In 1987, we stumbled on to Zermatt's Le Gitan, a not-too-formal grill restaurant tucked behind the Hotel Darioli on Bahnhofstrasse. It was so good we went back a second night. Our subsequent report in the February, 1987, issue of Gemütlichkeit read in part: "The entrée - for which we will gladly make a special journey to again savor - was a marinated loin of lamb cooked while we watched over wood coals in the main dining room. This marvelous dish was served with scalloped potatoes worth traveling for."
Returning after many years to a hotel or restaurant one has held cherished in memory is a recipe for disappointment. Sometimes the place has gone out of business or there is new ownership or at least a new set of employees. Often, of course, the memory confuses excellence with a happy time.
So, after 10 years, we were more than a little wary about a return to Le Gitan. Would it be equal to our fond memories? The short answer is yes. Same owner, same waiter, same grill, same atmosphere, and food as good as we remembered it. Ah, but there was one significant change - the prices: about double 1987.
We were shown to a table in a private little alcove at the rear of the restaurant though we would have preferred the main room near the grill.
The substantial wooden tables appeared to be cross-sections of trees. There were green placemats, print cloth napkins, rough textured white walls and ceilings, a few big square wood beams, and candlelight.
Starters included a Spargel soup (9 Sfr./$6.16) so laced with butter the asparagus taste was muted, and Spargel salad (13 Sfr./$9) consisting of a a few green tips and the chopped, peeled stems served with a tangy mayo/mustard sauce.
We found no loin of lamb on the menu but our waiter - the same who served us both nights in 1987 - remembered the dish and recommended a similar cut. Carre d'agneau for two persons (78 Sfr./$53) came perfectly cooked - medium rare - and, after the whole glistening piece was presented to us, was sliced and served with a sprinkling of fresh herbs.
The accompaniment to this glorious meat was potatoes au gratin, oozing with cheese and topped with crunchy breadcrumbs, cracked pepper and served from a copper pan.
There were second servings of everything.
Plum sorbet (11 Sfr./$7.50), definitely an o.k.-we'll-try-it-since-it's-the-speciality-of-the-house kind of dessert turned out to be a wonderful surprise. Though more routine, a flaky, cream-filled pastry (9 Sfr./$6.16) with vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce and a great gob of whipped cream, was also heaven-sent.
Heeding our waiter's advice on the red wine - a velvety 1995 Les Follaterres - was another smart move. Made from the Cornalin grape, which is new to the Valais, it was produced in Fully by Andre Roduit and cost 44 Sfr. ($30).
Including wine, one beer and a mineral water the dinner for two cost 175 Sfr. ($120); better than average value for Switzerland.
Who says you can't go home? Le Gitan is as good as we remembered it, just not as cheap.
Le Gitan CH-Zermat, tel. +41/027/968 1940. Reservations are a good idea.
Rating: Quality 16/20, Value 13/20