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The warmth of Old World Europe in Vail

Nicole Frey
AE Swiss Chalet1 SM 7-31-06
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VAIL – In the hot bustle of a Sunday farmers’ market in Vail, Helga Mayr took a few minutes away from selling fresh strudel and pastries to reminisce about Old World Europe – the food, the sights and most of all, the hospitality. “I think about the olden days in Europe, where people who were tired or traveling could come into a restaurant and feel welcome and warm,” said Mayr, the manager of the recently reopened Swiss Chalet. “And that’s what we’re offering, a friendly, European-oriented product.”After more than two years, the Swiss Chalet restaurant has reopened its door. The door itself is the same antique salvaged from the old Austria Haus hotel in Vail Village, but the restaurant boasts a new location at Meadow Drive and Vail Road in the new wing of the Sonnenalp Resort. “This is much better,” Mayr said. “We’re more visible. It’s a great location, and it’s a beautiful restaurant. I’m extremely happy.”Finding a homeThe Swiss Chalet, which specializes in European cuisine, was closed after the Swiss Haus hotel, in which the restaurant was housed, was sold and demolished to build One Willow Bridge Road.

“The Faessler family was always playing with reopening,” Mayr said of the building’s owner. “They weren’t sure when or where, but as soon as they decided to build this, they knew they had a place.”Look for the wide, red awnings with the trademark, white Swiss cross and you’re home. But that warm, fuzzy feeling will only take you so far. The food must entice as well. Local meets foreignThe Swiss Chalet takes from the local and borrows from the foreign with both its food and staff. Chefs buy local fruits and vegetables, but get authentic European cheeses imported. And a mix of European and American staff rounds out the mix. With entrée names like “Zuricher Geschnetzeltes,” it comes in handy to have German and Austrian waiters who know to pronounce the tongue twister and who can help the Anglophones along. In their element in the United States, the Americans never have to wait long to return the favor. “I’ve learned a lot about Austrian wines since I started working here,” said Didi Doolittle from Sioux Falls, SD. She expertly recommended a flawless Austrian sauvignon blanc to accompany appetizers of escargot and cheese fondue.

The foodArriving in mushroom cups, six vineyard escargot bathed in brandy garlic butter under crisp onion strings, topped with puff pastry. The rich blend of cheeses in the fondue is punctuated by the Kirschwasser, a Swiss firewater. The Raclette is a crowd pleaser, with diners grilling their own meats, veggies and cheese, but the chefs love to shine creating entrees like Pfeffer Steak and Sautierte Huhnerbrust, prosciutto wrapped free-range chicken breast served over linguini in an herb beurre blanc. The Wiener Schnitzel is an excellent choice for picky young eaters who gobble up the lightly breaded milk-fed veal. Adults can dress up the dish by adding some lemon, lingonberries and parsley potatoes. The Swiss Chalet prides itself in doing everything ‘a la minute,’ meaning no pre-prepared food, everything is made fresh when you order it. It’s fresh and delicious, but leave your diet at home. The Swiss Chalet is pure indulgence. Hot endingsGet a little saucy with dessert and order a Heisse Liebe or Hot Love, vanilla ice cream covered with warm brandy-infused raspberries.

Yeah, the chocolate fondue and apple strudel are delectable old favorites, but Mayr is touting a new sweet treat at the Swiss Chalet – the Frische Palatschinken, fresh crepes with either apricot jam or chocolate sauce. Invoke the Italian part of Switzerland with an espresso with a shot of grappa. If you’ve indulged a little too much or you’re just looking for a nightcap, try a shot of Obsler, an Austrian schnapps with hints of pear and apple, said to aid digestion, according to Yoon Chough at the Swiss Chalet. The Obsler’s high alcohol content makes it unlike sweet American schnapps. Past, present and futureLike the food and the hospitality, the Swiss Chalet’s interior borrows from the old and the new. The cozy chairs and tables were brought from the old restaurant, as were the signature Swiss cross light fixtures and European art. Though the restaurant seats as many as its former self, a bigger room, higher ceilings and lighter wood give the new Swiss Chalet a more spacious feel. The decor has even native Swiss and Germans praising the authenticity of the restaurant.

Patrons may remember the pungent smell of cheese in the old Swiss Chalet, but the new version of the Chalet also has a beefed-up ventilation system. “We’ve been here for so long, for over 20 years,” Mayr said. “It was always part of the community, and we’d like to continue serving the community, the town of Vail and the travelers.”Spend time on the terraceThe Swiss Chalet will open its terrace in mid-August, serving a bar menu including European pastries and Viennese iced coffee. The terrace will be open from 3:30-5:30 p.m. Don’t forget to callThe Swiss Chalet is open 5:45-10 p.m. each night. To make a reservation, call the Swiss Chalet at 479-5462 or go through the Sonnenalp Resort concierge at 479-5429. Reservations are highly recommended.

It’s all in the breadOften the first glimpse of the meal to come, the breadbasket is an important introduction, and the Swiss Chalet aims to impress with four types of bread baked by its in-house Austrian baker. Start dinner with slices of hazelnut and seven-grain bread and white and wheat baguette rolls. Pastries are also homemade. Staff Writer Nicole Frey can be reached at 748-2927 or nfrey@vaildaily.com. Vail, Colorado


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