Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Weisses Rössli, Zürich

While in Zürich attending a conference last year, a large group of us decided to get dinner after the final day of the conference.  Since there were so many of us, we opted to do something simple and nearby, rather than seek out an amazing location.  Emil, who lived in Zürich before, suggested Weisses Rössli, a place he knew that was nearby, and suggested we go early so that they might actually be able to seat our large group without a reservation.

So, right around 6pm, 10 of us tentatively made our way inside, to find the restaurant entirely empty.   As in, literally, devoid of patrons.  Perhaps not the best sign, but, it was early, and they could seat us, although they looked a bit bewildered by our group, and suggested we stand around the bar and have a drink while they came up with a table arrangement for us.  This sounded like a reasonable suggestion, except, the bar had space for perhaps 3 people total, so really, the lot of us just ended up standing in the doorway with flutes of champagne.

The menu sounded fantastic.  Classic french, with a slew of items I wanted to order.  I was glad when Emil agreed to split things with me, so I could try more dishes.

Since I was in a large group dining, and was there as part of my work and wanted to focus on the conversation around me, I didn’t take notes during the meal, and wasn’t planning to write up a review.  But, bored on the flight home, I decided to write this anyway.  I apologize for lack of detail and anything I get wrong, I really *wasn't* trying to be a critic, for once.

Short version?  The food looked and sounded good, but was highly mediocre.
Amuse Bouche: Salmon Tartar.
To start, we were presented with an amuse bouche.

It was salmon tartar, on top of what I think was cucumber, topped with sprouts.

I didn't care for it.  The salmon tasted a bit fishy, and it was rather mushy.  The dish really needed a creamy component.
Starter: Foie gras maison served with strawberry chutney.
Since we were at a French restaurant, and we were out of California, we of course had to order the foie gras (yes, foie was still banned at this time).  Nearly every person at the table picked a buddy to split a foie gras starter with.  We were clearly deprived.

The kitchen nicely split the foie gras for us onto individual plates.

The foie was a slice of terrine, served too cold.  It wasn’t easily spreadable, and had a very unappealing fat layer around it.  It wasn’t particularly creamy, or seasoned either.  Disappointing.

The accompaniments were better than the foie itself.

The little dish contained strawberry chutney, and the sweetness paired well with the foie.  It was garnished with the same onion sprouts as the amuse bouche (which didn't really make sense here).

Also on the plate was a slice of strawberry and a raspberry, along with clear gelee.  I'm not entirely sure what the gelee was, but it tasted alcoholic.

The best part of the plate was the large grains of salt to add some seasoning.

I liked how the dish was designed for you to create your "perfect bite" with foie, chutney, gelee, and salt, but, it didn't really do it for me.

Overall, this wasn’t bad exactly, but it was one of the weakest preparations of foie I’ve had at a restaurant, and, even though I was missing foie gras, I didn’t really care to finish it.
The foie came with baskets of toasted brioche.  The bread was only lukewarm, but I appreciated the choice of brioche, always my favorite with foie gras.
Main: Stir fry fillet of char served on a orange hollandaise with home made gnocchi and asparagus.
The menu had three seafood dishes, all of which sounded good.  I had a hard time settling on a choice, but was drawn in by the fact that not only did I want the seafood in this one (char), I also really liked both sides that came with it (gnocchi and asparagus).

Sadly, soon after I ordered, the waitress came back to tell me they were out of gnocchi.  How that was possible, given that we were the first table seated of the night, was beyond me.  She asked if I’d like risotto or rice instead.  Um, no.  I hate rice.  I asked what else was possible, thinking some other pasta or vegetable might be offered, but the only other suggestion she had was mashed potatoes.   I just wasn’t in the mood mashed potatoes, and they seemed a bit heavy to have with my fish.  I asked for just more asparagus instead, since I'd been really enjoying it throughout the trip.  I was amused when me dish arrived.  Instead of just doubling up the asparagus on my plate, the regular portion was served, plus an extra side of it on a separate plate.

The fish was mediocre.  Served skin on, cooked ok.  It wasn't too dried out, but was still more cooked than my liking.  Served as two large filets, a very generous portion.

The orange hollandaise I was excited for, since I'm a serious sauce person, even though I don't love orange.  It was a fairly mediocre hollandaise, it seemed kinda like it had been sitting a long time.  The orange flavor was ok, and there were a few orange segments in the dish too.

The asparagus, both on my plate and in my extra side dish, was good, not too overcooked.  I liked the seasoning and the leeks(?) in the side dish version in particular.  I expected to want to smother this in the hollandaise, but since the sauce wasn't great, I didn't, and ate it as it was.

Overall, very mediocre.
Dessert: Crème brûlée.
If you’ve read my blog before, you know that I have a serious thing for desserts, for puddings and custards in particular, and that I have very strong feelings on creme brûlée specifically.  After such a mediocre meal you’d think I would know better than to order the creme brûlée, but honestly, I can’t resist it when it is on a menu.  When done right, it can be so, so good.

Spoiler: this was not done right.

First, the tap test.  When I tap on the top with my spoon, it shouldn’t just bust through, there should be an actual layer of caramelization there providing resistance.  But, it shouldn’t be so thick that it is hard to get through.  This was too thin.  Strike one.

Next, the temperature test.  I should be able to feel some heat on the outside of the top of the vessel, and the top layer should feel hot, indicating that it was freshly brûléed to order.  The rest should be cold.  This was all one temperature, room temperature.  Strike two.

Next, consistency.  It should be thick, like a custard, but not jiggly like a panna cotta.  This was runny, like a poorly set pudding.  Strike three.

Finally, flavor.  It should have … some.  Ideally, real vanilla bean used, with flecks visible.  This tasted like nothing.  Strike four.

There was absolutely no redeeming quality to dessert, and it was about as far from a good creme brûlée as one can get.  I certainly wouldn’t get it again.
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