Monday, January 18, 2010

Hip, delicious, restaurants in Zurich, avoiding the beer halls and spatzle

Zurich is in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, near the Austrian border, and the combination of all the money, the liberal society, and the influence of the sensual and decadent Austrians means that this is a great town for pleasure. I, as a respectable married woman, did not get to visit the Red Light District, nor did I figure out how to buy the semi-legal marijuana, but I did eat well. Since our guidebook was abysmal (thanks for nothing, Lonely Planet) I'm writing listings for everything I saw and researched, regardless of if I ate there or not. My personal Zurich shortlist is: Volkhaus, Mauri's La Rocca and La Salle.

Stauffacherstrasse 60, Kries 4, +41 (0)44 242 11 55

Volkshaus was our most spectacular find in all of Zurich. It's a huge hall on Stauffacherstrasse that used to be/still is a "people's center" with public baths and meeting rooms and other functions. The part we saw is the first floor, where there's a great, hip cafe and restaurant, done up in adorable plaid table-cloths and velvet-flocked walls and vintage deco lamps and so on. Here is a photo of Adeline sitting in the wooden, cane-bottomed high-chair they had. (They also had a box of toys and didn't seem annoyed when she spread out on the floor with them—we were there during an off-hour. Another miracle: In Zurich, finding lunch after 2pm).

The hipster-retro-traditional menu was in German, which was unfortunate since the waiter really couldn't translate. Duck liver terrine, sausage salad (this was a local specialty that I never tried, assume it makes more sense than it sounds like it would), spinach spaetzle, ravioli with pecorino. There was also an artisanal cocktail menu in the new style. And when Ivan asked for schnapps, they rolled out the following trolley:

Overall, beautiful vibe, great food, friendly service and a lively, thriving place for lunch, dinner, sitting with coffee, etc.

La Salle
Schiffbaustrasse 4, Zuri-West, +41 (0) 44 258 70 71
The glamor of Zurich is private-bank glamor, the glamor of vaults and strings of numbers and impassive Swiss faces.... Zurich is money, crime behind a facade of industry. The first thrilling scenes of the Bourne Identity, when Matt Damon goes to investigate the account number he found on the chip implanted in his hip, are set in snow-covered, winter Zurich. La Salle, probably my favorite restaurant of the trip, channels that...conservative avant garde, if you'll allow me the oxymoron. The menu is a high-end, modern but essentially traditional fusion of French, Italian and Swiss—we had the only interesting spaetzle of our trip here. Ingredients are perfect, the carpaccio is so thin it may have been painted on the plate, the cocktails are impeccable. Yet the restaurant is located in the Schiffbau complex, an enormous converted-warehouse with a jazz club and glass-cube bar on top (Nietturm), in trendy Zuri-West. The industrial glass-and-girders room glows with champagne light like a French bistro and is hung with an enormous, pink Venetian crystal chandelier. A lovely, sexy, exotic evening.

Muggenbuhl Gastuben
Muggenbuhlstrasse 15, +41 (0)44 482 11 45
I found this restaurant on a list of most-interesting openings of 2009, and though it's a little out of the city center, it was open New Year's day, so we tried it. This was a very odd experience indeed, a restaurant in a freestanding house next to the highway, with a bowling alley in the basement and four or five brightly lit dining rooms hung with cheap, stiff lace curtains and lined with banquettes in cheery-synthetic yellow fabric. Again, menu only in German. The very nice chef was rolled out to help explain to us what to eat, and all best dishes seemed to be hunks of meat breaded and fried etc. I didn't take notes but I think I ate some veal breaded and fried and wrapped around cheese and a piece of ham.... a Cordon Bleu? The subtlety of why this was on a best-openings list eludes me.

