Category Archives: Restaurant

Ever had a burger in a former streetcar station? Get it at the Helvti Diner

Burgers are their business. And their business provides a quality and taste I haven’t encountered elsewhere, even in the USA.
The Helvti Diner, open since October 2011, is definitely the best burger place I’ve ever put foot in.

A diner you say? Well, this may not be the diner that comes to mind when thinking of an American movie or what you may have experienced in real life. This diner does not have greasy tables, cold tile floors, or booths’ that you don’t want to touch because they look filthy. No, this diner is, as my husband would say, the luxury Swiss version of an American diner.

Every time I visit the Helvti I receive a friendly greeting, especially from the general manager Armon. The authentic music they play makes the wait for a table pass quickly (times can vary depending on the day and time). Be warned that on the weekends you have almost no chance to quickly get a table as a walk in so reserve in advance if possible. If you do have to wait, rest assured that when your table is free the experience is worth every minute.

The Helvti doesn’t pretend to be a “serve all types of food” place, which I like a lot. Their slogan “Burgers are our Business” pretty much says it all. You will not find any “foo foo” or “wannabe” dishes on the menu. What you will find are burgers, fries, side salads, milkshakes, and deserts. There are a few options for vegetarians, but really, you come for the meat not the greens.

With luxury burgers also come luxury prices. But once you taste this special burger developed by Françoise Wicki (chef of the Restaurant Helvetia across the road) you will find that it is worth every Rappen (Swiss cent). The Swiss Prime Burger is declared to be 100% Swiss Veal. The classic burger is 100% Swiss Angus Beef, while the Helvti Diner special is made of 100% Wagyu Beef. The Wagyu is supposed to have a more aromatic taste, although I am not sure I would be able to tell the difference. The meat mixtures do not contain any further additives, as often used in other burger places, such as pork meat, eggs or simply fat. A quarter pounder (170g) burger costs between 17.50 CHF (Swiss Prime Burger) and 32.50 CHF (Wagyu Burger) each served with coleslaw, lettuce, tomato, onion and pickles. If you feel very adventurous, you can even go for the double quarter pounder (2x170g). Just keep in mind that the double is a lot of meat to eat. I once shared a table with three guys who ordered the doubles only to watch them go pale when they were served (which made me laugh to no end).

The burgers come with a homemade sauce of chili, spicy BBQ, cocktail, hot’n’spicy tomato, curry or garlic mayonnaise. I prefer the garlic mayonnaise over the others, especially the hot’n’spicy which was too sweet for my taste buds. You can further “pimp your burger” with cheese (choice of original cheddar, Swiss alpine, and blue), Swiss bacon, fried egg or my personal favorite “holy moly! guacamole” for an extra change between 2.50 and 4.00 CHF. I often order more than I can actually eat. My usual is the Swiss Prime or the Classic Burger with a side of French Fries (extra 4.50 CHF) topped with cheddar, bacon and the holy moly! guacamole. Add a nice cold Amboss blond draft and I am as happy as can be!

The atmosphere at the Helvti Diner is quite pleasant despite the high turn over of guests. The seating is narrow and the tables a bit small so it may not be the best place to go for a long evening. Unless of course you like to hang out at the bar, drink some beers, listen to nice music and watch people come in, go out and go by. As someone described it before: “You never sit at the Helvti Diner longer than on an extended tram ride.”

The people working at the Helvti Diner are extremely friendly and attentive, the burgers are cooked as you’d like them and have always been served exactly how we ordered them. Even when the place is over crowded, Armon and his staff have always been super calm and managed to accommodate all their guests as well as possible.

Tips:

  • Always make a reservation, no matter if lunch or dinner time
  • Ask for a booth in the back of the diner
  • Watch out: Closed on Sundays

Helvti Diner
Kasernenstr. 2
8004 Zürich
Tel.: 043 322 04 24
http://www.helvti-diner.ch

Ithaki – Athens posh restaurant with a view

The opportunity to have dinner at the locally renowned beach restaurant Ithaki in Vouliagmeni came about through pure luck, chance and the help of a very charming Swiss International Airline agent at the Athens airport named Emmanuel. Due to an overbooked flight, we were offered the possibility of giving up our seats in exchange for a free overnight stay in Athens, a generous amount of pocket money, and a return flight the following day.

Once the possibility became reality, our guide Emmanuel took us on a tour through the secret passages and corridors of the airport to retrieve our luggage and to make arrangements for our hotel and return flight.

As an added bonus, he also recommended an exceptional place for dinner. From our hotel it was only a 30 minutes taxi ride to Vouliagmeni.

