Gilded St. Moritz is well known for its 5-star hotels, each with its own spectacular restaurants. Thirty-two of the restaurants in the town and the surrounding Engadin valley have earned a combined 466 Gault Millau points; and 6 restaurants have earned a total of 8 Michelin stars.
But it is also possible to eat well in this resort town without melting your credit cards. We asked our hosts for the weekend, the Engadin St. Moritz Tourism office, to suggest a few good, reasonably priced restaurants around town for a quick getaway.
Friday night, we dropped our bags at Hotel Waldhaus am See, then strolled over to the popular wine bar which is owned not by the opera singer, but by Signore Deny Mainente, a charming gentleman who looks very much like Luciano – or rather like the singer wishes he looked. But, he admits, "I no sing very good."
Meet Pavarotti & Friends
Pavarotti & Friends is the perfect way to welcome yourself to St. Moritz. It is as if you were invited to a private party in a candle-lit wine cellar. Hundreds of bottles are stacked on the walls and in cases around the bar. We loved being served a plate of chunky parmesan from the enormous bowl sitting on a wine barrel.
Besides cold plates of meats and cheeses, Deny’s wife prepares a few pasta dishes, simple but delicious – and reasonably priced (especially for St. Moritz) at around CHF 17. We enjoyed the gnocchi mixed with ricotta – fluffy white mounds the size of golf balls drizzled with hazelnut butter served with crushed fresh tomato.
You might spend a little more on wine here, as you should in such an interesting wine bar! Our delicious bottle of Il Pino, a Tuscan blend (Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot), recommended by our waitress, was CHF 89.
The recorded music ranged from Cyndi Lauper and Italian pop tunes to Andrea Bocelli. But it was the hum of voices that really set the tone. With its long tables and convivial atmosphere, Pavarotti's is a good place to make new friends.
We shared our table and our wine with three guys from Nuremburg, Germany, all of whom spoke good English. Two of them were cardiologists, so of course we discussed health issues, returning several times to the topic of how healthy red wine is for the heart.
We left feeling very healthy, indeed.
Mezdi Restaurant in St. Moritz
The next day, we had planned to take a chairlift up the mountain to have lunch at El Paradiso, which has a terrace with a stunning view of the Engadin Valley. But an incorrigible fog up there convinced us otherwise.
No regrets, because Mezdi Restaurant, right in St. Moritz, boasts a gorgeous view of the lake, mountains and town, and a menu that includes local specialties.
Owner Nedjo Pavlovic, originally from Montenegro, has designed his restaurant with sleek modern furnishings, vintage alpine photos, and an enormous, eye-grabbing contemporary painting by local artist Bruno Ritter. The décor, the panoramic views from both inside the restaurant and from the large, airy terrace, and the menu, have made Mezdi a favorite with the lunchtime business crowd.
We began with a cantonal specialty, Engadine barley soup with white beans, tiny pieces of carrot, chives and smoked bacon – the very definition of soul-warming comfort food. "It’s the kind of soup your mother gives you when you’re sick, and then you’re reconciled with civilization," said my poetic wife.
Then, two pasta dishes, also with local connections: The saffron tagliatelle with mushrooms and Canton Graübunden air-dried raw sausage was beautiful to look at and full of blended flavors. (Was there a drop of truffle oil in there, too?) Our other dish – a grainy-textured barley tagliatelle with greens and three Italian cheeses (casera, manocca, parmesan) – was as buttery as you would hope.
We asked for a regional wine, and Mr. Pavlovic recommended a 2007 Sfursat di Valtellina nebbiolo – fruity, but showing early maturity in its rust-red color and tannin bite. Engadin locals consider Valtellina, just south across the Italian border, part of the region.
In winter from Mezdi Restaurant, you can observe snow polo and horse races on the frozen lake below. We cannot wait to come back when windsurfers are skipping across the blue waters.
Our last night in St. Moritz, we had dinner at the traditional Veltinerkeller, a Swiss restaurant complete with wood panel walls and carved wood ceilings. It is located in the small, family-owned Veltinerkeller Hotel.
The restaurant was cozy and warm – and lively! Both floors were packed with talkative guests, their forks and knives clicking on their plates like punctuation marks. It was perfect for a snowy spring evening, or any evening when you are in the mood for the restaurant's specialty grilled meats.
I chose the lamb chops – pink, juicy, salty – with fresh steamed endive, spinach, broccoli, carrots and cauliflower. My renegade wife chose a shrimp salad. The menu also has lots of pasta choices. Unable to resist, I ordered a half bottle of 2008 Amarone, though Veltinerkeller also has wines from nearby Valtellina.
Our waiter floated from table to table, switching back and forth between Swiss German and English. He no doubt also speaks Romansh, the old Roman tongue spoken only here in Canton Graübunden.
While in St. Moritz, we heard lots of Italian, too, reminding us how close we were to the border. Strolling the streets while fantasy-window-shopping, we heard Italians – as well as Germans, French, Swiss and Russians – murmuring their desire for the beautiful products in the designer boutique windows.
A Final Toast
We stayed at the Hotel Waldhaus am See, which is perched right above the lakeshore and offering stunning views. But some guests will prefer to look inward to the hotel's small yet large whisky bar – small in square meters, but home to the world's largest collection of whiskys, says the Guinness Book of World Records.
The walls are lined with some 2500 different kinds of whisky.
The most expensive dram on the many-paged menu is an 1878 Macallan (SP) for CHF 9999 per 2 dl shot. Except you have to buy the whole bottle. That would cost "about the same as a Ferrari," says Wolfgang Stöckl, one of the bar's whisky experts. Herr Stökli also serves a Ballantine's scotch for CHF 5.
Almost all of the whiskys are "scotch", even though some are made in Japan and other regions far from the land of the Picts. What about bourbon? Or rye? "We have 50 or 60 bottles of bourbon, but the best whisky in the world is scotch," says Herr Stökli with the confidence of a connoisseur scientist.
You can debate this with him the next time you're in town. And while you're there, ask him his favorite little restaurant in St. Moritz. And let us know what he says.