishes. A great restaurant will take that core and put it into a stimulating shell. Here too, La Bottega delivers: its decor is distinctly contemporary, while echoing back respectfully to the old world, with a white tiled interior, industrial lamps, and a large old map of Europe hanging solo.

All told, dinner at La Bottega is like driving a 1950s Alfa Romeo Cabriolet with a fresh coat of paint and an immaculately maintained engine. It may not quite take us to London’s cutting edge, but it will give us a fresh and stylish taste of Italy.

But enough with words, place aux photos:

aperiteasers

aperiteasers of roasted cherry tomatoes, slightly undercooked cauliflower and carrot, and tangy Italian broccoli

Aperiteasers followed by aperitivi

Green is gold

Green is gold: cabbage leaves wrapped around a lightly mayonnaised crab salad, balanced off with lightly pickled cucumbers

root juice

Oeuf mollet with thin sheets of parsnip, white asparagus, and bathed in celery root juice

Primi: Pasta

eggplant sauce and balsamic over caramelized onion raviolis

Eggplant sauce and balsamic over caramelized onion raviolis. Sweet, wanting in acidity

perhaps the highlight…

it may not look like much but this veal tail ragu was as viscerally positive an experience as it gets

Who knew veal tail could be so unctuous. This dish may not look like much but it was as viscerally positive a food experience as it gets

On Secondi thought…

guinea fowl, sweet potato purée and company

The guinea fowl was prepared to perfection, juicy tender and lean on the inside, with a crisp layer of skin. Hanging out with sweet potato purée, parsnip and a couple of cherries.

Porc versus guinea fowl

Filet mignon of porc, prepared just like the guinea fowl. Guinea fowl won, by a hair.

 

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Head’s up! There’s a New Pizza Truck on the Block

Let me start with an admission: I have lived in Geneva for the better part of 30 years, including most of my teens and late 20s, and yet, I had never been to the Paleo Festival in Nyon… until last week.

Shame, scandal, horror! Or maybe not such a big deal. In any case, now in my early 30s, less inclined to get muddied up, but still up for new experiences, I rolled up my work pants, switched into my hiking boots, and danced in the mud with 230,000 other spectators. And it was a blast.

Naturally, I needed to fuel up before getting started. Lucky for me, I knew I would finally be able to try Nero’s Roman sliced Pizza, Geneva’s second new school food truck that opened back in May.  Why did it take so long you ask? Simply because I work nowhere near any of their weekday lunch locations. Povero me! So I was naturally thrilled to find out they’d be stationed at Paleo Festival all week.

And indeed, Nero is off to a great start on its mission to serve up artisanal Roman style slices to the masses, and are just a few tweaks short of a faultless slice of pizza. Nero’s prides itself first and foremost on its dough, and with good reason. Two years they claim to have studied and tested to get the pitch perfect consistency of a Roman style pizza: crunchy on the outside, moist and doughy on the inside. Well boys, the studying paid off, the dough truly is all its cracked up to be. The tomato sauce – another fundamental to a good slice of pizza – is also very nicely tangy, and not too sweet.

Pizza sitting pretty: left, the highly recommended salami picante with onion confit

Pizza sitting pretty: left, the highly recommended salami picante with onion confit

The cherry on top (ahem), is that they get creative with their toppings, which really teases the eye and the appetite. We got to try most slices on their regular menu, a marinara (tomato sauce, garlic, oregano and parsley), parmigiana di melanzane (eggplant, tomato, mozza, parm and fresh basil), bufala (mozza di bufala, tomato and fresh basil), salame piccante (salami, tomatoes, parsley and caramelized onions), and one of their specials with sausage and zucchini.  The ingredients are unmistakably top notch (that salami picante was so tender you’d almost rather eat it straight), and they go green by showcasing seasonal ingredients. While some ingredients were prepped to shine, others could still use some spicing up.

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My favorite: hands down the salami piccante with the caramelized onions, and I’ll tell you why. The onions bring a beautiful acidity and depth to the flavor profile, which I find key when dealing with so much cheesy goodness. The eggplant and zucchini slices could have used a bit of that umph, but this is nitpicking really.

Finally, we tried the tiramisu, which, I mean, how can you go wrong? It’s nothing but layered tastiness. It was almost all you would expect from a tiramisu, sweet and creamy with just that subtle touch of chocolate powder. I would personally change the ratio of biscuit to cream (ie, a bit less biscuit), but again, a matter of personal taste.

