Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Cheval Blanc Peter Knogl

Switzerland is a developed country known for its high quality stuffs in many aspects - competitive & efficient, world class infrastructure, top notch education and health care etc. Logically, it should be  like Germany in terms of the food too with ten or more 3-star establishments or at least half of them. In reality, there were only 3 of them and the latest one was Cheval Blanc which received the red guide book highest honor in the 2016 edition of the Switzerland Guide. It's been a 'trend' that more and more of top dining places are located in the hotel. Cheval Blanc is the flagship restaurant of the hotel Les trois rois (a member of Swiss deluxe hotels). The fate of the restaurant turned around in 2007 since the arrival of the gifted chef de cuisine named Peter Knogl, the son of a Bavarian farmer. Chef Knogl cut his teeth in Munich and Aschau im Chiemgau under the tutelage of the German-Italian chef Heinz Winkler. He patiently and slowly rose in the kitchen's position. There, he learned a lot about using only the finest produce, discipline, develop his style in which the ingredients should not change their taste.

I went to Cheval Blanc for lunch with my spouse during the early Autumn. The restaurant was located on the ground floor. As we entered the hotel, we could easily recognized the hostess and she escorted us to the main dining room. We were the first guests to arrive so we had the time to admire the Cheval Blanc's interiors by ourselves. The lavish dining room was not overly large with a very high ceiling; there were only 10 tables or so that could cover about 30 people. The dark wooden floor was partially covered with carpet; it was complemented by several classic crystal chandeliers, white and tall candles at each table and fine paintings on the wall. The large purple drapes (the chairs were covered in purple color too) were opened to allow natural lights entering the restaurant while at the same time, guests could enjoy the view of the Rhine river. Consistent to the grand hotel, the Cheval Blanc dining room also radiated an old-style luxury. As far as the food's concerned, both of us ordered the full tasting menu while I also added some dishes from the a la carte menu. The bread, baked daily in house, was good especially I liked the olive and tomato bread.   

Le Menu des Rois (+ a few extra dishes*)

Amuse-bouches for Culinary introductions

Huîtres creuses / ponzu / pomme vert (Crinkled-shelled Oyster with ponzu and green apple) - The briny and juicy oyster was complemented by soy-flavor & sweet ponzu as well as sharp green apple. A tasty, balanced and refreshing amuse-bouche.
Macaron / foie / orange / Garam masala (Duck liver in macaron shape with orange puree and garam masala spice) - The foie gras was flavorful; it went well together with delicate & 'warm' masala and rather acidic orange. One small byte but full of enjoyment.

Espuma jalapeno / Carabinero (Jalapeno mousse with Scarlet shrimp) - The subtle peppery jalapeno foam was beautifully combined with fresh and 'sweet' carabinero - neither element was too dominant, just nice! 
Textures de champignons / Pata negra (Mushrooms in different textures with Iberian ham) - The mushroom cream was intense and earthy in contrast to crisp tuile as the base and subtle marinated mushroom. The pata negra crunch was savory and smooth - generated some texture differences; another tasty nibble.

Foie gras de canard, confit de figues, gelée de thé Earl Grey et cassis (Duck foie gras served with fig confit, jelly of Earl Grey tea and cassis) - Creative duck liver dish in a small portion is always good. The foie gras was smooth and delicious; it was balanced by the sweet fig confit and slightly acidic cassis. Spread this delicate foie gras on the light brioche to fully enjoy this tasty appetizer. The preparation might be different, but there's almost always a foie gras dish on the menu.

Noix de Saint Jacques, carotte et Vadouvan (Scallops served with carrot and Vadouvan) - The lightly cooked scallop was of outstanding quality: plump, tender and naturally sweet. It was accompanied by fresh carrot and seasoned with vadouvan (fermented spices) having interesting + complex taste & aroma. A very good classical dish with modern touch.

*Hamachi Japonais, radis, avocat et miso (Japanese Hamachi served with radish, avocado and miso) - I didn't usually like a cold appetizer, but this one was different. The carefully seasoned and fresh Japanese yellowtail kingfish was moist, clean & buttery. It was beautifully enhanced by the crisp radish, nutty avocado & savory miso. The combination of the sides produced plenty of vibrant flavors with pleasant texture contrasts - really refreshing! 

*Ravioli au jaune d'œuf, épinards à la crème et truffe blanche d'Alba (Egg yolk ravioli served with spinach cream and white Alba truffle) - Obviously a very Italian recipe; egg yolk with shaved white truffle were delightful. The runny orange yolk inside the thin pasta was in harmony with the warm & creamy spinach. The Alba truffle was truly an indulgence - pungent, earthy and delicious - brought this simple ravioli dish to the next level. Glad that I ordered this extra dish ..

