Monday, November 13, 2006
This Week's Restaurant Review: The Matterhorn in SF
I have not been to Switzerland or even Europe, for that matter. The closest I’ve come to seeing the real Matterhorn was at Disneyland, but when I was about 10 someone told me it wasn’t a real mountain and I was quite upset. Much later in life, I also found out that Mickey Mouse wasn’t real, either. But, back to the point -- there’s a restaurant in San Francisco called The Matterhorn, and for those who can’t afford to go to Switzerland or Disneyland, this is surely the next best thing. The Matterhorn is essentially a fondue place. The atmosphere is kind of like a Swiss chalet with yuppies in it. It’s Zurich meets Pacific Heights. Toboggans morphed with BMW’s. When I initially walked into the place, I fully expected the little Swiss Miss gal to walk around the corner at any moment and lay some nice hot chocolate on us, but it never transpired. The Matterhorn is located deep in the bowels of a commercial office building, but once you get inside, it’s a whole lot of fun. I love unusual food in a different setting. I am so tired of the tired old Italian places with checkered tablecloths and bottles of empty Chianti with candles in them. I can’t stand all of the chain eateries in malls that look exactly alike no matter what part of the country you’re in – places line Chevy’s or P.F. Chang’s or The Cheesecake Factory. The Matterhorn feels unique and homey – not formulaic or contrived – and that means a lot, at least to me. The basic faire consists of two main offerings – cheese fondue or meat fondue. The cheese fondue ($34 for two people) contains roughly a half dozen selections. “The Original” which is a mixture of emmenthal and gruyere cheeses with wine, is apparently the Matterhorn’s signature cheese fondue. You can also get fondues featuring French raclette or camembert cheeses. The cheese fondues are hot but won’t burn your mouth. They give you chunks of bread to dip into the fondue pot, but you can also get things like potatoes, apples, mushrooms and sausages to dip. We had the taters and the sausages, and they both tasted excellent when submerged in the fondue. The other main choice is the meat fondue ($43 for two). Instead of a pot of melted cheese, you use a pot of boiling oil with the meat fondue. You dip thinly sliced beef or veggies in the pot and they take about 15-30 seconds to cook to perfection. It’s fun to cook your own food at the table. In addition to the dipping items, you also get a variety of sauces and sides. You can also order additional items to dip, like fruit, more veggies, prawns, scallops, chicken or pork. If you’re not up for the fondue festival, The Matterhorn also has a regular menu of Swiss favorites. We didn’t try any when I was there, although the Pork Tenderloin with a Bacon and Onion Crust looked tasty. When you’re done with the main course, the chocolate fondue looks pretty amazing, but we were too full to try it. It will be a mandatory selection next time, no doubt. The only bad things I can say about this place are that they charge $20 for corkage, which is highway robbery. When restaurants pull that stunt, it’s like they’re saying, “Buy our wine or just whine.” Ridiculous! How much time and effort does it take to open a bottle of wine? I feel like saying, “Hey, hand me the corkscrew and I’ll give you five bucks!” In addition, our waiter didn’t re-fill our water glasses without being asked. I hate that because I drink water like Dean Martin drank scotch – copiously! Thirdly, the maitre d looked like he was at the end of either a 12-hour shift or a 2-day bender. To say he was gruff is an enormous understatement. Fondue is more fun with a big group of people, so I would recommend The Matterhorn for when you want to go out with a bunch of friends and get a little wild. Don’t’ forget that there’s a flaming cauldron on your table, though, or you’ll burn a whole lot more than just your mustache. (Which I did) Also, if you’re in a large group of diners, be sure to use the color-coded fondue sticks, because otherwise you might accidentally use your neighbor’s stick and pick up whatever strange, incurable disease they’re carrying. (A free health message from Ed) The Matterhorn is located at 2322 Van Ness Avenue in SF. Call them at: (415) 885-6116 for reservations. I give this place three loud yodels and one resounding cheesy belch.