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A tip for the newbies: if you’ve never been to a NY or Roman style pizza parlor before, get in the know! The slices are on display, they are then slipped into the oven to get nice and toasty warm for you, and after a few minutes, you’re off with your slice of pizza. So be cool and don’t freak if you can’t just walk away with what’s on display.

In sum, Nero’s is joining Luigia’s to introduce Geneva’s palate to another kind of pizza altogether. Their aim: serving up artisanal roman pizza by the slice to the masses. A valiant objective, to which they are well on their way. No doubt they will have the technique perfected after dealing with Paleo, and next… the Fete de Geneve!  Check out their FB page for updates.

 

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Le Petit Lac: where even stunning views can’t distract you from the bland food

It was a glorious Sunday afternoon, sun blazing above us in a dark blue sky, a soft warm breeze in the air….  what an incredible relief after all the rain we’ve had dumped on us this year! Euphoria! And after a week of eating at home to save some cash, the inevitable finally happened: we deserved a reward!  And we wanted filets de perches du lac! What a feel good way to end a feel good day, right?

With such short notice, we got concerned about getting a reservation. On a Sunday evening. On a sunny terrace. In June. In Geneva. To have good perches du lac. Surely it would be a challenge. We acted fast, scanning through the handful of restaurants that are known to have all of the above qualities, and snagged a table overlooking the lake at Le Petit Lac in Corsier-Port. We breathed a sigh of relief knowing our cravings would soon be satisfied.

But they weren’t. The restaurant may be in a beautiful (really, stunning!) location, with a fantastic (really, breathtaking!) view… but they know that’s the main attraction. With a view like that, why bother making an effort on the food? The proof is in the plate: what comes out of their kitchen is slow, bland, and overpriced.  150chf+ for two starters, two mains, a dessert, and 3 glasses of wine. Granted, for Geneva, maybe not so shocking, but for that poor quality?  I’d rather pic-nic by the Jet d’Eau (But the location is gorgeous!)

See? Just goooorgeous!

First, a little background.

For those of you who have not been around Geneva very long, “filets de perches du lac” may mean nothing to you. In fact, it wasn’t so long ago that I was told by a foreign friend of mine that where they come from, perch is a fish only served to cats! See if HE ever gets invited to dinner again!  Because here in Geneva, the perches du Lac is the canton’s darling dish.

Let’s remove the veil of ignorance though, shall we? In reality, filets de perche du lac is of the simplest dishes you can find: small perch, lightly battered, pan fried, and – traditionally at least – served under a sauce meuniere (that’s butter, lemon and parsley to you francophobes). Oh, and lest we forget, the dish comes accompanied by a plate of ABSOLUTELY DELICIOUS GENEVA FRENCH FRIES!

They say the simplest of pleasures are the best, but any really good chef knows that it is the simplest of dishes that is also the easiest to screw up. If one thing goes wrong, there is no place to hide. And if you thought all filets de perches were made equal, well, think again my friends. To a discerning diner like myself, there is much to take into consideration.

1. The perches

The most important matter of debate, for any well-versed Genevan, is the origin of the perche.  Heaven forbid they come from any other lake but our very own Lac Léman. In fact, locals are so fussy about it, that restaurants have gone so far as to lie about where the fish is from. Hate to break it to you folks, but if you see a sign for filets de perche “du lac”, it probably is from a lake – just not this particular lake. Most likely, they are from Estonia. And let’s be honest: that is probably not the end of the world. (The difference? Foreign fishy is smaller, local fishy is bigger.)

Still, when I got my swiss passport, I vowed always to ask before ordering, and so I did. In fact, the waiter was so kind as to fess up immediately: the protected season for perche from our lake was extended this year because of the weather, and so they are only serving the perches from Estonia. Fine. Good man for being upfront. But were they frozen? No, he assured us, all products are fresh. Ok. Bring it!

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2. The sauce

It may seem like just butter, but it’s not. A good filet de perche comes in a lightly fragrant sauce that lifts up the delicate flavor of the fish. Butter, yes, lemon, yes, parsley, yes, but all combined in perfect harmony, with the right consistency… I’m not sure what the secrets are, but it is somehow pretty easy for cooks to screw it up.  So in addition to the traditional sauce meunière, restaurants also usually offer their own twists on the sauce, adding a touch of cream, maybe a squeeze of orange, a white wine base, or other ingredients.

3. The FRENCH FRIES!

Yes yes, the fish, the sauce, fine, but what we really came for, and what we will really judge a restaurant for, is the quality of their french fries!  THAT is the main criteria from differentiating between one restaurant and the other.