Mauri's La Rocca
Limmatstrasse 273, Zuri-West, +41 44 271 02 77
This restaurant is right across from the Lowenbrau center (contemporary art museums and galleries in a former brewery in Zuri-West) and we happened to stumble in for lunch, to our great delight. A beautiful crowd—glamorous tall girls in glasses and their blond Italian boyfriends.... An art dealer? An owner of a small motorcycle company? lingering over light, refined Italian dishes. The menu, again, was German to us. I ordered at random and ended up with a meatball-and-eggplant dish in crimson-red sauce, accompanied by silk handkerchiefs of hand-cut pasta so sublime it could have been dessert. Absolutely worth it to understand the flavors of the city, despite that Italian in Switzerland is not the obvious call. The restaurant design was intimate and casual, with blow-up black-and-white 70s film stills printed straight on the walls and exquisite Deco details. This was the butter dish (and you can see how good that home-made bread ws from the photo):

Also, there was a lunch special for 22 CHF (the exchange rate with dollars is basically 1 to 1), a fantastic deal in expensive Switzerland.

Si O No

Ankerstrasse 6, Kreis 4, +41 (0)44 241 0301
An casual, somewhat distressed wine bar in Kries 4 that's obviously a beloved neighborhood laptop cafe during the daytime. Smoky, alternative.

Rämistrasse 4, +41 44 262 99 00
Didn't try this one but am including it because it was recommended several times as the most famous restaurant in Zurich. Probably a tourist place, probably very expensive, but at least one friend has been and liked it. There's also a bar next door that supposedly lets you get the experience without having to pay to actually dine here.

Heinrichstrasse 267, Zuri-West, +41 (0)44 271 1030
A mod-looking brewery serving Asian food. Don't know, but it was on my list to try.

Caduff's Wine Loft

Kanzleistrass 126, +41 44 240 2255
A foodie place that gets some play in media about Zurich. I didn't try it, as it has gotten mixed reviews (none of them particularly trustworthy, so it's a real toss-up) and is slightly outside the city center. There is some rigamarole surrounding the enormous wine cellars that could be fun for the enthusiast.


Schlusselgasse 8, Old Town, +41 (0)44 225 4040
Again, I'm only including my vague rumors because the English info on Zurich is so poor. This is a restaurant right on the main square where St. Peter's cathedral is, supposedly in a historic house and serving Swiss food. I would only go here if I were desperately slogging around the Old Town, wondering which expensive touristy restaurant might also be edible. Looks nice but stodgy from the photo.


Fabrikstrasse 12, Zuri-West, +41 (0)44 271 3919
Claims to be a seasonal organic restaurant serving Swiss specialties. We went, but it was closed for lunch on Tuesdays and looked somewhat weird from the outside. However, anyone else tempted by the promise of Swiss seasonal organic, could check it out, and if the inside looks equally dubious, it's a short walk from Mauri's La Rocca and at least one other nice-looking Italian restaurant whose name I didn't note.

Backerstrasse 19, Kries 4, +41 (0)43 317 9919
Nowhere are the insane high prices more evident than in restaurants you'd expect to be selling cheap take-away cuisine. SomTam is a new, minimalist-decor Thai place that has an authentic sounding menu. We didn't try it, but after days of rich continental food in Austria and Switzerland, we wanted to. Don't know what the dinner scene is like, but it's in indie Kreis 4. To the American mindset, paying $21.50 for a Thai soup is almost inconceivable, but as we saw in Zurich, such prices are not on the highest end.

Blue Monkey
Stussihofstatt 3, +41 (0)44 261 76 18
This restaurant was listed in the english-language Zurich Guide we picked up, and one night we ordered take-out to our hotel from here. (Baby sleeping; sick of room service.) Well, we did not save any money, as I realized mid-order that the pad thai was $36. I only bring the place up because the so-called Thai food was bland and someone dumped a can of coconut milk on some chicken, basically, for every dish. Also, it may have been a fusion thing, but that $36 pad thai? Made with spaghetti noodles!

+41 (0)44 433 1414
Last but not least, anyone else crazy enough to want to order delivery food can go to thid website, which has dozens of restaurants delivering by neighborhood.

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