In Crissier, near the banks of Lake Geneva, Benoit Violier's Restaurant marches on without its former master and builds on his legacy with an outstanding menu in an incredible space. This was one of my favorite lunch stops of the entire trip.
This regal stone building sits at the edge of Crissier's old town, and it's a nice break from the Porsche dealerships, high-end malls, and grocery stores of suburban Lausanne, which are virtually across the street. It is imbued with the stately aura of a converted bank.
Owned and run by Brigitte Violier, Franck Giovaninni is the talent in the kitchen. The restaurant has a staff of 58, and does about that number of covers each meal service.
Franck took over in January 2016 after Benoit's unfortunate death, and in October of that year was awarded three stars by the Michelin guide. Interestingly, since Benoit has taken over from previous three-star chef Philippe Rochat, who took over from three-star chef Frédy Girardet, Franck was now the fourth chef to have won three stars in the same physical restaurant.
Franck began his career in 1989 at L’Auberge de la Couronne à Apples, a small French-cuisine restaurant not too far from Lausanne. In 1993, he moved to Canada to work for a catering company and eventually made his way to the kitchen of the New York St. Regis, at the time under Gray Kunz, a famous Singapore-born chef. Then, in 1995, he came to the Restaurant de l'Hôtel de Ville Crissier as a chef de partie (station chef). He departed in 1999 to be the head chef at a restaurant called the Stonehedge Inn in Massachusetts, where he spent barely a year before returning to the Restaurant de l'Hôtel de Ville Crissier as a Chef de Cuisine and, in 2012, sous chef.
CRISSIER, SWITZERLAND (NEAR GENEVA)
PRICE PAID: $342PP (INCL. WATER, APERITIF, 2 GLASSES OF WINE, COFFEE- PRE-CHALLENGE)
FINAL SCORE: 8.0/10
I really dig the dining room, for a couple of reasons. On first blush, it's an extremely conservative and formal affair with freshly-pressed white linen tablecloths, neutral colors, and clean, straight lines. But over in the corner is a painting of Catwoman making out with Batman, and a British racing poster proudly adorns the far wall. Small, translucent, bright-pink centerpieces add a sparkle of color to each table. This place has personality.
Before any snacks are brought out, we are offered the menus to consider. On that day were the following options:
- An 11-course Menu Gastonomique, 390CHF ($400), which was a pull-out-all-stops collection of foie gras, shellfish, scallops, sea bass, blue lobster, suckling lamb, and three desserts.
- A 10-course Menu Découverte, 295CHF ($302), with a land-animal focus; poached eggs, Bresse chicken, etc.
- A 6-course Lunch Menu, 195CHF ($199), which seemed to nicely cover both bases and was only on offer during the weekend midday. We went with this one.
The restaurant usually produces five menus each year (more than average) on the following rough schedule:
After we wrapped up our menu selections and requested that the sommelier choose decent glasses of white of red to accompany, we were brought these crunchy, rich baked flutes of curry. Not overly spicy, but dense and rich. 9/10.
Crunchy, doughy, and perfectly baked, this incredible hand-made baguette is paired perfectly with a creamy, fresh butter made from a Swiss dairy nearby. The ends were a bit toasted but easily broken off. 8/10 overall.
With a dramatic flourish, the servers raised their arms and removed the dishes' covers in a choreographed movement, revealing a velouté of spider crab with balsamic vinaigrette, served cold. The Balsamic is a type called balsamico bianco; or white balsamic (it's actually kind of a golden color), which is milder since the grapes don't undergo the caramelization process that gives balsamic its distinctive blackish color.
Strong dill flavors punch through this dish, dominating the neutral-flavored, fresh crab. The dish is described as "acidulated," a fancy word for made more acid, which I'll agree was necessary to balance the saltiness of the crab. Tiny slices of carrots with the tops still on them are a nice, decorative touch. 8/10.
Even translated to English, the menu description is exquisite: "Eggs masked with Black Diamonds of Provence, crisp celery flambéed with Port of Mediera." The "Black Diamonds of Provence" are, in this case, generously thick slices of rich, moist black truffle from south of France. Our server gives us the advice to cut the eggs so the flavors all mix, creating an enormous, delightful cholesterol bomb of egg yolks, black truffles, and rich celery foam. True to the description, the crunchy celery vegetable adds a textural contrast. Pretty, fresh spinach leaves on top add color. 10/10. An extremely flavorful, brilliant dish.
Next, a near-perfect fillet of turbot with golden imperial Caviar. Turbots yield four fillets, two from the fatty belly and two from the back which are meatier and tastier; the one above is the latter variety. From the waters near Pointe St. Mathieu (a shipwrecker's enclave at France's extreme Northwesternmost point), the fish has pronounced sea salt ocean flavors, and is served jumpingly fresh. Once again, lots of dill, which dominates the dish a touch more than strictly necessary. The fish has been cooked with anise, which takes a subtle and positive supporting role. 9/10.
And now onto the main course: roasted confit of young Bresse chicken with a heavy dose of spices embedded on the surfcae. To the side, the legs are served cooked sous vide with bread and greens. The gravy is good but, disappointingly, the chicken itself is a touch dry. On the side, fry-like potatoes and asparagus salads. 7/10, decent but not as good as Paul Bocuse's version.
Next, a pre-dessert of pineapple, mango, almond, and lime. Once again, I can't help but love the menu description, even in English: "Marbled, frosted pineapple-mango with lime-specked almonds." 9/10, great textures and flavors, fruity and not too sweet.
Covered in a generous layer of powdered sugar, a dramatic tableside presentation soon began of some gorgeous Mandarin orange soufflé. In yet another example of the front-of-the-house's high degree of training and coordination, this dish was served expertly. Check out the video. 9/10.
Next, a fairly simple collection of chocolates and petit fours. Raspberry, chocolate, and passion fruit. 8/10.
And, at the very last, a cafe Americano for the journey ahead. A lovely conclusion to a great meal. 8/10.