In Switzerland for the summer and a once-in-a-decade opportunity came our way. My sister-in-law took my 20-month old for an overnight stay on June 19, giving my husband and I the opportunity to enjoy a leisurely dinner and late-night drinks on the town. My husband made a reservation at a place called Mesa – he heard it was good. When we told friends and family about our plans, we were met with such “oohs” that our expectations of a great meal inched upwards. I took these verbal cues to mean that I would surely have heard about Mesa if we lived here.
We arrived early for our 8 pm reservation but no worries, your table here is reserved for the evening and we were promptly seated. Our expectations tipped further upwards when we noticed that the female diners’ purses were elevated on little customized stools, protecting these modern day status symbols from the gleaming floors.
Chef de Service, Danny Neynaber, guideded us through the menu, in English or German. Prix fixe, your choice is for the number of courses. Select 5, 6 or 7 (the entire menu) but keep in mind that Chef de Cuisine, Marcus Lindner, offers an amuse bouche to start and an intermezzo after Course 2. There is no wine pairing offered with the menu but the Wine Card does offer enough half bottles and by the glass options to make a wine pairing possible with each course.
We had informed Neynaber of my food intolerances via email prior to our arrival. Tableside, he asked which one of us could not eat eggs, dairy and wheat. I was thrilled that the Chef de Service had memorized my special needs. Even better, he sent over gluten-free bread for me! I did not need to again ask if it was safe to eat my dish. Each server confirmed the ingredients when presenting each plate. Truly, a delight of service.
Au courant Chefs such as Lindner bring together seemingly disparate flavors to a flavorful whole. It is your role as diner to deconstruct the flavors into their singular pieces, marvel at the work of the kitchen and enjoy the ride. At Mesa, expect the ride to take upwards of four hours.
Lindner explains his cooking style as “light and digestible” with Catalán accents. If by Catalán, Lindner means the molecular gastronomy of famed Catalán Chef Ferrán Adriá and beautifully designed and plated food, then yes, Catalán accents. Light and digestible for an Austrian Chef in Switzerland means “no shortage of protein.” Meat and fish take center stage but vegetables are treated with respect and provide a rich color palate for the hero.
Lindner has many years experience in Switzerland and his work demonstrates comfort with the seasonal and local fruits, vegetables and grains of the area. Such country staples as early summer rhubarb and late spring white asparagus are transformed into sculpted accent pieces that provide layers of texture and flavor to a dish of Zurichsee fish and foie gras. A dish of King pigeon and eel, humble creatures of earth and sky seen on New Year’s Eve menus in Austria, is modernized with Asian spices and stylized haricort vert and broccoli.
Some dishes amazed while others were “only” very good. My favorite dish of the evening was a dish I did not order, the intermezzo. Made of three stacked bite-size morsels – lamb and whirled carrot puree with a whipped potato base, tuna tartare with white radish and charcoal emulsion and coconut-curry soup with foam, redolent of coriander and clove – each thumb-sized drop was a world of experience and flavor that excited the palate but left you ready for the next morsel. My husband loved the beef carpaccio and langoustine dish so much, it was the only dish he photographed (see top).
By Course 5, both my husband and I experienced palate fatigue. Three hours and four courses + two bonus dishes of meat/fish left us sated and happy and ready to call it quits. But here comes the baby beef. A beautiful meal to this point, the beef with peaches and risotto arrived over-cooked and lacking in artistry and soul. The dish looked like the kitchen had placed each component on the plate and then sent it out without another glance. I ate two bites and decided to leave the rest.
What a flurry of attention this uneaten dish caused. Literally the entire staff questioned me about it, including Lindner. Luckily, Stefan was able to express my feelings more succinctly in German than I was as Lindner did not offer to speak English. After an ornate meal prepared with my every unique need met, I was sad to leave the beef uneaten but delighted the Chef took a personal interest in me as a result.
All evening long, the commitment of the staff to ensure a special dining experience did not waver. Service was professional and friendly but not overly intrusive. Translations were provided when asked for and Neyneber even asked us to translate a few unknown ingredients. Fresh napkins arrived after a bathroom visit and a “purse stool” is brought if needed. You will even be shown to the bathroom and offered an available room. The only thing missing from our evening? A view. The dining room is warm and inviting but a view would have made this memorable meal more special.
Lindner earned his first Michelin star in 2004 at a restaurant in nearby Küsnacht at the Hotel Ermitage. At Mesa, he kept his star. His commitment to excellence does not waver at Mesa.
Daniel Patterson, if you are ever in Zurich, this is the sister restaurant to Coi. While I have never seen Patterson in the dining room (is this a European Chef characteristic?), the dining experience and restaurant style of Coi are similar to Mesa. Perhaps the flavors at Mesa are a smidge more European while at Coi they are a bit more experimental/Californian but I would consider these two fine dining establishments and their Chefs de Cuisine to both offer seasonal yet complex and modern food in a warm and friendly setting.