Last December, in putting together the 10th anniversary issue of Gemütlichkeit, I was struck by how tough we have been on expensive restaurants.
In 1987 we roasted Schaffhausen's Fischerzunft Restaurant for its incredibly tiny portions and high prices (cheapest set menu: $65 per person, 1987 prices). In 1990, we ripped Le Marignac, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Geneva for indifferent service and food we thought didn't measure up. Another establishment with a Michelin star, in the Hotel Stadt Hamburg on the island of Sylt, caught the rough side of our word processor for its uninspired dishes. Perhaps our harshest criticism came in 1992 when we bashed Restaurant La Rotonde in Zürich's Dolder Grand Hotel. The food, said our review, "fell miles short of justifying its prices." We also had some very unflattering things to say about our waiter. For this meal we paid just over $200.
At each of these restaurants, with the exception of La Rotonde, we ate all the food we were served (at Fischerzunft, though we consumed everything in sight except the table linen, we left the restaurant so hungry we went straight to the nearest Gästehof to scarf down plates of Schnitzel and French fries).
Apparently, as prices go up so do our expectations. Which brings us to the Victoria Jungfrau in Interlaken, a hotel so good and so dear to our hearts we named it our favorite among the more than 600 reviewed in the first 10 years of Gemütlichkeit. Because many of you may, in the near future, include this outstanding hotel in your trip itineraries, I am duty-bound to pass along some unpleasant news.
Last November, the VJs La Terrasse Restaurant served us one of the most disappointing and expensive meals we've ever had.
Relaxing for a couple days at our favorite hotel, we opted for a thrifty first night dinner at the simple but pleasant restaurant in the Hotel Hardermannli. The hearty, tasty meal cost 59 Sfr., not including beverages. That's $41 at today's exchange rate and, as you'll see, about half what we paid the next night for a first-course rice dish.
But the next night we decided to go "whole hog" with a long, expensive, delicious dinner at Victoria Jungfrau's La Terrasse. Some say two out of three ain't bad; but in this case that stat doesn't wash.
At the outset, it seemed the night would be a memorable one. The dining room was as beautiful and inviting as ever. Squadrons of epauletted waiters flitted here and there decanting venerable bottles of wine and replacing endless flights of silverware. Glass and tableware sparkled under the flickering candlelight and the pianist at the burnished grand piano rippled effortlessly up and down the keyboard. In a state of relaxed anticipation of good things to come we sipped champagne and read the menu. Unfortunately, that was as good as it got.
The food served was way out of whack with the prices charged.
Easily the biggest and most costly disappointment was an order of risotto with white truffles which we asked to be divided. This first-course rice dish was so heavily salted and thick with cheese it overpowered the taste of the truffles. By the way, we were charged an additional 20% for it to be split. This pricing policy is a first for me and I can't imagine it is popular with the restaurant's customers. It boosted the price of that one small but incredibly expensive dish from 69 to 82.8 Sfr. or about $64 (November exchange rates).
The two ordinary main dishes, lamb cutlets and veal piccata, were of a caliber that we find at much simpler and less expensive restaurants. The sogginess of the onion tart that came with one main course was evidence of its having been warmed in a microwave. The cutlets had a nice, smoky grilled tasted but were hampered by a far too liberal dose of herbed butter.
I think of veal piccata as a somewhat delicate dish; the veal pounded thin, the sauce light and just a little lemony. In this case it was a brawny slab of meat covered with a glutenous gravy that had a taste I associate with prepackaged sauces. The accompanying stuffed tortellini was also leaden and covered with a thick sauce.
These dishes might be acceptable at a lowly village Gasthaus, but at the show restaurant of the great Victoria Jungfrau they are an embarrassment. Quality ingredients microwave-heated and bathed in heavy-handed, possibly even prepackaged, sauces is a disgrace. Such food does not begin to do justice to this wonderful, enchanting dining room with its high windows and views of the Jungfrau.
Let me emphasize that the hotel itself is as good as ever; by all means go there. La Terrasse, however, should be avoided.
Dinner For Two - La Terrasse Restaurant - November 25, 1996
* 2 Flute Champagne 30.00
* 2 Jungfrau Alpennwater 12.00
* 1 Barolo Monpriva. 105.00
* 2 Taylors port 19.00
* 1 Risotto Truffe 69.00
* 1 Kleinere Port. 27.60-
* 1 Risotto Truffe 69.00
* 1 Kleinere Port. 27.60-
* 1 Cote dAgneau 43.00
* 1 Picatta de Veau 49.00
* 2 Salatbuffet 30.00
* 2 Chariot de Fromage 30.00
* RECHNUNGSSAL 400.80
(Transcribed from actual bill.)
Last month we may have unintentionally misled some readers with our explanation of how Gemütlichkeit's free business class upgrade on Swissair works. The upgrade is good only with purchase of a full-fare economy class ticket. The full-fare ticket is an airline's highest priced economy ticket and is much more expensive than advance purchase fares, sale fares or other restricted fares. A full-fare economy ticket to Zürich from the West Coast, for example, currently costs $3,310. Subtract the normal Gemütlichkeit $150 price reduction and one ends up with a $4,484 business class ticket for $3,160, a 30% discount of $1,324. Swissair's current lowest price economy fare from the West Coast is $716, or $666 with the usual Gemütlichkeit $50 price reduction.
If you have general questions about the Swissair reduced price program for Gemütlichkeit subscribers, please phone 800-521-6722. If you need fare information or wish to be ticketed on Swissair at the special Gemütlichkeit rates, phone 800-238-0399 (not available from some area codes) or 310-335-5900 and ask for Shirley. RHB