The Swiss Resort Town Where Europe's Best Chefs Come to Cook (and Eat)
The rich culinary traditions of Engadine, Switzerland’s southeastern valley, are taken to new heights.
St. Moritz, that glitzy Swiss Alps resort town best known for its skiing, has been increasingly been attracting non-skiers in pursuit of what comes afterwards: The food and drink ritual of the après ski. Nestled in Engadine, Switzerland’s southeastern valley, the resort sits in a bowl of snow for the better part of the year, crowned by impossibly vertical peaks in 360 degrees.
A mere three hours to Milan by car—depending how fast you’re swerving around those mountain passes—the formerly Italian region boasts specialties that reflect this proximity. Pizzoccheri is one such dish: A hearty marriage of wheat noodles and potato chunks swimming in a fondue-like sauce, spiced with nutmeg and sage. It sounds gratuitous perhaps, but after a long day on the slopes—or tending to cows in the middle of a long winter, in this historic dairy farming region—it is just right.
It usually features a hard mountain cheese like gruyère or emmental. As mountain passes were closed off in wintertime in centuries past, the region was forced to rely on its non-perishable stores of aged cheeses and herbs, which have come to dominate its signature cuisine. Hence the popularity of raclette.
You can try pizzoccheri at Le Pavilion, the indoor/outdoor restaurant at Grand Hotel Kronenhof. It’s an almost two centuries-old hotel located in Pontresina, a mere five miles from St. Moritz. Featuring sheepskin seat covers and ski-red blankets, the outdoor patio is set among sky-high Val Roseg glaciers and snow capped peaks that circle the hotel’s natural ice rink. It is the very definition of gemütlich.
Here you can order the rostis that have become Switzerland’s culinary calling card, most notably accompanied by Zürcher geschnetzeltes. A phrase that literally translates to “sliced meat Zurich-style”—Zurich is a stunning four-hour train ride away, two hours by car—it features strips of veal and mushrooms in the most delicate of cream sauces, brightened with white wine and paprika. (You'll also see the dish sometimes accompanied by spätzle or potatoes instead of rosti.)
For a quarter century, the annual St. Moritz Gourmet Festival has celebrated these gastronomic traditions. This year, chefs Ana Roš and two Michelin-starred Dominique Crenn descended on the region to participate. Over a period of eight days in January, they were joined by a smattering of the world’s A-list culinary talent, including European Michelin-starred chefs Jacob Jan Boerma, Julien Royer and Tanja Grandits. At the series’ opening night at the Kulm Hotel—over 160 years old, it claims to sport the oldest bar in the Alps—caviar and Champagne were consumed in abundance.
Star-studded festivals aside, St. Moritz is a year-round culinary destination in its own right. At the Grand Hotel Kronenhof’s Grand Restaurant, the breakfast buffet is worth the stay alone. Amidst a Wes Anderson-esque dining room painted in pastel luxury, feast on a spread of the region’s best charcuterie. Don't be shy about taking a third helping of the plastic-wrapped mini liverwurst sausages, which are the meal’s unexpected highlight when spread on toast. (There are, of course, the requisite spreads of smoked trout and coddled eggs, salmon and capers.)
For dinner, you can expect homard à la presse: By its own admission, Grand Hotel Kronenhof’s Kronenstübli restaurant is the only one in the country to offer the specialty. Far less common than its fabled counterpart canard à la presse, the dish uses the same metal contraption common to both: A manual stainless steel press that compresses the juices and blood of a partially cooked lobster or duck. This liquid is then reduced and flambéed with cognac and butter—tableside, to great effect—to make one of the most concentrated and savory sauces you’ll ever taste.
While dishes like this exemplify Kronenhof’s old world grandeur, the nearby Kulm Hotel sports a more contemporary feel for the international see-and-be-seen. (Although it, too, is equally historic, at over 160 years old.) The Kulm also sports closer access to St. Moritz’s ski areas, of which Corviglia is one of three main ones. Even if you don’t ski, a cappuccino tastes better at 8,000 feet. (And the views can’t be beat.)
Lunch at Corvatsch Mountain’s Panorama Resort 3303 is a must. Per its titular promise, there are 360-degree views of the glaciers and lakes of the Upper Engadine, and you’re surrounded by mountains on all sides. At 3303 meters high (10,836 feet) the restaurant claims to be the highest anywhere between Zurich, Milan and Vienna.
It’s more than just a feast for the eyes, however. The truffle pizza is the true star: black truffles are generously shaved on a wafer-like pizza that’s translucently thin, melted with hard mountain cheeses. One could easily polish off three or four. Everything else pales in comparison, but is still very very good: Assorted appetizers of smoked salmon and mustard, salads and pickled accoutrements.
Round out the evening with a visit to one of the most exclusive dinner clubs in Switzerland—if you’re lucky enough to be visiting during the annual summer Festival da Jazz. That’s when the doors of The Dracula Club open to non-members. Inside, it’s likely different from anything you’ve pictured. It’s basically a restaurant and a bar, wood-paneled and dimly lit in an old world kind of way, and absolutely everything is Dracula themed. Borderline self-consciously kitsch and yet undeniably exclusive, it was started by European jetsetter Gunter Sachs, ex-husband of Bridget Bardot.
For this season’s winter visitors, dine at the K by Tim Raue. The two Michelin-starred German chef—seen on Season 3 of Netflix’s Chef’s Table—is bringing his talents to the Kulm Hotel for the 2017/2018 ski season, as part of the hotel’s annual chef-in-residence series. Next year, another chef will be featured.
If you miss Raue’s pop up, however, don’t fret. Grand Hotel Kronenhof’s Kronenstübli is one of the best places to possibly get a meal, and at over 160 years old, it isn’t going anywhere.