Last year our menu featured pheasant and red deer. This time – on the occasion of our twentieth lunch at Chesa – we had a different type of venison (there are many different species of deer), as we virtually wended our way, course by course, around and through the Alps, sampling regional cuisines and wines of Southern Europe.
Our first stop was the bar for an Aperitivo, Cordero di Montezemolo’s Langhe Arneis 2019 (Langhe DOC, Piedmont, Italy), and an Antipasti selection of cured meats, hand-carried from Italy by Club President Tom Whitcraft, along with assorted pickles, olives, and freshly sliced veggies. Wine Spokesman Andrew McDowell had never heard of the Arneis grape that is native to northwestern Italy and used exclusively to make this full-bodied white wine, but he found it “very pleasant” with low acidity and nice taste that went well with antipasti.
After seating, Chef Rene shepherded us to the French-speaking part of Switzerland, serving us an Amuse Bouche comprising a miniature Cheese Fondue and Goat Cheese Profiteroles. Food Spokesman Mark Guthrie liked both the artistic presentation and the piquant flavors resulting from a dash of paprika on the fondue and spicy arugula (rocket) paired with the goat cheese. It also went very well with our second white wine, Cantina Terlano’s Kreuth Chardonnay 2020 (Alto Adige Terlano DOC, South Tyrol, Italy).
However, he had nothing but praise for the interesting combination of flavors – as the sweet meaty shrimp contrasted with the creamy texture and pungent wasabi flavor of the panna cotta and the crunchy tartness of the pomegranate seeds. This dish also went very nicely with the Kreuth Chardonnay, which Andrew said was “a good fit to my delicate palate”. He liked both its relatively low acidity and limited “oakiness”, despite its having been aged in oak barrels, and said it went very well with the food.
Our second starter, Pan Fried Grey Mullet Fillet on Tomato Risotto, evoked thoughts of the Mediterranean coast. The size of a mullet yields a fillet perfectly-proportioned between the rich, nutty, slightly earthy flavor of the juicy white flesh and the crispy skin (which is arguably the best part, according to Mark). The creamy texture and mild acidity of the tomato risotto complemented the fish without overwhelming it.
This dish was served with our third white wine, Château Maison Blanche’s Yvorne Grand Cru 2020 (Chablais AOC, Vaud Canton, Switzerland), which is made from local Chasselas grapes. Andrew thought this wine was rather ordinary in taste and lacked character, despite having a good nose that hinted at something better; for him it neither enhanced nor detracted from the food. Mark thought it might have been better to serve it with the Amuse Bouches, leaving the Chardonnay to accompany both the shrimp and fish.
Next up was a Cream of Porcini Soup with White Truffle Oil. Chesa is well-known for producing great soups, and this was no exception. The hero is the dried fruiting body of the fungus, Boletus edulis, a widely popular mushroom species with white flesh and thick stem, known in Italy as porcini. Its rich, woodsy taste, with subtle nutty undertones, was in this case enhanced by the earthiness of the white truffle oil.
The soup was nicely paired with our first red wine, Olivier Rivière’s Rioja Ganko 2015 (Najerilla Valley, Rioja, Spain), produced from a blend of Garnacha and Mazuelo grapes. Andrew said that it went very well with the soup, but thought it might have been even better if served at a bit warmer temperature (despite its having been decanted at room temperature).
Our main course was something really special: Barbecue Venison Loin with Cranberry Hollandaise, Brussels Sprouts, Red Cabbage and Mashed Potatoes. Chesa is known for serving seasonal game, and many of us have enjoyed their venison in the past; however, everyone agreed this time was exceptional. As the deer was sourced from Chesa’s usual (New Zealand) supplier, perhaps it was simply a result of the marinade and a long-slow cooking process using indirect heat in a smoker-type barbecue. In any case, the meat was perfectly done and incredibly tender.
Mark said he thoroughly enjoyed it – especially with the slightly tart and fruity cranberry hollandaise sauce. Andrew, who pridefully mentioned that he too (like our Bambi) hails from New Zealand, declared this a great venison dish. He also praised its pairing with the Spanish Rioja Ganko (first served with the soup) saying they made two very good tastes together.
As a capstone to the day, we were served a Selection of European Cheeses consisting of Époisses de Bourgogne, Pecorino Romano, and Parmigiano Reggiano. These were paired with our second Spanish red, Atlin & Artisan’s Epistem No. 3 2014 (Murcia, Yecla, Spain) – a blend made from Monastrell, Syrah, and Garnacha Tintorera grapes.
Andrew noted it was a very dry wine, with a good nose, and thought it was both smoother in taste and easier to drink than our first red wine. In appreciation for his service as Wine Spokesman, and in recognition of his attendance at over 100 Club lunches, Andrew was asked to present the gratuity, along with our heartfelt thanks, to the Chesa service staff, whose efforts helped to make our day a success. With so much more European cuisine left for us to explore, we look forward to our next visit to Chesa Swiss Restaurant.