Swiss Engineering

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The New York Sun

The idea of Swiss cuisine may call to mind muesli, fondue, and Teutonic meat platters. But a new Chelsea bistro aims to convince that there’s more to it. At Trestle on Tenth, chef-owner Ralf Kuettel uses fine fresh ingredients and a light touch to invigorate sturdy old-country cooking with a New York aesthetic.

The stereotypical Swiss sense of hygiene lends itself well to contemporary Manhattan dining. The effect starts with well-scrubbed wood tables and clean modern lines — even more dramatic by contrast to the beloved previous longtime tenant, Chelsea Commons, which was dark and not exactly a model of polish — and continues on the plate, where even heavy, rustic chops are streamlined and made to feel svelte. The keen lemony tang of fresh coriander makes a thick, fat-bound sirloin steak ($24) almost refreshing, and its accompaniment on the simple plate, a beautifully summery arugula salad, neatly backs that up. Mr. Kuettel clearly knows his way around an animal, but all of the cooking has a delicate flair.

Pork loin ($23), roasted to an uncommon ruddy brown and brined for taste and succulence, comes on a plate with almost no extraneous flavors, just its own sweet porkiness, augmented with whatever faint herbal taste the brine gives it, and laid on top of a few al dente carrots. Three rosy medallions of lamb ($25) put the sirloin to shame, with their deeper flavor and tender bite. Each is sheathed in a discrete band of its own browned fat, scented deliciously by fresh rosemary; but the band slips right off for those who choose to eat their lamb lean. It’s better with the fat. Slippery miniature onions, rarely an exciting ingredient, make a fine costar here, sweet and just piquant enough. In one of the best starters, loose-textured pork shoulder meat is wrapped with lamb’s-quarter (a spinach, not a meat) into a crépinette ($11): A thin, fat-laced caul membrane encloses the pork and melts as it cooks, moistening and flavoring the filling.


A strain of classical style runs through the menu as well: for instance, in a cool jellied terrine appetizer ($11). Chunks of pig’s foot meat and oxtail are suspended in a savory aspic whose delicate texture complements the firm pieces of meat. Coarse, vivid-colored house-made mustard perks up the ensemble. Call it profiling, but it’s a safe bet that diners who choose the terrine to start will move on to a main course of veal kidneys ($18). I know I did. The fungal-looking lobes, sliced into bite-size wedges, have a subtle organ flavor and what James Joyce called a “toothsome pliant” chewiness. They’re seasoned with a buttery brown sauce that incorporates dark ale, and share the plate with a substantial, loosely constructed rösti, a sort of Swiss potato latke. Arctic char, an amber-fleshed fish that’s a milder relative of salmon and trout, is cured into thick slabs of gravlax ($12.50) that have wonderful supple firmness but not as much flavor as the usual salmon variety. It makes a fine, evocative appetizer, though, on coarse pumpernickel slices, with dill-speckled cream and radish matchsticks. Light, creamy cauliflower soup ($8) is a simple, elegant distillation of the vegetable; it’s joined in the bowl by fresh leaves of chervil, like a whiff of country air. Pizokel (a $6 side dish) is the last and best of the traditional treats. Spaetzle-like worms of doughy dumpling are browned and gratinéed, with a light ooze of melted Gruyere and plenty of buttery cooked onions.

The array of $8.50 desserts is passable if you crave dessert but missable if you don’t. A nut torte, reminiscent of pecan pie, has a glossy crust stuffed with walnuts and caramel; the firm cornmeal shell is the best part of a blueberry custard tart.

Really, a visit to Trestle feels quite complete with just a plate of pizokel and a interesting beverage or two. The list of 70 or so wines focuses on small producers: a few from Switzerland but most from its more productive neighbors. There are plenty of opportunities for the curious, like a $180 pinot noir from the canton of Graubünden, and quite a few intriguing bottles under $30 for those who prefer a smaller gamble. The adventurous won’t stop at wine, though: Mr. Kuettel makes his own bitters, and puts them in cocktails including a “Cloister Fizz” ($10), with cognac and sparkling wine; and an aromatic murk of gin, chartreuse, rosewater, and pastis ($11). Among the extensive other options are a bitter Swiss beer brewed with sage ($7) and a rather sickly-tasting British dandelion soda ($4).


The restaurant’s back garden is comfortable, but, as the days shorten, I’m already looking forward to returning to Trestle on Tenth in the winter. I suspect it’ll be just the spot for a hearty, cozy meal and a warming drink.

Trestle on Tenth, 242 Tenth Ave. at 24th Street, 212-645-5659.

The New York Sun

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