Category Archives: Zurich

“Bucks” in a land of Francs.

Reviewing restaurants is a fool’s errand in a lot of ways, one of which is that you have to qualify your opinion – like cars, you should sort by some combination of price range and ambition, and deliver a statement on the overall value.  To extend the metaphor, in Zurich, as with the cars in its parking lots, the restaurants range from Lamborghini to Fiat 500 (there isn’t much of a Yugo market, in other words).  This has hampered my thoughts of continuing this blog for some time – I used to cover strictly the cheap market, with the occasional Michelin launch piece or expensive dinner out thrown in.  Five years ago, I made the decision that I couldn’t change the direction of the blog drastically to cover the kinds of places available in Switzerland and threw in the towel.

I’m going to reverse that decision and resume writing occasionally, even if the articles don’t exactly fit the original mission (which was, lest we forget, to tick restaurants off a list published over six years ago).  I’ve been reviewing restaurants in my head for five years, and it pains me to admit that those thoughts have then gone to waste.  Having gone over my posts recently while migrating to a new blogging platform, I realize the personal value of these posts in retrospect.  It may not function as the blog my original readership liked, but it’ll function as something I like, and that’s enough.  Perhaps some of you readers will come with me on this new journey, and if so, I look forward to your reactions.

I’m still in Switzerland, so the writing will skew heavily in that direction (although I’m excited to cover my myriad travel destinations as well), and I’ll run the gamut of restaurants that are available here.  I will not pick and choose based on price but hopefully somewhat effectively on value for money – always a tricky subject to cover in Swiss Franc-land, but one after five years I feel practiced enough to have the hang of.

Hope you enjoy this relaunched blog and, as the Swiss say, “En Guete!”


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No more crappy kebabs!

This post originally appeared on the abortive KREIS5.NET blog.

Some (probably less-addled) folks like to compare the prices of a liter/gallon of milk as a framework for bitching about inflation or where to live more cheaply.  I, on the other hand, have long used the esteemed Döner Kebap as a marker of relative food cost between different cities.  For example, when I was a student in Berlin, I think a kebap cost about €2.10, which was under US$2 at the time – both the exchange rate and the cost relative to other cities made it a quite excellent place to be a student.  Austria, if I recall, was only a bit pricier at around €3 (and infinitely more delicious, so much so that I wrote an article about Graz kebaps from memory on my old blog).

So I’m super glad I wasn’t a student in Switzerland, because the crash of the dollar has left the 8 franc döner almost absurdly expensive for what it’s worth.  And they don’t even cut you fresh meat here, preferring to let it marinate/dry out in some sort of steam table.  It’s just nasty!  (Don’t even get me started on the bread…)

However, I am easily seduced by quality even at those prices, and that’s why I’m so happy to have found Libanon il-Achdar on Hafnerstrasse.  Instead of the usual generic döner mystery substance, these guys have substituted a nearly unparalleled range of meats: rosto, a kind of roast beef; kafta, herbed ground beef; sujuk, the Lebanese lamb sausage similar to merguez; and several kinds of chicken: one that’s mixed with veggies, one that’s not, and one that actually gets cut off a proper spit right into your pita bread – that’s right, boys and girls, an actual schawarma!

The delight doesn’t stop with meat selection.  Unless you get the chicken-on-a-spit, your meat will need to be thrown on the grill.  So, while that’s happening, you will be asked to pick your secondary ingredients.  I suppose you could be picky, but I have always entrusted the counter staff to put on “alles,” and I have not been disappointed.  You’ll always get pickles, cabbage, onions, and, to my great delight, french fries – your lubrication (ie the spread applied to the pita) will change depending on the meat (with the lamb it usually seems to be mayonnaise, but I think when I ordered beef, they used hummus or babaganouj).

While the lamb is advertised as spicy, it’s not terribly hot.  If you want a bit more heat, ask for it – while there isn’t any particularly unique hot sauce to try, the Sriracha hot sauce sauce goes surprisingly well into the mix with almost any meat, and may remind you of banh mi gone by (if only we had some Vietnamese sandwiches here).

