By Bob Bestor
During a short stay in Zürich we discover a terrific Vaudoise-style restaurant and revisit a couple of old favorites that are as good as ever.
The plan was to fly to Zürich, stay overnight, then catch a not-too-early morning train to Munich. One night to wander the town, eat a good meal and get a good night's sleep at an expensive hotel - a few hours of luxury to soothe the jet-lag. There would be time later for realistically priced accommodations.
The first thought was to really strain the plastic and reserve a room at the Dolder Grand. But, though the Dolder's location in the hills above the town is conveniently accessed via street car and then rack railway, we wanted to be downtown where we could walk the streets to scout out a restaurant to match our casual attire. And, when the batteries were fully discharged, our bed would be nearby. Proximity to the railway station for our 9:41 a.m. departure to Munich was also a factor.
Given our requirements, the Savoy Baur en Ville was an easy choice. its location on Bahnhofstrasse at the Paradeplatz could not be more central and the hotel's air of quiet, clubby luxury is the perfect atmosphere in which to collapse after an 11-hour Swissair flight from Los Angeles.
Except for service, the style of the Savoy is not "Grand Hotel." There are no immense, opulent public rooms with soaring ceilings and dazzling chandeliers. The lobby, in fact, is quite small but the scaled-down atmosphere exudes quality and competence. It is a place for heavy hitters keeping a low-profile; a home-away-from home for the mysterious super rich on a Bahnhofstrasse "bank" holiday. The Savoy's uniformed staff is a precision outfit, ever alert to the needs of guests.
Forgive us if we make the Savoy sounds coldly efficient; it is not. It is warmly efficient. What we wrote after our last visit in 1991 still holds: "The Savoy is owned by a Swiss bank but Manfred and Christina Hörger manage it as if it were their own. They live on the premises, are visible and available at all hours and treat guests with the special warmth that is unique to small, family-operated hotels."
Why Michelin's Red Guide for Switzerland has chosen to omit the Savoy from its pages is inexplicable and without justification. In our view, it easily rates the "red" designation Michelin reserves for "particularly pleasant or restful" hotels.
The Savoy, of course, is expensive - its published rack rates are identical to the Dolders and other five-star Zürich hotels.
Daily Rates: Singles 330 to 430 Sfr. ($264-$344), doubles 480 to 630 Sfr. $384 to $504. Facilities: Restaurant Savoy (jacket & tie), Savoy Bar, Restaurant Orsini. Room service until midnight.
Contact: Savoy Baur en Ville Zürich Paradeplatz, CH-8022 Zürich, tel. 01/211 5360, fax 01/221 1467.
Rating: 18/20 Excellent G
We took a couple of laps around Zürich that first night. It was Good Friday, and not much was open. Our track started at the Savoy, went via the Fraumünster, with its stained glass windows by Chagall and Giacometti, across the river to the old town, then turning left to follow the main walking street Münstergasse which becomes Niederdorf Strasse to its end at the Bahnhof Brücke. There we crossed the river back to Bahnhofstrasse then left again back to Paradeplatz and the Savoy. Of course, there were many side trips down little alleyways and various dead ends.
At Rennweg 7, just off Bahnhofstrasse, we sauntered into the lobby of Hotel Widder. its location, exterior and general ambiance seemed to suggest a charming, small hotel where one might be able to find a mid-priced double room (currently about $250 in Zürich). Well, charming it is and relatively small, too - 49 rooms; but mid-priced, no. Doubles are the same as at the Dolder and Savoy, 480 to 630 Sfr. ($387 to $508).
On your way through the old town be sure to stop for a beer or coffee at the tiny Rheinfelder Bierhaus (19 Marktgasse), an old favorite. This year it was the same as always, a little seedy to the point that some fastidious readers may fear to tread. But not dirty. Check out the fresh, clean bathrooms. Still, the Rheinfelder is pretty funky; its walls are decorated with signs showing the prices of various dishes: Poulet (half a chicken) 9.5 Sfr. ($7.65); Schnitzel Paniert (pan fried veal) 10 Sfr. ($8.10) and Schwein Kotelette (pork chops)11.5 Sfr. ($9.25). Half a liter of Cardinal beer is 3.8 Sfr. ($3.10), about what we pay in California for locally brewed micro beers.