There, the Ithaki elegantly presented itself right on the Kavouri Beach with a strong vibe of poshness.

Our first impression included lots of wood and glass, white table cloths, smooth lightning, a live piano player, the sound of waves, and very intimate and private tables arranged along the terraces (all facing the sea).

All in all, maybe not the cheapest place to eat in the area, but definitely a must experience. The menu was not overwhelmingly long (a pleasant experience) offering traditional Greek dishes, fresh fish and meats, as well as Sushi and Sashimi. Surprisingly, some of the fish is actually frozen (typically indicated with an *). A pity since there are plenty of fresh fish options to choose by the kilo from the local area.

The wine menu presents a good choice of Greek and international wines. Service is very polite and attentive, almost blending into the surrounding.

As a starter we selected an eggplant/cheese dish and fresh mussels in a white wine sauce. The serving process for the main dish of fresh grouper was a unique experience of presentation (rolling cart and silver bell covers to keep the food warm) and preparation (surgical removal of the bones, fins, and heads from the fish prior to serving with fresh vegetables).

Tips:

  • Booking required if you are going to typical Greek dinner hours (between 22:00 – 24:00h).
  • If you take a taxi there consider arranging a return with the same driver. As the area is well liked be Athenians, it might be difficult to find a cab for the ride back to the city.

To Beef or Not to Beef

The Officina della Bistecca and Dario Cecchini’s
philosophy of butchering

To meet Dario Cecchini, the owner of the Antica Macelleria in Panzano in Chianti, is worth every kilometer on the windiest road in Tuscany. Following in the footsteps of 8 generations of Cecchini butchers, the Ulysses of meat, how he likes to call himself is the personification of the “divina cucina di carne”. Anyone who thought the Argentinians or Americans cook the best steaks, has never had a taste of Dario’s heavenly Florentine steaks.

The recommendation to get a seat at Dario Cecchini’s table came from a Florentine friend, but it also came with an expectation warning to not be disappointed if nothing is available since tables are booked weeks in advance. So, one day before our only chance to stop at this Tuscany institution our luck ran true in the form of a forecast for rain that turned into a sunny day and available seats on the outdoor terrace.

Not really knowing what to expect (except for the best meat in the region) what we received exceeded anything we could have imagined. To call a meal at the Officina della Bistecca lunch or dinner would be an insult to the “foodtainment” we experienced. I am not sure we will ever be able to replicate the conditions of our first visit. The date was April 25th, which in Italy is their WWII Liberation Day. All two of the main streets of Panzano were packed with cars and people. If it wasn’t for all the Hells Angels of Chianti, we might have missed the Antica Macelleria Cecchini.

outsideThe simple entrance of the Macelleria on the street level is split into a small dinning area and a full service meat counter with it’s own bar playing heavy metal music. At first, we didn’t know where to enter past the bustling crowd or even who to ask about our miracle reservation. We finally settled on asking the butcher at the counter who directed us to the back of the shop where we could only see a door to the meat locker. Squeezing past more of the Chianti Chapter Angels rocking out to Guns n’ Roses’ Sweet Child O’ Mine while eating and drinking some Chianti red, we noticed a plain sliding door tucked in the back left corner of the room. The gatekeeper behind the door checked us off the list, admitted us up a narrow flight of stairs past the indoor dinning area to the outdoor terrace. Yeah!

Set up like an Italian wedding from the 50’s were two long tables that would have been at home in any beer hall complete with place mats describing the table setvarious cuts of meat on a cow and not one-centimeter spare distance between you and your neighbor – this was our final destination.

Being a bit early to the feast, we had our choice of where to sit and choose a comfortable place at the far end of the table. There were bowls filled with carrots, celery and red onion rings, a simple bean soup, baked potatoes and bread for sides. Even the salt was special consisting of Cecchini’s own mix of salt and herbs perfect for everything on the table. With the table menuset, we were about to begin.

The opening act was a Chianti crudo, apparently one of Dario’s signature dishes. Even if you don’t like raw meat, I can guarantee you, it’s the best beef tartar you will ever try. Next up was the Carpaccio di culo (bum cut) quickly followed by the third course of Costata alla Fiorentina (Bone-in Rib eye or Strip steak). This was followed by my personal favorite, the Bistecca Panzanese.

“Ladies and gentleman, I gave you the Chianti Tuna, not sushi of the fish, but the sushi del Chianti, and now…. I am presenting to you… her majesty, the Biiiiistecca alla Fiorentinaaaaaa!”

