Looking Ahead

Soon after our return from Switzerland, where a little over a week was spent eating a lot of meat and cheese, it was time again for the Second Mushroom Festival of Autumn.

This one involved two pounds of fresh porcini and a pound of fresh matsutake. These delicious fungi arrived, of course, from Oregon, and have provided the base for five dinners, none of which involved meat, poultry, or fish.  (OK, fine , chicken stock from kosher backs; and no salt added because the brine is extremely salty.)

We’re talking soups, tempura, baked in phyllo, tossed with linguine, etc.

The days are warm, and the nights are cool.  The skies are white, heralding winter.  Fires blaze with little effort to ignite as the wood is dry after two seasons of near drought.

Sunday in CH

Overcast and seemingly sleepy, Basel on a bleak looking Sunday morning is a contrast to Luzern yesterday where it was all hubbub due it being market day.

It was less than 24 hours in Luzern, which was unfortunate, since I really love it there, love being there, so many memories of being a child on a visit and an adult working nearby on a farm and a father starting out with a family.  To say nothing of the exquisite lake and mountains.

I was there briefly to write about the market, especially the cheeses, and most especially Rolf Beeler.  He was there by the juncture of river and lake, and although his enterprise is global and haute, he enjoys coming on Saturday morning and chatting with customers and weighing cheeses.  We met nineteen years ago and have remained friends.


Slightly North

You might think that the short, relatively speaking, distance between Vals and Luzern would mean a train ride of about two hours, but the high mountains get in between.  So we took the bus down to Ilanz on a narrow, snaking road above a gorge, through old Romansch villages, and then a train to Chur, heading north along the border, more or less, nearly reaching Zurich, until changing trains and heading south again.

From there, the 45 minute train ride to Luzern took us through Root where I’d worked on a farm long, long ago.  I recognized the stables and fields and farmhouse as we whisked by them.  Alongside them now were many housing developments and companies selling all sorts of things from cars to what looked to be cement.

Herr Bucheli, the farmer I had worked for, owned a lot of the land and sold it over the years, and now Root is more or less a suburb of Luzern.

From the station to the hotel, it was a short walk along the lake.  It was my third stay at the Palace, and it has only gotten more beautiful since the renovations.

Galliker.  At last!  I had reserved a table from the States nearly a month ago.  It’s on the other side of the Reuess river, in the modern part of town, which is ironic given that it is a many centuries old Stube or pub, family owned for about two hundred years.  When I’ve been to Luzern before, it’s been closed, and I’ve always wanted to go.

A crowded, low ceiling room, one of two, with tables of laughing Swiss, speaking loudly, and a staff of older women dressed casually as if they are at home.  A cold small beer, eine Stange, to start, and then delicious soup, a puff pastry holding fresh porcini, and a flat piece of veal schnitzel.  Good Pinot Noir from Graubunden.  Perfect, just perfect.

Bis bald, Vals…

They said it would rain or snow yesterday, they said that it would be cold.  In fact, it’s been sunny and with temperatures in the 40’s and 50’s F, we’re talking ideal hiking weather amidst flocks of goats, flocks of sheep, and herds of milk cows.  Classic them vs. us re weather.

Behind the town square in Vals, up a steep lane, and then into pastures.  The church bells ring, on the quarter hour, and more bells at the top, and few people and then no people for several hours along a ridge and into a neighboring valley.

This is only my second visit to Vals, but I get it now more than the first visit.  That first visit may have been marred, eight years ago, by the recent death of my beloved dog and a hospitalization subsequent for gastric disorder.

This time around, it’s peaceful, I can hear the kloppers against the sides of bells suspended by leather around the necks of cows.

And then, too, these Zumthor-designed baths, which make one’s BP drop, it seems, and the solitude somehow of being immersed in these natural hot springs despite being surrounded by others.

The place is a marvel, in the truest sense, and it takes one out of oneself, kind of into a dreamy state, not quite soporific, but close, darn close.