Booths, tables and chairs are plain wood and the floor is a rough tile. The place is full of regulars which, though most of them smoke, adds to its charm.
This may sound a trifle immodest, but our terrific dinner at Le Dezaley, on the right bank in the old town, was a stroke of intuitive genius. Years of choosing restaurants by peeking through windows, examining menus posted outside and sniffing around in general, has heightened our ability to select good restaurants based on limited sensory input.
Our flight had landed at 5:30 p.m. and from about 6:30 to 9 p.m. we walked the city keeping an eye out for likely dinner prospects. But because of the holiday, many restaurants were closed. The blue jeans attire which we were unwilling to change further limited our choices.
Three or four likely spots had been given the once-over when we came across Le Dezaley. A posted menu that included such familiar down-to-earth dishes as Geschnetzeltes Leber and Kalbsteak vom Grill was encouraging. It was to be the first meal of the trip, anticipated for several days, and our palates had been psychologically conditioned for plain food, good beer and tasty Swiss vin ordinaire. The fact that Le Dezaley was lively and full of customers - always a good sign - clinched the deal.
Inside, Dezaley Restaurant Vaudois, its official name on the menu, is a series of many small rooms with heavy beams, rough stucco walls adorned with pithy food and wine aphorisms in French, and even at 9:30 p.m. a constant stream of people coming to eat.
We got just what we wanted. First, came a traditional mixed salad of the freshest ingredients: julienned carrots, cucumbers, beets, radishes, sliced tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, radicchio and lettuce greens.
Kalbsschnitzel from the grill (veal steaks) served with Pommes Frites (33SFr./$27) and Kalbsleber Geschnetzeltes (calves liver chopped and sautéed) (32SFr./$26) with Rösti, were both wonderful examples of these common dishes. The veal was thicker than Viennese-style Schnitzel and not breaded, but moist and served with reduced pan juices. The bite-size pieces - strips actually - of liver were tender enough to cut easily with a fork and absolutely delicious. We surmised they had been given a light flour coating and fried in butter. The potatoes - Rösti and Pommes Frites - were heavenly.
Sadly, Dezaley has no beer on draught so we had to make do with bottled Hurlimann while we examined the menu. With the meal we shared a half bottle of red Pinot Gamay wine from the village of St. Saphorin, just west of Vevey on Lac Léman (Lake Geneva).
This kitchen cooks the "old standards" about as well as you''ll find anywhere. We paid about $85 for dinner for two including beer, wine and dessert.
Le Dezaley Römergasse 7, near Grossmünster, CH-8001 Zürich, tel. 01/251 6129, fax 01/252 2702. Moderate prices.
Rating: 15/20 Above Average $
Our time in Switzerland this trip was far too brief but it brought to mind comments we've heard over the years about the "cold" Swiss. As usual, we couldn't find any. The Swissair crew, the taxi drivers who drove us to and from the Bahnhof, the woman who sold us rail tickets, everyone at the hotel, the waiter at Le Dezaley and the people at the Rheinfelder, ranged in their attitudes from friendly, helpful and efficient to neutral and efficient. None was rude or impatient. No one threw their arms around us, but we'll take cool and efficient over warm and incompetent any time.
The Rental Car Tip...
Zürich is a great gateway to Europe. Kloten Airport is compact and convenient, has its own railway station and is virtually on the Autobahn. Those renting a car in Zürich who want to avoid the 9% airport tax can take the train downtown to the main railway station (about 15 minutes) for 5.10 Sfr. ($4.11) and then walk about one kilometer along the West side of the river Sihl to the Hertz station on Morgartenstrasse.