I would gladly pay 8 francs for one of the many variations of this delicious sandwich.  However, you don’t have to.  The price for any meat sandwich at Libanon il-Achdar is CHF7.  CHF7!!!! now CHF8 (but still). Oh, happy day.

So next time you are pondering waiting in line for a crappy kebap with the snotty Swiss teenage boys on lunch break, steer yourself instead to Libanon il-Achdar.  There will probably be a line there, too, but you can be assured that the wait is actually worth it.

Libanon il-Achdar
Hafnerstrasse 13
8005 Zürich

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Nimmi saves me from food doldrums.

This post originally appeared on the abortive KREIS5.NET blog.

I am quite fond of Nimmi, one of several Sri Lankan restaurants on Josefstrasse. But let me back up a bit. For a year after arriving from NYC to Switzerland, I was living in the burbs. Not only did I not have any cheap ethnic food nearby, I really more or less had no food nearby – I was at the top of a hill and, while I doubt I’ll ever have a more magnificent lake/mountain view, I planned two separate vacations around going back to the city just to eat things with any amount of spice in them.

While the opening of the Thalwil Thai restaurant was an important bridge, it’s not really cheap, per se. That’s why I was so happy when I discovered Nimmi, which IS cheap by Swiss standards, and served as the harbinger of restaurants to be discovered once I moved to Zürich.

Actually I went to Nimmi for the first time on the day I viewed my current apartment, dragging two visiting friends through the neighborhood while I had my internal debate about whether to take the place. Nimmi looked appealing not just because it was different, but because it looked like the kind of places I used to eat in New York – the timeless hole in the wall, though Nimmi is perhaps cleaner than the average NYC joint.

Aside from my own personal reasons, I am fond of Nimmi because the food is commendable. CHF12.50 will buy you Kottu Rotti, which is cut up roti bread mixed and pan fried with the curried meat of your choice (lamb’s a good bet), onions, and chilies (I don’t know if that’s a comprehensive list of ingredients but it gives you the idea). You can put some other goofy starches in there, too, if you are feeling carb-deprived.

In a similar price range, the Masala Dosa is an excellent iteration of the traditional Indian/Sri Lankan stuffed pancake. It doesn’t take the tubular form of the previous Dosas I’d had (specifically Newark Avenue in Jersey City, New Jersey), but makes up for the lack of presentation with roughly twice the spiced potato filling in a folded-over omelet kind of format. It often comes with homemade (and red!) coconut chutney, which is to die for.

There’s plenty else on the menu – for instance, a case full of pre-prepared curries that can be nuked in a variety plate that’s actually pretty good, and I spotted some string hoppers the other day, which is a Sri Lankan specialty I last had on Staten Island. But I keep coming back for the Dosa.

Again, I love Nimmi, so let me couch this next sentence in kindness: the proprietor’s sense of hospitality extends to serving you a dessert that I think is pretty wretched. It consists of generally good, ripe sliced melon and/or pineapple, but drenched in some kind of strawberry syrup that probably would appeal to kids as an ice cream topping. I mean, it’s SWEET. And it comes out before you can even decline.

So, I’ve taken to trying their other desserts as a means of avoiding the dreaded syrup. But even that strategy was foiled last time. Upon hearing they were out of everything but a spherical fritter they called a banana ball, I blanched a bit, but was actually pleasantly surprised to find no fried bananas were contained within. Instead it was a quite dense cake that was neither too banana-y nor too sweet.

How were my machinations stymied, then, you ask?
As I watched in (concealed) horror, they scooped some fruit on top and squirted a long dollop of the strawberry syrup on top…foiled again.

Josefstrasse 137
8005 Zürich

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Sausage stars.

Not many culinary bargains to be found in Zürich, I’m sad to say, but one that I’ve recently been introduced to would be a bargain in any hamlet across the globe. The Sternen Grill is a cross between a free-standing cart and a lunch counter, and serves the finest bratwurst I’ve yet encountered in this country.