Vals Redux

It’s been eight years since I was last in Vals, and that was summer.  We had rented a flat in the village, but up from the one square around which is a small hotel, a restaurant, and a church.  I have a friend who spends the Christmas holidays at the hotel.

This time around we’re at the 7132, attached to the thermal baths designed by Peter Zumthor, in an Ando-designed room.  There exists a collaboration between two Japanese architects and Zumthor–The aesthetic is about the space between, it seems to me, and Zumthor’s famous quote, one of many, “There is no thing, but the thing itself,” is apt in terms of his use of beautiful local stone and the power of silence implied by absence of objects.  It’s all rather ironic, and it works.

A short panoramic walk above the village today, after breakfast, capped by a stop in a tiny village above Vals where Zumthor designed several homes.  Last night it was dinner at “Red” and tonight I heard about a midnight swim.

Swiss Report

Between the apartment in NYC and efforts to help with the upcoming Congress in Japan, the wedding in western Connecticut, the napping dog or the jumping dog, between all these and more, much, much more, there is, of course, Switzerland.

After the four times a year trips to Asia, which involve 13-15 hours in the air to Narita, the six or so hours to Zurich seemed like a bus ride to Albany.  Bloody Mary, pasta, and Neighbors II, and I was out.  O-U-T, out.

We got to Braunwald earlier than anticipated.  It was crowded with kids on school break, dozens of them, all tiny and noisy and adorable, crying and shouting and singing, and at our hotel, a “family hotel,” the kids ran the joint: From strollers parked in the corridor to running up and down the dining room, to enjoying the petting zoo of llama and goats.

The next morning we met up with a friend and an associate and scouted.  Mid-day it was a long, wonderful train ride to Vals–back, again–to the Therme, designed by Peter Zumthor, to a room designed by Tadeo Ando.


Fall Bounty

It’s been that kind of week, I shouldn’t have to tell you that, you know.  You know exactly what I’m talking about, don’t pretend.  Don’t pretend you don’t know, because you do, of course you do.

After a surfeit of first rate meals, in this order–Il Buco Alimentari, Estela, Rubirosa, Gabriel Kreuther (bar), Second Avenue–we headed over to Eataly and scored fish, lots of fish, from halibut to sole, as well as killer vegetables, pasta at a buck a box (three per customer), and crazy good olive bread at $2.80.  Oh, and a couple of small amounts of stuffed pasta, like agnolotti al plin and little ravioli.

Night after night, I toiled over a hot stove.  Fish, fish, and more fish.

Tonight it’s Icelandic rib chops with fresh black truffles.  Eataly sells these truffles, and for $15, that’s right, $15, you get three meals for three people.  Whoa!

NYC Interlude

It’s brief, always brief, and we’re talking Alimentari il Buco, Estela, Rubirosa, Gabriel Kreuther (bar seating), and Second Avenue Deli.  I’d not been to Estela before, and it was wonderful, just wonderful: Small plates of deeply flavorful food, a great wine list that had bottles that weren’t pricey, a pleasant vibe, perfect lighting, and caring staff.  Ignacio Mattos, who was at Alimentari, is in charge here.  Can’t wait to go back.

While living on 79th cuts us off from downtown, the trains run regularly and as Bellow said when he was lonely, “riding the subway is like taking a human bath.”  What a great species to belong to!

Speaking of humans, “The Cherry Orchard,” looms big, and it’s been “reinvented” by the author of…”The Humans.”


Matsutake Matsuri

Well, we’re eking out one more night of the Matsuri Matsutake.  Two pounds arrived last week along with an ounce of Burgundy black truffles.  So for six nights, including tonight, we had vegetarian dinners based around the ‘shrooms and truffles.  Paired with pasta, potatoes, in soup, with cheese, wrapped in lettuce, etc.

Wow, just delicious.

The fungi came from Oregon.  For $115, we had six dinners for three of us.  Do the math.