Thursday, February 4, 1999
Just a month ago, Lugano marked its third anniversary, one more reason for celebration at this cozy Barnyard bistro. Of course, this is the kind of place that doesn't require such a momentous occasion as just cause for revelry: At Lugano Swiss Bistro, the atmosphere naturally lends itself to merrymaking, infused as it is with the warmth and charm of your hosts, Andre and Nargis Lengacher.
Wander down the walkway past the welcoming flames of the courtyard fire, and once inside the doors of this gingerbread cottage, you're as likely to stumble into an in-progress hat party as an impromptu macarena. Everyone here is as serious about good food as they are about fun, and the attitude is infectious.
Explaining that the region of Lugano is found in the southern part of Switzerland bordering Italy, France and Germany, Chef Andre refers to the area as the 'California-side' of his native Switzerland. "The food of Lugano takes the best dishes of each region, and refines them," he assures, referring to the bistro as well as the province it honors. "The area itself is unique; four different languages are spoken-Romanish (a Latin dialect), German, Swiss and Italian-and beautiful, too, with palm trees lining the streets."
A tour within the mural-covered walls of Galleria Lugano, one of the interior dining rooms, is like stepping into a lively, colorful street scene where friends and family are depicted within an arcade archway. Regular guests sometimes return to find their own likeness painted into the mural, rendering it a work that remains in progress. Much of the dcor-the hand-carved chairs, ornate wooden chandeliers and pine-paneled walls-is crafted by Andre himself, with each of the rooms throughout the restaurant emanating its own quaint allure.
The same might be said for the menu, with dishes that extend from Swiss-inspired fondue to classic German-style sausages and innately Italian risotto. Some four types of fondue are represented-the original Swiss fondue of melted Gruyere, Emmenthal and Appenzeller cheeses; a seafood fondue with shrimp, scallops and halibut with lobster saffron broth; the Bacchus fondue made up of thinly sliced beef to dip into a red wine broth; and the Chinoise, an array of vegetables and chicken to immerse in soy-and-sherry-spiked chicken broth.
Tender veal schnitzel appears in a delicate wild mushroom sauce, or is given a piquant garnish of lemon, capers and anchovy, and served with spatzli, the little nutmeg laced pillows that are a cross between dumplings and pasta, and a must alongside red cabbage that strikes just the right note between sweet and sour. Thickly cut turkey breast becomes a schnitzel-style Cordon-Bleu, with a bubbly Gruyere cheese and smoked ham interior.
The culmination of an award-filled career that led him around the world shows itself with Chef Andre's fine dining flair, and entres like the roast duck in tangy plum sauce, demi-glazed pork loin and rack of lamb. Pasta and polenta dishes also get attention, as well as the uniquely tasty pizokel, spatzli sauted with Swiss chard, bacon and Parmesan. Light menus are offered at both lunch and dinner, with items like lemon caper poached seabass and seafood risotto, enticing options that reinforce the notion of rich chocolate fondue for dessert.
Tuesdays offer another reason to celebrate at Lugano, where you'll find all entres offered at the incredible price of only $10. Wait for the weekend and you'll discover that part of the restaurant has become a dance floor where polkas are in progress, frequently accompanied by the Alpine Trio. And if you should happen to ask your waiter if he can yodel and do the macarena at the same time, don't be surprised if the answer is 'yes!'
Lugano Swiss Bistro
3670 The Barnyard, Carmel, 626-3779
Hours: 11am-9pm, seven days
Price range: Under $3-17.50