See? They even LOOK stale, bland and boring

See? They even LOOK stale, bland and boring

Putting it all together

I ultimately ordered the filets de perche du lac (d’Estonie). Le Petit Lac offered a variety of sauces, as expected, but I went for the classic, always intent on judging a restaurant by its core, not by its bells and whistles. The dish that came out was a disappointment on sight. The perches were very small, and battered in a mix that was obviously to heavy on the flour, leaving the texture of the fish cardboard dry. The sauce meunière was tasteless, as though it had been watered down, or if they somehow skipped the butter.  And the fries had that exaggerated yellow, square look. Come to think of it, they might even have been machine cut and frozen, they were so tasteless. But I was hungry, so I added a bunch of salt to everything and down the hatch it all went.

Last chance dessert

Struggling to overcome my disappointment, I gathered my forces and asked about another Geneva classic that warms my heart: a Coupe Danemark. They had it on their menu, but the key to a good coupe Danemark is in the chocolate sauce. It must be bittersweet chocolate, melted on the spot, served very warm, and have just the right amount of fats in it so that it doesn’t congeal upon contact with the ice cream. (I know: i’m a discerning b*tch). I asked, as always, if the sauce was made fresh, or if it was out of a squeezy bottle. The waiter looked at me a little offended: But of COURSE it’s freshly melted. Fine, I’ll have one of those then.

Note, the sauce was served in the cup already. A telling sign that it wasn't made fresh. (It's usually served on the side)

Note, the sauce was served in the cup already. A telling sign that it wasn’t made fresh. (It’s usually served on the side)

It was unsurprisingly far from what I expect from a good Coupe. The chocolate sauce was cold and way too runny – like the butter sauce, as though it has been watered down. To be perfectly honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was. Bon.

Yes, it makes a difference.

Especially when dishes have such a simple design, the quality of products and balance of ingredients makes a huge difference. So if you want good perches, try to stick to the Geneva lake ones, if for no other reason then because they will be fresher. Added bonus that they would not have been shipped, reducing your carbon footprint for the meal. As for restaurants, go to Rolle, to the Café du Port. They are on the same lake as us believe it or not, it’s a lovely trip there, and you will eat perches and fries like you’ve never done before.

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Pic’s Peak-ock Performance

It is a moment I almost feel I should have trained for. Eating at this level and in these quantities is indeed nothing short of a competition in stamina and concentration, testing your capacity to endure flavors, textures and colors in such subtle variety, in unimaginable combinations, plate after plate after plate until way past the moment the kitchen packed up its knives for the night.

Yes, this woman has taken cooking and dining to mythical heights, breaking new ground so often for women in the culinary world that one completely forgets that there was ever any question whether a woman would make it in the industry.

PIC

Image take from here: http://vimeo.com/18014291

An empire she did build from the embers of her family´s legacy. Her great grand mother, Sophie Pic, is credited for shaping French food as we know it in the late 19th century in a little restaurant called l’Auberge du Pin. The restaurant, eventually relocated to Valence and renamed “La Maison Pic”, gained its third Michelin star in 1936 under André Pic, son of Sophie, then lost two stars post WWII, only to rise back to three stars in 1973 under Jacques Pic.

When Anne-Sophie stepped in for her father, on behalf of the 4th generation, in the early 1990s, the restaurant had once again lost one star, following the sudden death of her father.  From roots to riches, Anne-Sophie Pic morphed from being a disinterested chef´s daughter to a megalo business woman with four restaurants, over 100 people under her wings, and no less than 6 Michelin stars to her name. Boom! Now here´s a woman who knows how to duplicate a recipe for success. After stoking back to life the flames the original restaurant “La Maison Pic” in Valence, regaining that treasured third star in 2007, she went on to open a restaurant at the Beau Rivage Palace Hotel in Lausanne in 2009 (for another easy 2 stars), and in 2012 opened “La Dame de Pic” in Paris (scooping up yet another star just 6 months after pre-heating her ovens).

The Empress in her clothes

The Empress in her clothes

So where´s the beef? What on earth could all this fanfare be about? As you stand afar from this constellation, you are drawn to it like you were one of the three kings. Get close up and the glitz of her empire is almost blinding.

I recently spent a night in this Emerald City of hers. I started by taking a class at her “Scook” cooking school and contributed to making a meal that blew my own socks off. We discovered some of Pic’s “secret” ingredients: lemon confit blended into salad dressings and green anis sprinkled into just about everything. The kitchen? Dressed to the nines. But located in a shop where you could easily go broke by buying 30 euro soup spoons. I could not help but wonder, is all this show really necessary Ms Pic?