Filet de Rouget, écailles croustillantes, safran, ail noir et vinaigrette de tomates (Filet of Red Mullet and its crispy scales served with saffron, black garlic and vinaigrette of tomatoes) - The red Mullet flesh was juicy, a bit firm and nicely absorbed the saffron sauce and vinaigrette; the scales were enjoyably crunchy whereas the garlic's cream and aroma gave this dish an extra 'dimension' - a terrific dish with Asian influences.

*Ris de veau rôti, yuzu, poivre et crème de champignons (Roasted Sweetbread served with yuzu, pepper and cream of mushrooms) - The sweetbread was cooked until golden and a bit crispy on the outside; the result was a tender texture with mild flavor. It was enhanced by a sauce made of veal jus and yuzu. There were shiitake mushroom and 'bok choy' on the sides - a very decent dish with some acidic notes. I picked this because ris de veau was one of Chef Knogl's favorite ingredients.

Selle de Chevreuil de la Styrie, mousseline de céleri et sauce Rouennaise (Styrian saddle of Venison served with mousseline of celery and Rouennaise sauce) - The thick Austrian venison was slightly firm but still smooth, earthy and a bit gamey yet tasty. The celery mousse would carefully tone down the richness from the concentrated Rouennaise sauce. Overall, a solid (red) meat course.

Chariot de fromage frais et affiné de Maître Antony à Ferrette (Selection of soft and hard cheeses from Maître Antony in Ferrette) - I had Saint-Nectaire (fruity aroma and slightly sweet), a cheese from Bernese Jura (from raw milk with a hint of nutty flavor),  Tamie (soft, creamy with robust taste) and Abbaye cheese from Pyrenees (firm and mild). The cheese was accompanied by dark & rye bread - a decent cheese variety.

Poire, nougat et cacahuètes (Pear, nougat and peanuts) - Fruity, soft and fresh ice cream was combined with something sweet and thick (nougat) as well as nutty and crunch (peanuts). Easy to eat dessert and enjoyable especially after some intense red meat.

*Café, muscovado et framboise (Coffee, moscovado and raspberry) -  The Mauritius sugar was probably the most interesting one - unrefined, complex and rich. It was brought together with some aromatic and bitter coffee mousse as well as tart, fresh and rather sweet raspberry sorbet. Although not spectacular, it was a good and fun dessert.

The petit fours were superb especially the mousse on a spoon (mango with passion fruit and lemongrass) and some chocolate truffles (yuzu, caramel and dark). Our degustation menu was accompanied by half-bottle of a local red wine: 2013 Vinattieri Ticinesi Ligornetto Merlot - Medium body & acidity, balanced, fruity (cherries, plum and blackberries), a bit spicy with medium finish. A nice local merlot that went reasonably well particularly with my venison and sweetbread. Overall, the service at Cheval Blanc was good but somewhat uneven at times. For example, the sommelier (might be the assistant) seemed to be confused and not too focused during our lunch; in a couple of occasions, our glasses were not refilled when the volume was low and once when he poured, it dripped a bit on the outer surface of the glass. Then, there was another waiter who claimed that he used to work at one of Alain Ducasse gastronomy restaurants ... from the body language and communication, this full-size man lacked finesse and elegance usually shown by the staffs at any Ducasse fine dining places. I went to the restrooms twice and both times, my napkin was never replaced with a new one. On the other hand, there were 2 charming gentlemen, who also often took care of our table, delivering excellent service with good sense of humor and not overly formal but very professional. Furthermore, they displayed genuine interests to the guests without being obtrusive. Near the end of our lunch, Peter Knogl came out and greeted every table, spent sometimes with the guests without being rush to return to the kitchen. 

With this meal, I managed to complete all of the Switzerland's 3-star restaurants within one week. If I had to pick one place in this land of milk and honey, in terms of the food only, Cheval Blanc was actually my favorite dining place (marginally better than Restaurant Crissier). Peter Knogl's classical style generally fit my taste well. Not only that, he also modernized his cuisine a bit by adding some international flavors such as some Asian influences or mild Mediterranean. His cooking was all about the perfect balance among finest ingredients, authentic inherent flavors of the produce, and elegant skills + technical finesse ... all of these culminating to delicious dishes with astounding sauce. It's never about following the latest food trend in instagram. "Simple" and consistently (nearly) perfect! Ideally, it would not be the only time I savored Chef Knogl's creations. For pictures, you can see at this link: Cheval Blanc Oct '17    

Food (and Wine): 96 pts

Service (and Ambiance): 93 pts

Overall: 95/100