Tag Archives: restaurants

New Year’s Eve Dinner at Tanaka

 

We wanted to do something special for New Year’s Eve, so we decided to try the Newstyle Restaurant Tanaka after two of my Japanese clients told me that, in their opinion, it’s the best Japanese restaurant in Bern.  We made our reservations ten days before the event, and were glad we had done so, because when we arrived the host told us they were completely booked for the holiday.

It is less than a 20 minute ride from the Bern Hauptbahnhof to Kehrsatz Nord, and Tanaka is less than a five minute walk from the station, so it was an easy trip. Tanaka is an understated, roomy restaurant with open tables, set far enough apart so that even when the restaurant was full we had privacy.  In the summer, the terrace must be lovely.  Our hosts were quick to seat us and to explain the menu and the open sushi bar, which were were allowed to visit between each of the five courses.  We were told that we could sit at the sushi bar for only 15 minutes between each course, but that turned out to be more time than we actually needed, and we skipped a visit or two anyway because the dinner itself was ample.

Soon after we were seated, we were brought a tuna tatar appetizer — just a mouthful beautifully arranged on a white ceramic soup spoon.  The fresh fish and the light sesame flavoring was an excellent start to the meal. The menu offered a choice between French Onion and miso-salmon soup for the first course, and both of us took the miso soup.  It was tasty but not remarkable, and we happily moved to the sushi bar for our first visit.  Sushi choices were limited to the expected:  tuna (maguro), salmon (sake), mackeral (saba), scallops (hotate), freshwater eel (unagi), salmon roe (ikura), egg-pancake (tamago), and yellowtail (hamachi, also known as King Mackeral) nigiri.  They also served a corn salad nigiri which was odd, but pleasant.  The chefs were quite quick, so we ate all we wanted without feeling any time pressure. All the fish was very fresh and tasty, but I was disappointed by the shari (sushi rice).  Instead of being glossy and sticky, it fell apart quickly as soon as the nigiri was dipped (properly, fish side down) into the soy sauce & wasabi mixture.  (My husband tells me I’m too picky about my rice.)  At any rate, the second batch of rice was a slight improvement over the first, but I wouldn’t go back to Tanaka if I only wanted sushi. (Instead I’d go to Restaurant Kabuki at the Markthalle in Bern, which is actually owned by the same people.)

The menu, on the other hand, was terrific, and they can count on me as a customer any time I’m in the mood for Japanese salads, seafood or beef. Our second course was a leafy green salad with the house dressing, a tart lemon-miso mixture that was superb.  I ordered my salad with scallops, and my husband ordered his with beef.  Both were lightly cooked and extraordinarily fresh. Sadly, I don’t have a copy of the entire menu and it was a long evening, but I can certainly recommend the shrimp tempura, and the sauteed Monkfish with teriyaki foam over fresh vegetables.  (There teriyaki foam was made from whipped eggwhites.)  The highlight of the evening, for me, though was the duck liver over mixed sashimi — the liver seemed to be carmelized on the outside, but was so tender and flavorful that it almost made me weep.  Desert was a lovely mix of treats including a tiny egg custard, a spoon of unbelievably rich chocolate mousse, and a fragrant Earl Grey ice cream.

The ambiance throughout the evening was pleasant.  There was a band with a competent female vocalist, and the music was suitably low-key while the food was being served.  They played for about twenty minutes at a time and then took a break, which worked well.

The meal was 135 CHF per person and the green tea was extra. (In my opinion, it should have been included at the table, as it was while we were at the sushi bar.)  For the quality of the food, the atmosphere, and the hospitality, I’d say it was well worth it.

Holiday Lunch at the Hotel Schweizerhof

The Hotel Schweizerhof opened again after six years of renovations, and is now Bern’s only 5-star hotel.  The AWC Women’s Club, which had been holding its holiday lunches at the Bellevue during this time, decided to move the event back to the Schweizerhof.  This was the first holiday lunch I attended, so I can’t speak in comparison to the Bellevue, and I need to underline that this was a catered event in a salon, rather than a restaurant meal, but in my opinion (and especially for the price) the food was substandard, and far below the level a comparable meal would have cost at one of Bern’s better traditonal restaurants like the Kornhaus Keller or the Ratskeller.

The following menu was offered:

  • Green salad with lime vinaigrette
  • Curry-lemon grass soup
  • Pork duet with Bernaise sauce Potato-celery puree
  • Leaf spinach Chocolate mousse, banana/chili chutney sorbet

for vegetarians, they substituted these for the “Pork duet”:

  • Spinach-ricotta ravioli
  • Potato-mushroom basket with white wine sauce Belperknolle (Swiss cheese made with truffle)
  • Belperknolle (Swiss cheese made with truffle)

Vegetarians forked over 84 CHF, and meat eaters paid 90 CHF. Even in Switzerland, at that price I’d expect something special for my money.

The room was lovely and the wait staff were excellent. Plenty of bread & butter was made available at the tables, and the two different varieties of bread were truly excellent. The salad was fresh and not overdressed. The trouble started with the soup.

Curry lemon-grass soup is usually either coconut milk-based, or simply broth-based — one just doesn’t expect a cream soup. In this case, innovation was not met with success: the lemon grass clashed unpleasantly with the cream which had formed distinct, slimy curdles in the bowl. The initial burst of lemon grass flavor was followed by a flat undertaste of consommé, which, given the viscosity of the preparation, was somewhat distressing.

I had ordered the vegetarian main course and instead of being three served separate preparations decently separated on the plate, as seemed to be indicated in the menu, the potato mushroom basket (about the size of a large chestnut) perched sloppily on top of a small plate of ravioli that was sprinkled with some of the most miserly, transparently thin shavings of cheese one could imagine. The potato basket (thimble!), which was crisp, contained two tiny button mushrooms that tasted canned. The ravioli was so gummy it was impossible to discern the ingredients it claimed to maintain — imagine ravioli reheated for an airplane meal and you’ll get my drift.  The one faint taste of the cheese I had was pleasant, but it might have been more in my imagination than in fact. When I looked around, I saw that both my neighbors had declined to eat one half of the 2-bite-size “pork duet.”  They’d pushed it aside because the amount of fat visible in the cube on the skewer was daunting and both thought it was some sort of bacon.  I don’t mind fat, so I tried it and, in fact, it turned out to be pork breast. Personally, I enjoy pork breast when it’s barbecued with Chinese spices, or when it’s smoked for 8 hours with hickory wood.  But a cheap, fatty cut of meat like that simply has no place in an intimate duet in which each bite is costing the patron a minimum of 10 francs.  In true Woody Allen style, I thought to myself: the food was terrible and the portions were so small!

Sadly, dessert provided no respite.  The “sorbet” was no sorbet, but a small dollop of cream-based banana ice cream of no particular distinction. Nor was it fresh; its texture screamed of stabilizers and, though uneaten portions sat on my neighbors’ plates for quite a while, they never actually seemed to melt. It was accompanied by a flat, square portion of chocolate mouse about three centimenters on a side. A teaspoon of mashed banana concoction (the “chutney ,” apparently) was lumped on one corner. “Gummy”  and “flat” seem to win out as the descriptive words of the day.

When I pay good money for restaurant food, I expect to get good food for the money.  I hadn’t balked, a week ago, when I’d paid almost exactly the same price for the same amount of food at Kabuki restaurant in the Markthalle.  But every taste had been a delight and all the ingredients were fresh and perfectly textured. I will not be returning to any events held at the Schweizerhof.  Nor am I inclined to try their restaurant, Jack’s. It’s a sad thing when a 5-star hotel produces catered meals that drive away customers.