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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).

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Caves Ouvertes on May 12: The Great Drunken Bike Ride

Alright, this one is probably obvious, but if you’re in Geneva this weekend, there’s really only one place you should be. Actually, make that 90 places you should be. This weekend, the great Canton of Geneva opens its wineries for the biggest wine tasting event this side of the Salève.

Admittedly, this can be a bit overwhelming. ALL of Geneva’s wineries (about 90 of them in total)  in all parts of the canton offer up their wines for tasting. It’s there opportunity to primarily introduce the “class” of 2011 and teh results of the 2010 wines fresh out of their barrels. What to do? Where to start? How to get there? Answers below in reverse order!

How to get there?

If the weather is nice, there’s no doubt you should jump on a bike and head out there. That way, you can hit as many vineyards as possible and still stay (moderately) safe.

If you’re less inclined to bike, you can also take a train out to Satigny from Cornavin and walk around the village that way. Pretty easy, but you cover less ground.

Geneva has also intelligently planned public transportation to get from place to place. Check out the website here: http://www.tpg.ch/fr/actualites/a-la-une/02-05-2012-cave-ouverte.php

Finally, if you’d like to take a car, might as well stay at home and drink in a park somewhere, mmmkay?

Where to start?

This is tricky. It’s wine, it’s tasting, you can pretty much go anywhere and have fun. But here are some things to think about. First, which side of the lake would you like to go to? The right bank countryside (including Satigny, Russin, Dardagny, etc) is better known for its wines and sloping vineyards. However, you have a second opportunity to tour those in the fall for the Fête des vendanges de Russin in the fall (September 14-16 this year). Buses seem to depart from their stations every 5 minutes on this side.

Alternatively, you could go try out the lesser-known wines of Geneva’s left bank (in the Jussy area), which, to my knowledge doesn’t offer a second opportunity later in the year.

Comparatively? The right bank attracts far more of the 10,000 or so visitors and so will be far more crowded. The regions between the Rhone and the Arve (Lully, Bernex etc) and the left bank (Jussy, Anières, Gy) don’t attract as many visitors. The TPG has buses departing every 5 minutes on that side, compared to every 20 minutes on the left bank. Pros and cons to both, but again, there will be wine anywhere you go!

What to do?

Couldn’t find a good way to get a sense of the overall activities for the day, but here are a few starting points.

Right Bank

Cave de Genève (Satigny) was awarded a gold medal at this year’s Vinalies for it’s 2010 Sauvignon Blanc de Genève l’Aiglette, and a silver medal for its L’Esprit de Genève AOC by Florian Barthassat. Could be your chance to take a case of it home!

Domaine du Paradis (Satigny) was awarded a silver medal (also at the Vinalies) for its 2010 white wine, Pont des Soupirs.

Les Perrières (Peissy (near Satigny)) has a silver medal (still at the Vinalies) white wine, the 2010 Aligoté AOC.

Domaine des Molards (Russin) is boasting farm animals and games for the kiddies, a tour of the museum of wine machines, and a tour of the vineyards that include 26 grape varieties..! Added bonus, they’ll have homemade goods that highlight Geneva’s terroir.
Left Bank
Chateau du Crest (Jussy) has perhaps the most well-known wines that side of the Léman. Bonus: you get terroir munchies and can hang out at the spectacular Chateau.
Generally speaking, you’ll have the chance to try the lesser established wines, with smaller production, smaller vineyards, etc. It’s the underdog, if you will.
So, unlike in politics, be you left, center or right leaning, we’ll all end up in the same party. Nothing like sipping wines in Geneva’s gorgeous countryside, so hopefully I’ll see you among the vines.

 

Worth a Read: “The Soul of Slow Food: Fighting for Both Farmers and Eaters”

I think we have all been there before: standing in front of a market stand, staring at some of the best looking produce we’ve ever drooled over… and then your eyes trip over the price tag. They’re asking for how much per gram/pound????  Our stomachs say yes. Our principles may even say yes. But our wallets just can’t digest the cost.

As socially responsible consumers, we are forced to reckon with this economic conundrum on a personal level. On a macro level, the economics of it get even trickier. How do we support local production while also ensuring fair access to these products? In my mind, we cannot speak of “green gourmandise” (if you’ll indulge me for a second) without including an intent to make such eating habits accessible to all.

I have no answers to these apparent conflicts of interest, but I like the way Josh Viertel, president of Slow Food USA, gets down to the questions at the core of the slow food ethos. So I thought I’d share!   http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/01/the-soul-of-slow-food-fighting-for-both-farmers-and-eaters/251739/

The article refers to the US context, but the same issues occur in most parts of the world, one way or another. I have a theory that in France and Switzerland, the conflict of interest between farmer and consumer is a little less pronounced, being tha the cost of farm fresh, locally grown or produced food products is perhaps a little closer to the lower grade products you find in the super markets…. but this is just a theory!

Happy reading 🙂

Notes from Virginia: Roll ups to die of a cardiac arrest for

One deliciously roasted chicken, one oversized burrito, and a number of local bottles of wine later, it was already time to pack up and head out of the country side.

