Day 50: Switzerland
It’s 6:40 in the morning and I think I’m battling my first official cold of the Personal Food Project in Blog Form. My head hurts, my throat is dry, my nose is running and I’m pretty phlegmy. Of the ways to be sick, though, this is probably the best. A stomach flu would be a disaster. I started to feel it yesterday, so what did I do? Decide to make it Switzerland Day with a lunch comprised entirely of fondue with GirlfriendBites. A smart decision? No. A tasty one? Let’s find out.
Chalet Edelweiss in Westchester, CA. It only opened a few weeks ago, but I got five e-mails from five different friends telling me about it on the same day, saying things like “It looks kitschy, but how bad can fondue be?” Their website says “Welcome to Chalet Edelweiss – the Exhibition Restaurant”. I could have sworn that the Spearmint Rhino’s website says the same thing, but I’m going to check it out nonetheless. As we’re driving past the front, there’s still clearly a lot of construction going on with the building, which can’t help business. Parking in the lot behind, though, we find a sign that says “Open during construction”. Shouldn’t that sign be in the front? We step inside and are immediately greeted by two friendly waitresses. We’re shown to one of the brand-spanking-new tables of clean Swiss looking wood and sit down, taking in our surroundings. Skis on the walls, a huge pizza oven, an alphorn (those long wooden instruments from the old Ricola commercials) and a staff of around nine people (with some dressed like the St. Pauli girl), led by a big smiling chef with a Bluetooth piece in his ear. Our server is a jovial Swiss woman who isn’t wearing the outfits of the rest of the servers, so we assume she must be an owner or manager of some kind. She’s so genuine and nice that I’d expect to see her in a cartoon or TV show, not asking me what I’d like to drink.
First we are given salads with a dressing our waitress describes as “French, but when we say French, people assume tomatoes. It’s actually what our chef brought over from Switzerland, but people don’t know what we mean when we describe it, so we actually call it ranch on the menu.” The dressing is a nice balance of cream and vinegar, but if I was expecting ranch, I would be very disappointed. They’re going to have to figure out what to call this stuff at some point. Our fondue tray is set up and the flame beneath is lit. Then a bubbling pot of melted gruyere and ementaler, spiked with kirsch (the traditional Swiss sour cherry brandy), lands before us, accompanied by cubes of fresh baked baguette and a bowl of pickled cucumbers, pickled pearl onions and chunks of tomato. I ask our red cheeked server if we’re supposed to dip the pickled goods and she says “It’s up to you. Some people do, but I always use bread.” I spear some bread, dip it in, twirl it around, then pop it in my mouth. Melted cheese is melted cheese and the bread is good, so there’s not much to dislike. They may have added a little more kirsch than I would have desired, but it’s a mild complaint. I dip a piece of the pickled cucumber and find it to be a little weird and decide to use the pickled goods as a balance against bites of cheese covered bread. The food doesn’t fully turn into a meal, though, until it is joined by a glass of pinot grigio, per our server’s suggestion. The wine is a perfect retaliation to the power of the swiss cheese and sour cherry brandy and I’m already forgetting about my cold.
Some of the alcohol has cooked off now, leaving a much better flavor. As I scrape my fondue fork into the bottom of the pot, digging up all of the wonderful crispy bits, I realize that, to my surprise, I actually love this place. I was afraid of Olive Garden style Never-Ending-Soggy-Schnitzel-Plates and scantily clad waitresses serving Budweiser in giant mugs, but have grown to really like what I’m seeing. The chef is actually from Switzerland, the over-the-top decor is oddly inviting and I even like that there is a fake tree outside on the patio. Okay, so you can order a 60 oz. Coors Light on tap, but they also have Erdinger Weizenbier and Köstritzer Black Beer. They make pizza and paninis, but there’s a lot of Italian influence in Switzerland, and they also make zürcher gschnätzlets (chicken in mushroom sauce) and Swiss bratwurst, so the menu really does seem to reflect what’s actually eaten in Switzerland. I appreciate a place that can appeal to the masses but doesn’t totally give up on the idea of trying to make something of quality, too. I hope this place succeeds and will add it to my list of “Places I want to revisit when this whole project is over.” But for the moment? I could go for a shot of NyQuil and an 8 hour nap.
8740 Sepulveda Blvd
Westchester, CA 90045
Food Breakdown: 1 alcoholic beverages, fondue for 2, with an added expense for the kirsch
Distance From My House: 6.5 miles