Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Chocolate overdose

My trip to Lausanne, Switzerland this weekend can be categorized as only one thing: a chocoholic's dream. The weekend began however, with my other culinary craving: cheese. In the village of Gruyere, yes this is where the cheese bearing the name originated, I lunched on perfect Gruyere fondue with crusty bread. The cheese was flavorful, yet not overpowering, and perfectly melted. After the deliciously heavy lunch, I explored the town and its medieval castle, before heading to the Callier chocolate factory and tour. Sadly, we were too late to go on the tour that day so instead we bought nearly a dozen different chocolate bars from the adjoining shop in order to still get the chance to "sample" them all obviously! During the drive back to Lausanne, we tried the milk chocolate with nuts, milk chocolate with a praline filling, and Figaro Noir (their dark chocolate bar). My favorite was the chocolate with praline, although I can't complain about any. We also got a milk chocolate with caramel, a white with honey, milk with almonds, and a few Figaro bars, all of which I have yet to sample.

Saturday morning, we went to a market in the center of Lausanne. It was set near the top of the hill and high end shops surrounded the plaza which is filled twice weekly with rows of bread vendors, cheese stalls, meat trucks, fruit, and vegetables. With our limited French knowledge, we ordered and sampled three cheeses. We bought a mild soft cheese, sort of like a milder Brie, a medium cheese with an initially mild flavor and spicy after-bite, and a very blue blue. The spicy cheese was definitely the most delicious and unique of the three. To pair with the cheese, we got a yummy "pizza" tart, fresh sweet beets, a ham baguette, nut bread, and fig bread. The fig bread was a great companion to the mild cheese. To go with our market meal, we naturally sampled more of our chocolate from the factory shop.

After a bike ride to the next town along Lake Geneva we went for a walk through the vineyards and stopped into a very small village to taste one of the local wines before dinner. Saturday night's dinner was one of the most visually appealing meals I've ever had. We went to Auberge Communale le Mont-sur-Lausanne. Set in a picture-worthy village above Lausanne, the restaurant was in an unassuming building decorated in a way befitting the name. The name means "community public house" and the restaurant was decorated modestly with bookshelves overflowing with French cookbooks and had a very easy-going approachable feel. The food however, stands in a bit of contrast to the decor with elaborate and beautiful platings and presentation. We began the meal with a bottle of the local Pinot Gris: a light, dry, crisp wine perfect for a fall day. After ordering, we were served an amuse bouche of two types of toasts. The first was shmeared with a rich buttery spread and topped with a spoonful of pâté and a splash of oil. My first pâté was flavorful, rich, and smooth. The other toast was also covered in the butter but was topped with a quenelles of beef tartare which was fresh, light and had a great texture thanks to the capers. For my first course, I ordered a fish risotto. The dish was hardly a risotto but delicious nonetheless. It was made of black rice with a light sauce and topped with a generous filet of fresh white fish which was grilled and lightly seasoned, all of which wad served on a black slate slab. The seasoning in the fish brought out all of the dish's flavors. On the side, was a lettuce wrap with lettuce, cucumber, sprout, chive, and a lightl drizzle of a balsamic vinegar. The others at my table ordered a rich foie gras, scallops and ravioli. One of the ravioli fillings were biscuits which gave the ravioli an incredibly unique crunch and subtle sweetness. After our starter, we were all brought a mirabelle plum (a native variety) and meringue sorbet served in an adorable little jar. The sorbet was delicious and although it was a little sweet as a palate cleanser, I love sweets and it was awesome so I can't complain. For my main course, I had a rack of lamb served with honey infused au jus. The lamb was juicy, tender and full of flavor, particularly when topped with the subtly sweet au jus. If was really the perfect sauce by not overpowering the meat flavor but instead complementing it and working to bring out the lamb's own sweetness. The lamb was accompanied by a cooked fig stuffed with a sweet and crunchy mixture and a side dish of vegetables and potatoes. For dessert, I settled upon the creme brûlée. Served in a thin, long, custard dish nearly a foot long, it was unlike anything I'd seen before! It was ideally flambéed on top, and the custard itself was unusually runny which helped make the massive dish less rich--which is very good since I obviously wouldn't waste dessert. It was served with a yummy coffee ice cream. I also tried the chocolate lava cake which was moist and had a heavenly fudgy center that oozed onto the ice cream melting it all into a chocolate goodness.

The next day we drove around Lake Geneva, of course "sampling" more chocolate on the way, to the medieval village of Yvoire near Evian in France. It looked straight off a postcard (or out of Game of Thrones), in a Disneyland sort of way. The ground floors of the ancient stone buildings were converted into shops and ice cream vendors. For lunch, we went to the Restaurant des Pescheurs Yvorie for a local specialty, filet de pesche. The dish was served family style with a large green salad, crunchy golden pomme frites, and fried pieces of the fish, all served with a decadently tart lemon butter sauce. After lunch I got great Nutella ice cream before continuing our drive to Geneva where we walked around the waterfront and old city until it was time to fly back to London, chocolate in tow. It was a delicious and beautiful weekend made possible by my generous and gracious hosts, thank you!

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