I’ll spare you the sob story about how painfully short this stay in heaven was. I had one more “must do” before leaving though, which was to have a good old, southern breakfast at a diner/coffee shop. Of all the American staples, this is one that I feel is sorely missing from Geneva’s cityscape. Granted, Milles et une envies, the bakery at Rive and the falafel places in the Paquis provide some pretty robust contenders for 4am splurges and hang over remedies. But there’s nothing quite like an order of eggs over easy with home fries and a side of waffles or pancakes.

This time, I wanted waffles. I was dead set on waffles. In fact, we called the place ahead of time to make sure they had waffles. To my great surprise, they actually did NOT have waffles at the place we usually go to. A little brainstorming and we wound up at Kathy’s. It has no charm other than its authenticity as a southern american diner – ie, it was perfect, a true original, no pretense, no gimmicks, just diner food and all you can drink coffee.

Here’s a potential shocker: I really don’t like pancakes. They’re thick and absorb all the good maple syrup, so you keep adding more, and the pancakes just loose their consistency as they get spongier and spongier. Yuck. Hence my appreciation for waffles, which have that nice crispy outer layer and the groves to carry the maple syrup and melted butter.

So you can imagine my surprise when I was irresistibly drawn to the what they called roll-ups. These are “thin” (read: normal) pancakes rolled up like a crepe, with various ingredients on the inside. I chose banana pecan, and I gotta say, a week later I am still daydreaming about them. The bananas were cut into slices about 2cm wide, then the pancakes were rolled up around them. Three pancakes were rolled up like that on a plate, with three dollops of fresh whipped cream and a scoop of whipped salted butter that was already busy melting over the pancakes. The whole was peppered with caramelized pecans and maple syrup to taste.

Oh but that’s not all. There were the grits, which were prepared just right (ie, they tasted like papier maché) and some delicious, thinly sliced and home fried potatoes that were almost like potatoes chips, but thicker and less salty. Definitely something worth trying out at home. And last but not least, the overwhelmingly over salted Virginia ham.

I said it before and I said it again: Virginia is indeed for lovers. And now Kathy’s pantastic pancakes gave me one more good reason to head back down there. In the meantime, anyone want to open up a Euro appropriate diner in Geneva??

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A food blog for Geneva

First thing’s first. By now I hope you have read the About page, in which case you would know what this particular food blog is all about. But as a first posting, I thought I’d clarify exactly where this whole initative comes from.

Chances are, most of you who will read this blog (all 3.5 of you) are not really from Geneva. I’ve heard the story too many times now: most of us landed here unintentionally, sometimes having lived in bigger and more exciting places, and it seems like the city is boring. And dull. Right?

But let me stop you right there. The Geneva I grew up in and later came back to after 8 years in New York is neither bland nor dull. You do however need a little local help to break through that surface Calvinism that seems to be doing a great job at keeping the city quiet.

That’s where I hope to come in, to take you along to all the restaurants and bars worth a visit, and guide you through the mess of information, usually provided only in French, that makes it so difficult to access the sweet center of Geneva.

While growing up here, I was surrounded by delicious, decadent food. At the crossroads between France, Italy and Germany, Geneva and its surroundings have a lot to offer to those of us who spend our days dreaming about what we’ll be eating next. What’s more, my grandparents were trained and talented chefs, and every sunday we indulged in my hungarian grandmother’s paprika-based cooking and my grandfather’s state of the art pastries and desserts. Every season seemed to have its treats: the filets de perche du lac in the summer, the tender roasted game and mushrooms of the fall, winter’s raclette and fondue coupled with hot mulled wine, and salade de chevre in the spring.

After 8 years spent in New York as an adult, I moved back to Geneva to find the flavors and dishes hadn’t really changed, but more and more good restaurants had popped up. And so the great dinner marathon began, testing out restaurants of all sorts across the city.

Though surrounded by good food and prone to indulgence from the start, it was not until one day in 2011, when I was about to go on a hike in the pouring rain, that I paused to think about the concept of the produits du terroir, and my interest in food took a turn for the serious.

You have certainly seen the produit du terroir in the Coop and Migros. When you buy your “Vacherin Fribourgeois” cheese, its name indicates that the product is only authentic if it was made in Fribourg, according to centuries old cheese-making traditions. The “cardon épineux genevois” grows a bit like lettuce-heads and is now the first protected grown-product of Geneva. And the Valais has protected its way of baking pain de seigle.

All of a sudden I was engulfed in the world of food products. Tequila, I remembered, is a regional brand. And Buffala is known for its Mozarrella. Is it a coincidence that these are some of the most adored products in the world? Or is the local production, based on traditional methods, really a way of ensuring the taste quality of a product?

I started hitting the markets, mostly in Carouge, and instead of shyly asking the vendors to suggest whatever they felt like, I started picking up products and asking questions about them. Where was this grown/made? Who makes it? How?

Before I knew it, I had collected stacks of information on local products, which all stood the taste test when used in recipes back at home. It didn’t take too much longer to discover that some restaurants in the city have decided to support local farmers and producers. Which led to MORE eating out in restaurants…

But this time, dining out had gained a new purpose. Rather than just test and compare the quality of the melted chocolate sauce on a coupe danemark, or of the sauce that came with the steak, dining out now meant asking about the source of the products… and testing to see if they really did taste better.

So what’s the moral to this long, complicated story?  The food here is great, and the city and countryside are teaming with restaurants, shops, markets and farms that will satisfy even the pickiest of the foodies. All that’s left is to use the info provided on this blog to figure out where to start.

Bon app’!

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