Located in the alleyway called “Freieckgasse” just across the street from the Bellevue tram stop (over the bridge from Bürkliplatz), Sternen’s featured items are a pair of sausages, of which one is a St. Galler bratwurst made with veal. At most joints, this is my least favorite sausage because of its overall blandness, but Sternen must have a good source for these things, because they certainly don’t lack for flavor, and they have a fantastic “melt in your mouth” texture.

Six francs fifty (about five and a quarter US dollars) will also get you a piece of chewy, crusty bread and a plastic tub with just the right amount of sinus-attacking mustard. I think the bread and mustard would probably be worth going back for alone, in fact – that they come with such an exceptional sausage makes this the bargain to beat. The beer is kind of spendy (five francs for a can of Calanda), but there’s a beer garden right across the river, so eat your wurst and go soak up the atmosphere and suds there afterwards. Viva!


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Zum wohl!

Dear readers,
The astute among you have noticed my lack of posts, and some of you have surely wondered if I perished during a food excursion somewhere. I haven’t, but I -have- moved to Switzerland. This being a rather expensive nation in which to dine out, the blog (which has always concentrated on NYC things, with the occasional travel piece, anyway) no longer is really maintainable.

I will give you, in parting, a few tips from my last few weeks in NYC and one from my first few in the vicinity of Zürich:

1. Get to Momofuku Sääm bar for their late night menu. I know it’s a splurge; just do it. I’ve probably never had an evening with so many new and unique flavors, textures, and categories of food, and it was all exceedingly delicious. Order one of everything with a few friends.

2. Also slightly more expensive than average (but totally reasonable for the category) is the first Mexican place in NYC that can compete with the Red Iguana et al in more than just the taco category. Ironically named Taqueria y Fonda, I had some kind of special (chicken enchiladas? note taking has never been a forte) involving the nogada sauce (cream and nuts with fruit). It was really damn good. They also have moles and pipian on the menu, which I would check out if I were you.

3. The last place I crossed off the list before I left was Upi Jaya. I didn’t think it was particularly great, but it could have been the excruciatingly bad teen television I was forced to sit through as the surly offspring of one of the staff members tried hard to forget their own teenage miseries for a moment. Should have gotten it to go.

Z. My favorite sector of Zürich so far is the Langstrasse south of the train tracks (sounds vague, but look at a map of the city if in doubt), where ethnic groceries and restaurants co-mingle with porn palaces, pseudo-casinos, and record shops. It’s like a little slice of the EV sans pretension (or, at least, sans NYC-pretension). On the Zwinglistrasse, which intersects Langstrasse a block or two south of the tracks, there is my favorite Thai grocery (Sala Thai – they make their own curry paste) and the restaurant that blew my head off, Keo Inn. Order the pork salad Thai hot and prepare to die.

Finally, if I can brag (and also explain why I haven’t gone through withdrawal), I’d like to share my dinner schedule for my last few weeks in NYC. This (with a few exceptions marked *) approximates something like a list of my top favorite restaurants in the whole city – those I wasn’t going to hightail it without sampling one last time. There are notable omissions, of course (off the top of my head, Corner Bistro, for instance) but the list is a pretty fair one.

11/27: dinner at Cheburechnaya
11/28: dinner at Spicy Mina
11/30: lunch at Snack Taverna*, dinner at Cafe Kashkar
12/1: dinner at Super Taste
12/2: lunch at Defonte’s heroes, dinner at Château Blanc*
12/3: lunch at Taqueria de Guerreros, dinner at White Mana (JC, NJ)
12/5: dinner at Upi Jaya*
12/6: lunch at Rare*, dinner at “A”*
12/9: dinner at Schnack
12/10: lunch at Nicky’s (Atlantic Ave.), dinner at Bedouin Tent
12/11: dinner at Spicy & Tasty
12/13: dinner at Taqueria y Fonda
12/14: lunch at Alidoro, dinner at Momofuku Sääm bar
12/15: lunch at Shopsins…the last meal before leaving.

Best to all, and take advantage of your cheap ethnic eats resources while you can – you never know when you’ll end up in a country where everything is calculatedly and perfectly bland.

-Mike King


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