Thursday, July 29, 2004
When my husband Laurent and I yearned for some Old World charm on our recent anniversary, we headed out to Lugano Swiss Bistro in the Barnyard. We used to sit on the German side of the restaurant, enjoying its carved wood and beer tankard decorations, but we now prefer the Italian side with its painted street scenes of gelati vendors and florists.
The night of our anniversary we ordered Swiss Onion Soup ($3.95) and the Original Swiss Fondue ($16.95/ person). I cannot detect a difference between French and Swiss Onion Soup, but I will say that the melted gruyere cheese on Lugano’s soup had a tang to it that you do not get when you use “Swiss-style” cheese.
We continued our cheese fest with fondue, a dish said to have originated in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. The creamy texture made from bubbling gruyere, emmenthal, and appenzeller cheese makes it tempting to drop the bread cube into Lugano’s fondue. The penalty for doing this, according to A Little Swiss Cookbook by Jacqueline Martinet, is to buy another bottle of wine for your party.
Laurent’s favorite wine for fondue at Lugano is the Pere Patriarche ($5/glass). This slightly sour wine perfectly cuts the rich cheese flavors of the fondue and aids in digestion. When we go to Lugano with a large group, we like to order the Swiss Fendant du Valais ($38/ bottle) for its perky flavor that can stand up to the cheese like Pere Patriarche.
After my dinner with Laurent, I came back a few days later with my friend Clark, who was looking for restaurants with locals’ specials. Lugano fits the ticket on Tuesday nights when everything on the menu except the fondue is $11.
We started our meal with a Swiss specialty called Buenderfleisch, air-dried beef. These thin slices of beef taste like a meaty prosciutto, but not as delicate. This was the first time Clark and I ate buenderfleisch, and we both liked it. Usually buenderfleisch gets served before fondue or another specialty called raclette, which I ordered as my main dish.
Raclette’s history evokes Switzerland’s pastoral heritage. As snow melts in the spring, cow herders can take cattle higher up on the mountain slopes until they reach the lushest pastures at the foot of the glaciers. The herders stay on these high pastures all summer and make rich cheese. Villagers go up to the pastures where they heat half wheels of the new cheese over branch fires. They scrape the melted cheese over steamed new potatoes making raclette.
Lugano’s raclette ($10.50) lived up to my foodie musings. Generous amounts of Swiss cheese covered my potatoes. Sour cornichon pickles added crunchiness and a sour taste to the rich cheese dish I had ordered.
Clark took advantage of the $11 special night to order Roast Rack of Lamb with a demi-glaze and seasonal vegetables. This dish normally runs $21.50. Co-owner and chef Andre Lengacher later told me that the only change he makes for the Tuesday night special is to serve three sections of lamb instead of four. The tender lamb was juicy with a slight crust: perfection. It takes decades of roasting to make this dish look simple. I will definitely order this for myself when I come back to Lugano. Clark’s large side dish of Swiss Roesti potatoes merited attention. Roesti roughly translates as “potato pancake,” but roesti are more than a side dish in Swiss culture. The Swiss eat them for breakfast along with milky coffee. To make roesti potatoes, the cook boils waxy potatoes, peels them, then rubs them through a grinder. Finally the potatoes are fried in lard with a little bacon until they form a sturdier version of hash browns.
Lugano offers several interesting beers. We drank a Spaten Oktoberfest ($5/large glass) from Germany and a Czechvar Lager ($4/bottle) from Czechoslovakia with our meal. The Oktoberfest is a smooth beer while Czechvar has more bite to it. Beer and cheese just seem to go together.
After we had eaten, co-owner Nargis Lengacher insisted that we try a chocolate fondue that usually comes as part of the four-course fondue dinner. The light chocolate in no way resembled the thick chocolate concoctions I create at home. I was skeptical about how cantaloupe dunked in chocolate would taste, but it was good. Musk melon, bananas, and strawberries tasted wonderful with the warm chocolate coating as well. Part of the reason for this may have been that the fruit was perfectly ripe.
The food is the obvious Old World draw to Lugano, but the
restaurant literally exudes gemuetlichkeit—German friendliness
and coziness—especially on Thursdays and the last Friday of
the month. On Thursdays, accordion players liven up the
restaurant with songs and encourage diners to sing. On the
last Friday of the month, a German Alpine Trio plays. I have
heard yodeling when this group takes the stage. Lugano’s
inviting ambience might inspire customers to try a yodel as
LUGANO SWISS BISTRO
3670 The Barnyard, Carmel