Just when you think it cannot get any better, Angelo, the master of grill, stepped out onto the terrace and lifted his hands, holding two big chucks of meat in serviettes, yelling to the crowed:

DSC00213… and that is the moment, when you can feel the never ending wine, the comfortable and friendly atmosphere, that the friends (strangers no more) who with you share this unforgettable meal go absolutely ballistic! It somehow manages to get even louder when Dario Cecchini comes out to take his bow, blowing a loud horn, giving hugs, kisses, shaking hands and posing for pictures.

The meat seems to be never ending, but when it finally stops coming to the table, the meal is finished off with an extraordinary olive oil cake (sounds much stranger than it is – a real must try), coffee and grappa. All of this you get for 50 Euro a person – a simply unbeatable value for the price.

Dario is indeed a butcher extraordinaire, a theatrical host and an artist who butchers animals to the sound of heavy metal rock music (maybe this helps to explain the Hells Angels on the day of our visit), and has developed a stage act where he butchers an entire carcass while quoting from the works of Dante. Dario is a true example of how a career with a heart, passion for ones work, for food and for the animals can result in tastes and flavors that are not only authentic, but truly poetic.

Tips:
Dario Cecchini has three restaurants in Panzano.

Make your reservation long enough in advance.

A little bit of Paris in the heart of Zurich – The Franzos

It is true that you find tons of Italians, Thai and others, but almost no French restaurants or bistros in Zurich. It was actually by chance, that I noticed the Franzos (Swiss word for Frenchman), walking through the Niederdorf the other day. Intrigued by the unique atmosphere caused by the sunset shining through the bistro and bathing it in a warm romantic light, I kept thinking about the place and what it was all about…

IMG_3025Only a day later I went back to check if the sunset was the only thing that created the atmosphere. What I found was a little piece of Paris in Zurich.

The owners Raffaele and his brother-in-law Marc-Antoine opened the Franzos one month ago and have managed to create a unique French feeling in a small and intimate setting. They are very attentive and charming hosts, who both worked on the set-up of the Franzos, from the menu to the interior design of the Bistro. The Franzos displays an immaculate taste in the way it presents itself to the public. It has an unpretentious look and feel with small wooden tables on iron feet and wooden chairs with an antique feel, that were probably individually selected. The picture frames along the white wall are filled with artistic sketches or photos of famous Frenchies like Brigit Bardo and Jean-Paul Belmondo. Even the bar is simply painted in a lovely old pastel blue. Low chansons are playing in the background.

The Franzos proves once again that less really is more.

“Vraiment spectaculaire”

4_Franzos_Pics Wall

Raffaele is a marketing professional formerly on the board of Globus as head of interior design, as well as Big Zürich and others. He already has quite a bit of experience in the gastro and club sectors, mostly as a concepts consultant. With the Franzos, he has finally created the next gastro concept for his own Bistro.

Marc-Antoine really fits the Bistro garçon description complete with a charming French accent. He is, however, much more attentive and courteous that any garçon I have ever experienced in France. This speaks for both of them, Raffaele and Marc-Antoine as well as for their support staff, two young ladies.

The menu at the Franzos is contemporary bistro cuisine. The Petit-Déjeuner, served Monday to Friday until 11:00 and Saturday and Sunday until 14:00, offers the choice of baguette, butter, jams and white cheese for only 8.50 CHF, which is indeed a very good price for Zurich. You can also choose from other favorites such as œuf à la coque (boiled eggs), pain au chocolate, croissant and brioche.

Lunches are served from Monday to Friday between 11:30 and 14:00. You have the choice of a soup du jour, salad with warm goat cheese, croque monsieur (toasted cheese and ham sandwich), home made terrine (excellent!) with salad and quiche, either vegetarian or Lorraine. We tri7_Franzos_Quicheed the quiche végétarienne with salad and were more than happy. The size for a lunch meal is perfect, the taste excellent and freshly prepared. Meats are either Swiss or French.

The apéritif, Monday through Saturday until 22:00 and Sundays until 19:00 offers a platter with a portion of one choice from the following – cheeses, cold cuts (meats), black and green olives, and rilettes (kind of pâté). You can also order vegetable dips, the croque-monsieur or soup of the day.

The deserts, served at any time of the day include tarte tatin, fondant au chocolat, truffe au chocolate, cherry liquor and ice cream with whipped cream.

The wine menu has French whites and reds including my all time favorite for the name, Whispering Angel, a 2012 Château d’Esclans, Côte de Provence, Grencache, Rolle, Cinsault, Syrah and Mourvèdre grapes. According to Raffaele and Marc-Antoine, this wine is always suitable – to everything.

