Friday, July 4, 2008

Yodeling for our food at the Swiss Hutte

On Thursday night my trusty girlfriends and I roadtripped up to the Berkshires. We managed to bypass most of the holiday weekend traffic, so we neared our destination in time for dinner. I called my parents, who had arrived earlier, to arrange a dinner meetup. Since I last visited the Berkshires, there are (apparently) several new restaurants in Great Barrington, the local town, so we decided to call one of those to get a reservation. To make a long story short, none of the new and almost none of the old places around had a 6-person reservation available, so we sucked it up and ended up at an old haunt, the Swiss Hutte.

So adorably New England

...Yet also so Swiss

The Swiss Hutte is located in the Catamount Ski Area just over the Massachusetts border in Hillsdale, NY. It's an adorable, quaint, New England-slash-Swiss-style restaurant, with a warren of rustic dining rooms and a gorgeous garden area in the back. We were led to a table near the windows and handed menus as we settled in. Each person got two menus-- a regular menu and a bar menu. As we hunkered down to the work of figuring out what to order, we started comparing dishes-- and soon realized that we all had different menus. As we traded menus around the table to try to see which ones were best, a waitress came over and tried to fix the situation. I distracted her by asking her what was in the Chef's Salad, and she rattled off the ingredients for the House Salad, saying it was topped with "Celery root, or, you know, cilantro." In one of my more dick moves, I couldn't help pointing out that celery root was in fact celeriac and not cilantro, and that I was actually curious about the what was in the chef's salad, not the house salad. Finally, she stammered, "I don't know, I'm not actually a waitress." Ooooookay. But she did say that she thought some of us had lunch menus, so she gathered up the lunch menus, brought someone else over, and had that person give us dinner menus. It ended up not really mattering, because most of the lunch dishes were on the bar menu anyway, and it was all pretty much the same stuff.

When the smoke cleared, we were left with these two menus

Our main waitress came over to recite the specials. And by recite I really mean recite-- I think there were about ten specials in total, each with a complex list of ingredients, and she made it all the way to the last dish without having to check her cheat sheet, which elicited a round of applause from us. Finally, menu fiasco behind us, we all placed our order, and the waitstaff receded into the distance.

Rolls, patterned butter, and...olives. Naturally.

Soon the bread basket arrived. It was a collection of white rolls with butter and a small dish of olives. I liked the olives-- nice touch, if a bit incongruous. The roll was soft but the crust held up-- it wasn't a crusty roll by any stretch of the imagination, but it also didn't descend into icky soft roll territory either. The butter, shaped into a ramekin and raked with a pattern on top, was very hard but good nonetheless. I ripped into a roll, being rather hungry, and was about four bites in when our appetizer course arrived.

Inside of a roll-- surprisingly good.

Most of the entrees at the Swiss Hutte come with house salads, so there were a few salads around the table. I had ordered a house salad with a side of veggies as my meal, and to my surprise the salad came out with the appetizers. No matter; that worked too. They put the dressing on the side, as requested. Overall this house salad was very, very standard, although the celeriac on top was yummy. I think celeriac is a severely underutilized vegetable, especially in salads.

Standard salad with dressing boat

We finished up our salads and the plates were cleared. So we talked. And talked. And....tallllkkkkeddddd. And soon we realized it had been about 45 minutes since our appetizers had come out, and we were all very hungry. We had just reached the point of asking the waitress where the food was ("it should be right out") when our entrees did, in fact, arrive.

S had ordered the pork chop, which came with a mound of frizzled onions on top. She thought it was cooked fairly well (although A, who took a taste, thought it was on the drier side). But she wished it had come with some sort of vegetable matter. It was literally just pork and onions.

Large slab of pork; fried onion blanket

A had ordered the pot au feu, a puff pastry with what amounted to chicken-pot-pie mixture inside. The plate came with the house vegetables around the edges. She liked the dish but remarked that the chicken was overcooked.

The chicken is wearing a hat

SL had ordered the duck, which was a huge piece of duck with some cherry compote on the side and some fresh fruit on top. She, too, thought the duck was overcooked, but at least it was a large portion.

Duck with vibrant fruit garnishes

Dad had ordered another kind of pork chop, and while he liked the vegetables on the side (especially the cabbage... more on that in a minute) and the accompanying roesti potatoes, he thought the pork itself was salty and overcooked.

Pork take II, with a bit of roestis and some cabbage in the back

Mom had ordered the salmon, which was a very small filet of salmon on top of some spinach. The spinach was really good and the salmon was cooked appropriately, but Mom remarked that the portion was truly tiny. It was as though the kitchen were running out of salmon and just tried cutting smaller portions to make it last. She said the portion size made her feel ripped off.

Tiny little salmon

I got the vegetable sampler (off-menu-- I just ordered the house veggies), which came with broccoli, carrots, and cabbage. This was very good-- the broccoli was tender but not limp, the carrots were sweet, and the cabbage had the signature sweet flavor of beets. There was a lot of butter in these veggies, so the plate was filling. I also had a small bit of roesti potatoes, a type of Swiss potato pancake, and they were delicious, as only deep-fried potatoes can be.

A trio of colorful veg

And... a grease bomb

All satiated, we had eaten until we could eat no more. Or at least most of us had. That left my mom and me to lead the dessert train, which we did. Another waitress came over and recited the desserts, another incredibly long list (PRINT MENUS!). Both my mom and I chose the cookie basket, mine with the standard vanilla ice cream, hers with chocolate.

The cookie basket came as an almond cookie shell with vanilla ice cream, berries, and whipped cream inside. On the side of the plate was a pool of berry and chocolate sauces swirled together. The cookie basket itself was nothing impressive-- it was really soft and pliable with a bland flavor and a lack of solid crunch. But the ice cream was delicious, and the sauces really added a lot of flavor. I wish there had been more berries, but the ones that were there were very fresh and tasty.

My vanilla cookie basket--and it comes with a long spoon! My favorite.

Chocolate cookie basket

Both cookie baskets disappeared as the rest of the diners nursed their food comas. Once dessert was done, we paid the sizeable bill and made our exit. Swiss Hutte is a place we've been to many times in the past, and I think its fatal flaw is that it's just not as good as our favorite Berkshires restaurant (where we'll be going next). It serves similar food-- roesti potatoes, weinerschnitzel, cookie cup desssert--and it's all just not as good. Today's service issues didn't help the Swiss Hutte cause too much, but I'm more than willing to chalk that up to it being a Berkshires and not an NYC restaurant. In the end, we had a great time, but for the prices the restaurant could certainly work on its game just a bit. So I'll give the Swiss Hutte a solid three Offset Spatulas for its atmosphere, the quality of some of the dishes, the good time we had, and the fact that we were happy because we were there on vacation.

Swiss Hutte
Route 23
Hillsdale, NY

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