I hoped the food would not disappoint, as it tends to when it is surrounded by such a peacock-like façade.

Following the class, we checked into the Auberge that houses both her bistro chic and her gastronomic restaurant. Now, Valence is not a pretty place to begin with. Hard to imagine anything as alluring as her food in a place so grey and drab (doesn´t help that the weather that day was particularly grey and very wet). Knowing the history of this restaurant, you would expect and hope for an Auberge that has some charm to it, some recall of and respect for the person who made all this happen.

Whither romance though, what we had here was the most ostentatious décor I have ever laid eyes on. “Peacocks” everywhere. Think Willy Wonka’s Chocolate factory in browns, whites and orangey accents. Patterns on the walls, patterns on the carpets, high design white glass chandeliers, bizarre decorative items, sofa chairs of all shapes, fabrics and sizes, and a faux fireplace to round it all up. Excuse me, but yuck. Please tell me Anne-Sophie is not responsible for this typically nouveau riche chaos.

I inwardly hoped her taste in food would not resemble her taste in interior design.

take it or leave it (photo courtesy of www.pic-valence.com)

take it or leave it (photo courtesy of http://www.pic-valence.com)

FINALLY it was time for dinner. I will save you the suspense: from now on, everything was perfect as perfect can be. What was most astonishing was how utterly opposite the personality of her food was in contrast to that of her décor. Far from being ostentatious, her food was so delicate, as though she personally had counted out each grain of salt, cinnamon, green anis… Rather than wow your tastebuds, her flavor combinations creep up on you in a soft crescendo, like a full orchestra going from total silence to a satisfactory mezzo piano… and descending again as quietly as it came… always leaving you thirsting for just one more bite. Indeed, these were forkfuls to languish over, in deep contemplation. In other words, scarfing down your food would have been completely inappropriate.

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Another point of reflection: while the food was modern as such, rather light, and delicate in its flavors, it stayed very true to French tradition and the produits du terroir so appreciated nowadays. Our mise-en-bouche was a foie gras that seemed to have been whipped until it was light as cotton, under an impressively thin crème brulee top. Dish number whichever was a golden roasted pigeon, its legs stuffed with its own entrails (seems natural, no?). And before dessert, don’t doubt that we were served the full monty of France’s cheeses on a platter… just after our pre-dessert dish of melted Brie de Meaux infused with bourbon vanilla. I admit that by the time the actual dessert came around, I could barely take in what I was eating (lemon tart with… what was it? I’m just gonna guess it was green anis). We were, once again, the last standing (or sitting, as it were) in the restaurant and the waiters and hosts demonstrated their mild annoyance by “forgetting” to bring us our coffee and chocolates. We retired to the faux fire place, hailed a waiter to bring us our coffee there, and before long were dozing off in the Willy Wonka armchairs.

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Another twinkling star of this constellation I have to say was our sommelier. The young man, adequately decorated for his talents, introduced us to some beautiful wines (notably by producer Maxim Graillot) and stuck around long enough to chit chat about the varying characters and maturities of tannins (the ones in our wine were extremely relaxed, as if they had, shall we say, indulged a little something something themselves).

In the end, as far as dining experiences go, this was among the top two or three I have ever had. I applaud Pic for her success in the kitchen, though not in her overly commercial enterprise, nor in her interior design. There comes a time when great success can only become greater with a handful of humility. The point was illustrated handsomely when, a few nights later, I had the pleasure to dine at L et Lui, a humble little restaurant in St Pierre Trois Chateaux, run by a married couple who constitute the entire staff of the restaurant. The décor, to me, was also quite horrible, but it was clear it represented exactly the owners’ own quirckiness. This became obvious when the waitress/co-owner came out and explained the restaurant concept to us in the same cooky fashion as the lime green walls and pink plastic watering cans decorating the tables. And the food? Of course nothing of Pic’s class, but truly delicious (best lamb I have ever had in a restaurant), so rare in its innovation, and with such distinctive flavors – a hard combination of achievements in this day and age.  And I am quite sure this young couple is content with these achievements: no peacocks necessary.

In case you didn't get the message: Anne-Sophie Pic is like a peacock.

In case you didn’t get the message: Anne-Sophie Pic is like a peacock. (photo courtesy of gardenofeaden.blogspot.com)

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