Author Paulo Coelho is a Geneva resident best known for his novel "The Alchemist". Also, he is a connoisseur of absinthe, the Green Fairy.
The legendary spirit was born in the Jura mountains of Neuchâtel. Today, there is no better place to enjoy local absinthes than in the bar of the Hotel Beau Rivage on the shores of Switzerland's largest lake. If you are ever in this Belle Epoque city, have your apéro drinks here. You might also have the chance to catch the hotel’s owner and manager, Thomas Maechler, for a delightful conversation.
If the food is half as good as what the bar promises, then the Beau Rivage is also an excellent place to dine. However, on my most recent trip to the Jura Trois Lacs Region, I had a reservation at La Maison du Prussien.
La Maison du Prussien is a restaurant with history
After drinks, my friends and I pack ourselves into a BMW i3 and we would drive to the restaurant for dinner. Imagine five grown men racing through Neuchâtel in an electric car… My first thought was that the restaurant is in a neighboring town - until the driver makes a turn and heads into a gorge. It is already dark and I am convinced that we are lost. But in the parking lot, a reserved spot is waiting for us.
In front of us stands a beautifully restored house surrounded by the remains of an 18th century brewery. The name of the restaurant - La Maison du Prussien - comes from the fact that Neuchâtel used to be a principality of the King of Prussia.
No doubt the King would drink the beer from the brewery on his visits to Neuchâtel, too. Today, the building located at the entrance to the Gor du Vauseyon gorge, like the canton has given up the Germanic influence for a modern and light French one.
Before we enter the Maison du Prussien, we tour the Hotel le Prussien and see their unique and beautiful rooms with fireplaces and old fish traps that were used to build coffee tables. The feeling is very romantic. It seems like an ideal hotel for a getaway to Neuchâtel - especially if you are traveling by car.
Meeting the visionary
Inside the restaurant, we are greeted by chef and owner Jean-Yves Drevet. He tells us that he has a special six-course tasting menu with an assortment of matching wines ready for us. Our first wine is a regional Chasselas: 2014 Saint Blaise, Saint Sébaste, Vieilles Vignes from J-P. Küntzer & fils. There are crackers and vegetable sponges artfully displayed on a stone. Our amuse-bouches quickly followed this: A trio of flavors including smoked trout with a slice of grapefruit that looked like salmon, a tartlet with local pata negra and a vegetable cappuccino with white chocolate.
Thomas Maechler has jokingly warned us that Jean-Yves Drevet was crazy, and now I know what he meant. These are unconventional flavor combinations brought into a perfect harmony. At first, they confuse before delighting the senses.
Our menu is an explosion of flavors
Sitting at our round table in the back of the restaurant, we notice that the place is quite empty. But after a mere thirty minutes, the restaurant fills with people. The primary topic of discussion around the tables (including ours) are watches and the watch industry.
As the conversation advances to watch marketing, our next wine is served: A 2014 Œil-de-perdrix. This style of dry rosé is an official AOC designation around Neuchâtel and was the inspiration behind American White Zinfandels, though most US producers make a much sweeter wine.
With a chilled glass of Œil-de-perdrix, we are served our second course. Another trio of flavors with duck breast on a raspberry sauce and decorated with bitter greens, a raspberry onion chutney and a lobster with lemon gelatin stack. It is an exquisite dish, and the lemon-raspberry flavors create a common thread across the courses.
Next comes a powerful, new world style Chardonnay: A 2012 “Les Nonnes” from Domaine Saint Sébaste. A dish of egg marshmallow on flavorful potato purée topped with a spoon of Swiss caviar follows. Not only does the dish look beautiful, so did the rose petal-like plate on which it is served. With each course, sight and taste are given equal attention. I am using my fork to break through the layers. This marriage of flavors is a symphony for the taste buds. And the rich Chardonnay neither overpowers the dish nor gets lost. It is a well-matched sparring partner.
A main course crescendo, but by far not the end of the symphony
The meat dish of this multi-course tasting menu is equally creative and delicious. It is the wine that surprises us when the waitress pours Jacques Tatasciore’s famous Pinot Noir from his Domaine de La Rochette in Cressier, south on Neuchâtel. Wines from this producer are tough to find. Even Thomas Maechler told me when I was in his hotel that he cannot get Tatasciore’s wines.
This shortage has to do with the small production that this economist turned winemaker releases. Not relying on wine sales for his income, he only releases the very best. Our dish is local stuffed chicken with a crispy skin, foie gras and ravioli alongside carrot purée and wine reduction sauce. The flavors exploded in my mouth as the delicate, silky Pinot dance with them on my tongue.
The cheese course is yet another experiment in creativity with an unconventional cheese fondue. A small caquelon with a light and airy cheese foam, a cheese cracker or the “Nun” representing the burnt cheese at the bottom of the pot at the end of a fondue and a bead of Kirschwasser.
This course is served with a crisp, sweet wine with nice acidic structure. Desert is a selection of freshly made fruit and flower sorbets on a cookie crumble base. Served with Mauler sparkling wine, it was the perfect close to a highly enjoyable meal.
(Photography credits Gsell Photography)
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