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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, May 11, 2001

Dining Scene
Swiss Haus sticks to old-world dining success

By Matthew Gray
Advertiser Restaurant Critic

Head chef and owner Freddy Halmes, left, and chef Martin Wyss prepare the meals at Swiss Haus, which offers "substantial, stick-to-your-ribs" dinners.

Swiss Haus
5730 Kalaniana'ole Hwy. Niu Valley Shopping Center
• 377-5447
• Dinner: Wednesday-Thursday 6-8:30 p.m., Friday-Sunday 6-9 p.m. Sunday brunch: 10:30 a.m.-1 p.m.
• Three forks = Good

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

For most of us the term "Swiss cuisine" is synonymous with cheese fondue. Almost everyone enjoys dunking little squares of bread into a pleasure pot of cheesy-gooey-oh-God-that's-good molten madness. Adding shredded gruyere cheese into dry white wine and heating it up creates the dish, flavored with kirsch (cherry-flavored brandy), garlic and some freshly grated nutmeg. Bread cubes are supposed to be cut with only one side possessing any crust. Folklore says that if your bread falls into the pot of cheese you may not go fishing for it. And, borrowing a page from the Seinfeld show, you may never "double-dip." You can get fondue at the Swiss Haus (formerly Swiss Inn) for $8.50 per order for a "minimum of two orders" (so then, doesn't that make the price of the fondue $17, not $8.50?).

After 18 successful years, the original Swiss Inn closed its doors around Thanksgiving of last year. Chef Freddy Halmes, former pastry chef for the Hawaiian Regent Hotel, purchased the place and renamed it Swiss Haus.

Halmes runs the back of the house, all the food concerns, while Philip Isaacs shmoozes up the longtime loyal following up front in the dining room.

An odd reality about this place is the way patrons lined up in advance of the 6 p.m. dinner opening (staffers call it a "seating") on one recent Sunday evening. It's quite awkward and almost feels like a mad dash to the tables. Trying to seat upwards of 50-100 patrons at one time has to be murder on the kitchen, bar and wait staff. If they staggered the reservations only slightly, the result would be a smoother, more gracious and comfortable opening for everyone, most importantly the paying customers. To avoid this cattle-call feeling, do yourself a favor and reserve a later table, perhaps after 6:30 or 7 p.m.

We began with fresh steamed clams ($8.50) that were very plump and moist. They were in a butter and wine sauce, flavored with shallots and parsley. They were a bit bland, but after several squeezes of lemon and sprinklings of salt, all was just dandy. The croute emmenthal ($4) is described as creamed mushrooms on toast with sliced ham, glazed with Swiss cheese. It was pleasingly rich and simple.

The soup of the day was lentil (included in the complete dinner price, or $1.50 ordered a la carte), tasty but on the thin side. It was flavored with smoked ham. The Swiss onion soup ($3.25) was familiar, with a whisper of sweetness, served in a crock with a slice of cheese-glazed bread. The house salad (included in the complete dinner choice, or $2.50 ordered à la carte) was a simply dressed lettuce, mushroom and tomato combination.I'm not a fan of the way bread and butter is doled out here. A bad bread policy seems chintzy on the part of any restaurant. There's so much wasted motion and manpower to have a staffer circulating the dining room asking patrons if they'd like bread and butter. They do it nicely, but it's disruptive nonetheless. Most importantly, it's uncomfortable for patrons to take bread from someone. We don't need a reminder of how much bread we eat. Do us a favor and place a basket of rolls and butter on every table.

Miss A loved her veal medallions florentine ($17.50), sauteed and served upon a bed of spinach, topped with bacon, and glazed with Swiss cheese. The plate was finished with green beans and excellent fried rosti potatoes. My Holstein schnitzel ($17.50) is the famous wienerschnitzel dish of breaded veal cutlet topped with a fried sunny side egg, capers and anchovy fillets. The trout caprice ($17) sautées filets of fresh rainbow trout on a bed of creamed mushrooms and tops it with banana. Not many places in Hawai'i prepare trout, so this was a treat. And the emince de veau Zurich-style ($17.50) is strips of veal, blanketed in a light wine cream sauce. This is substantial, stick-to-your-ribs food.

For dessert, we opted for the incredible Lindt brand chocolate bars ($2.25 each) instead of the lovely pastries created by chef Halmes. This is Swiss chocolate at its finest. They offer seven varieties of this top-flight candy maker, including milk chocolate bars, bittersweet truffles filled with smooth ambrosia and caramel, or with roasted hazelnuts, and more.

Swiss Haus is old-world style dining. Creatively speaking, time stands still here. Personally speaking, I would love to see them take some chances with their food, but people keep coming back here year in and year out.

Send comments, questions and suggestions to: ChefMatthew@LoveLife.com