The Franzos can be summed up by the words they write on the first page of the little bistro’s menu:

«A dangerous love affair he is, the Frenchman. Steals flowers and steals hearts. Knows to enjoy life. Lives with categorical nonchalance. Beams when he invents or plots something new. And he often does. The cheekiness suits him well. Let yourself be wrapped around the finger: Bienvenue au Franzos! »

Address:
Limmatquai 138, 8001 Zürich
Telephone: +41 44 542 46 33
bonjour@franzos.ch

Opening hours:
Monday to Thursday: 08:00-23:00
Friday: 08:00-01:00
Saturday: 10:00-01:00
Sunday: 11:00-19:00

Special Thanks to Meri for reviewing the Franzos with me 🙂

Seek and hide truffles in Siena – Taverna San Giuseppe

The choice of restaurants in Siena is just as large at the hotel choice. Some of the restaurants you can find on TripAdvisor or other sites catering to frequent travelers. Luckily we had recommendations from a friend’s wife (with support from her local colleagues) presenting us with an exclusive list of local favorites to choose from. We trusted our friends’ direct and especially authentic, Italian suggestions and were rewarded with a special experience at the Taverna di San Giuseppe. This is how fromfriendsforfriends.ch works.

The Taverna di San Giuseppe is a short walk up an inclined street leading away from the Piazza del Campo. It is somewhat hidden and a nice surprise when you find it as you are in an area where you don’t expect a restaurant anymore.

The interior is warm and inviting and really feels as though you are in a Cantina with its wooden tables and rustic walls. The owner’s son Matteo told us that the current building dates back to the year 1100 and older still, the wine cellar housed in the tufa rock of an old Etruscan house dates back to 200 BC. Opened in 1998 by Marco Neri and Lorella, a Sienese family, the restaurant used to be an auto garage and a carpenters’ workshop. Matteo could still remember the cars lined up for repair and mechanic parts hanging off the walls.

The San Giuseppe menu features several classics such a Ribolita (a hearty potage made with bread and vegetables), Brasato (braised beef or stewed with vegetables), and Bistecca Fiorentina, but the recommendation we selected was the fileto with truffels and Prunetti olive oil and the cinghiale (wild boar). Of course you will also find a great variety of homemade pasta including Gnudi, Pici, and Tagliatelle, choices of meats such as prosciutto, salumni, sausages, and finally a great choice of cheeses from the wine cellar.

When you order your food, ask Matteo for a recommendation on the wine in combination with the meals and then take a walk down to see the wine cellar while the food is being prepared.

The cellar is indeed tremendous with more than 500 labels of national and local wines, of course mostly Tuscan ones. The wine cellar can be reserved for private parties and events as well as private wine tastings and wine classes.

La Taverna di San Giuseppe is indeed a restaurant worthy of a recommendation in Siena. While the choices on the menu are vast, it is the small things that matter in the end, and for me it was the attention of the service (one waiter even brought me a little stool for my handbag), the excellent quality of food and the comfortable environment.

Tipp: Book a table after 9 pm and you will get the local environment, rather than the non-Italian visitors.

Address:
La Taverna di San Giuseppe
Via G. Dupré, 132, 53100 Siena
Tel +39 0577 42286
www.tavernasangiuseppe.it

 

L’épicier Grand Cru – Cheese library of Strasbourg

You might plan to eat lots of “Tarte flambée” in Strasbourg, which I can definitely recommend, but if you want a truly unique experience, in a rather uncommon place – you have your lunch or snack at the L’épicier Grand Cru.

Strolling through the charming streets near the “little Paris” area in Strasbourg, we came across a shop that was decorated with lots of happy birthday snick snack and preparing to host a party.  Looking through the window we were drawn in by the cheese room in the back protected by a glass sliding door. What followed was something you cannot plan, but just “happens” whenever you allow yourself to dive in and just take things as they come.

Our adventure began with the very friendly staff giving us a short explanation (in English) of the different wines, meats and cheeses available as well as our options for how to combine them all into our very own lunch tasting.  The store also carries a large choice of teas, honey, traditionally made jams and marmalades, a very special, medieval cooked wine with pepper (you should definitely try this), snacks, spices and other assorted treats.

We asked for whatever they recommend, tried at least 5 wines and were happy when the surprise platter with local cheeses, dried fruits, nuts and spices with fresh bread arrived.  Each glass of wine increased the chances that I would begin singing in a short while. The cheeses on our platter included a Munster accompanied by cumin powder (even if you normally don’t touch cumin – you’ll love this), a local brie with jams, Roquefort, and was accompanied by salami, dried hams, salad, and fresh bread.  What a feast!

I really have to comment again that the Munster with cumin is a must.  The wines are all delicious, but you will need to find your own way regarding the taste that suits you best.

We also really enjoyed the “cheese library”. Literally set-up as a library, behind the sliding door, it was kept so nice and cold that you had to put your jacket on to go in.  Each cheese was carefully labeled and presented making this a small, but great cheese lovers paradise.

The service, modern décor, and variety of French foods from local providers (each with their own background story) are worth the investment of 2 hours of your Strasbourg visit.  Beware, you might spend a lot of money here, but you’ll love every cent you spend – I promise.

Heidi&Tell is the answer to the American Hooters

Heidi&Tell is a burger place that simply delivers great, fresh tasting burgers, crispy fries, soup and some sweets of the day. Ah, yes, all that and beers as well. So what made me think of the Swiss Hooters reference? Actually, it is just because of one poster and that’s really the only reason.  The food is way better than any Hooters, McDonalds or Burger King together.

If I think of burgers, I think of McDonald’s sticky floors, spongy bread, cheese that doesn’t taste like cheese, and fries that are made of some potato starch paste. Honestly, the only times I actually go to McDonalds is to use the bathroom.

Now, I’ve had good burgers, but since I live in Zurich, it would be quite a way to go to a Five Guys burger place in the US.  After a friend recommended Heidi & Tell, I no longer have to cross the Atlantic to satisfy my burger fix.  I even like the place itself with the non-sticky wooden floors, simple wooden tables, a really nice terrace towards the Tessiner Platz at Bahnhof Enge, and live streaming music courtesy of Carolina webradio.

The best of all is that all the ingredients are 100% natural with no additives, preservatives or any of the other junk that makes me dislike fast food in the first place.

An added bonus also is that the burgers come in a little carton box, which helps non-experienced burger eaters like me to minimize the mess. Great idea!  All cups, cutleries and serviettes support their sustainably friendly environment (you won’t find any plastic at Heidi&Tell for sure).

Burgers are made with Swiss meat and come on a handmade bun, and cheese with a Swiss twist, which basically means that you choose from Gruyere, Appenzeller or Emmentaler cheese, and get some HT (Heidi&Tell) fries on the side. The fries are even sprinkled with cheese and parsley and somehow make you feel healthy as you eat them.

Heidi&Tell is comfortable, even though clearly set up as a Take Away. You can definitely spend some time in there, surfing the Wi-Fi for free. The atmosphere is down-to-earth, music in the background, maybe the waitresses are not the most happy ones, when you don’t get the ordering system right away, but the good coffee and the brownie manage to make up for any problems.

Meet little Max in Winterthur

Visit Max’ Bistro and if you are lucky you might even meet the little fella in person on Fridays.  His grandparents Zuzana and Urs Böni named the Bistro after 4-year-old Max, and managed to make guests feel like they are sitting in a living room, comfortable and cozy, surrounded by the good smell of freshly cooked meals and coffee.

Max might still be a little one at 4 years old, but in Winterthur he’s actually quite big.  Especially since his grandparents named their new bistro after him!

In October 2013 the bistro Max opened its doors to the public. The place, where 4 tables and a bar occupy the room, used to be Urs Böni’s landscape architecture office. You can feel Zuzana and Urs attention to detail in the bright, lovely colors decorating the Bistro, the low music playing in the background, and the fresh flowers sitting on the bar.  You will feel very welcome, comfortable, and cozy, but not only because of the environment.

Don’t be surprised when you find Urs sitting next to you presenting the dishes from the menus as well as the daily specials. Made from local or regional ingredients, the choices include stews, fish or vegetarian dishes and funky specials like green potato soup that for sure won’t leave you hungry. The sizes of the meals are rather overwhelming, but no less delicious.

Since January 2014 you can even have a regular dinner, a birthday party or a romantic tete-a-tete at the newly refurbished little cottage, sitting in the garden behind the building. A wood oven heats up the room and the little windows make you feel like you are in a fairy tale.

Max is open Monday to Wednesday from 7:00-18:30, Thursday and Friday from 7:00-23:00 and on Saturday from 9:00-17:00.

You can rent the Max for private parties, Apéros or cooking classes.  And in case you are having a late dinner and feel you won’t make it home, there are 2 b&b rooms upstairs.

http://www.bistro-max.ch/