Hotel La Collina

The cozy Stüvetta restaurant in the Hotel La Collina is done in blond, knotty pine. Tables are covered by pink cloths with a wide, olive stripe. The effect is that typically Swiss, country elegance that seems to at once stimulate the appetite and relax the soul. Of course, good food, well served, is required for a successful dining experience and La Collina easily qualifies.

The best dish we tasted was Poussin au roti (34 Sfr./$24) a broiler chicken cooked on a rotisserie with a rosemary stuffing, and carved whole at our table. The server first cut off legs and wings and breasts and those juicy bits from the back. One of each was served on the first plate and the rest kept warm for a second serving. Served with the chicken were two corn crêpes - in which one could clearly taste the fresh corn kernels - and lightly sautéed slivers of zucchini and carrots. The second serving of chicken included the remainder of the zucchini, another crêpe and green beans bundled with a strip of bacon.

Papardella ai Fungi (16 Sfr./$11), a lasagna style pasta served with wonderfully flavorful mushrooms in a rich, cheese sauce, was another clear winner. It was a main dish but, because of its richness, would have worked even better as a first course divided between two persons; provided, of course, that one's next course doesn't - as with the Poussin au roti - call for a second plate.

A simple salad of fresh, intensely flavored tomatoes and chunks of tasty mozzarella cheese (18 Sfr./$13) owed its success to the quality of it components.

After these dishes, a refreshing dessert seemed in order and a citrus sorbet, in a long-stemmed, slant-lipped bowl, with slices of lemon and mint leaves and doused with champagne, filled the bill perfectly.

La Collina's cellar offers a good selection of wines but we opted to economize by choosing a small carafe of Chianti Classico (13.50 Sfr./$9) from among several offen wines. Most European restaurants keep open bottles in several price categories. One can purchase as little as a quarter of a liter, or even just a glass, of some very good wines. Usually the most inexpensive of these bottles will be better than the "house wines" found in U.S. restaurants. The Chianti was smooth with a characteristic dryness that seemed almost dusty.

* Hotel La Collina, CH-7504, Pontresina, phone 082/601 21, fax 082/679 95. Major cards. Moderate to expensive.
* Hotel La Collina: PP


Perhaps in the U. S. we are more used to Asian food than are the people of central Europe. One sees the occasional Chinese or even Japanese restaurant in Berlin or Zürich or Vienna, but for the most part they are a rarity. The excellent reputation of Pontresina's Restaurant Sarazena appears due in large part to its Chinese dishes, which comprise the majority of its menu offerings. However, we wouldn't know whether that renown is deserved or not because we stuck to its more traditionally European food; specifically a six course, fixed-price special menu costing 120 Sfr. ($84) per person. We were ready for an extravagant meal and the Sarazena had been highly recommended.

We assumed such an expensive progression of dishes would offer the Sarazena's finest cooking and, to an extent, it may have; the dishes ranged from sensational at the start to lackluster at the finish. And that finish was a very long time in coming. The word marathon springs to mind, though the first 100 finishers in the last Olympic marathon took less time to run the 26 miles than it did for us to negotiate those six courses. In fact, like some of those Olympic runners, we had to dropout before the end.

The menu:

* Assiette gourmande
* Consommé de tomates aux quenelles de serre
* Roulade de saumon et scampi, sauce safran a la juilienne de legumes, riz sauvage
* Selle de veau doree aux trois sauces, pommes dauphine et legumes
* Sorbets varies et ses fruits
* Café et liquers

The Assiette gourmande - lachs, chilled scampi, a terrine of salmon and a salad of vegetables with bits of chilled white fish and sour cream was an inspired dish, the best of the meal. The seafood was crisp and fresh and the flavors subtle and mysterious.

Roulade de saumon et scampi turned out to be a cold, poached salmon filet covered in an opaque shrimp aspic and it, too, was unusual and delicious. It was served with a mound of perfectly cooked al dente slivered vegetables that had been marinated in a vinaigrette.

The consommé served between those two courses was tasty, but a little too salty. Worst of all, there was a 20-minute pause between the soup and the salmon/scampi roulade.

Then came another 20-minute wait for the rather disappointing Selle de veau, roasted, thick-sliced veal with three sauces, one of reduced juices, one a Bearnaise and a third we couldn't identify. The vegetables were unadorned steamed cauliflower and carrots. Potatoes dauphine turned out to be pasty croquettes.

Then we waited more than 40 minutes for dessert. Not only did we wait, we became invisible. The Sarazena is a series of small rooms and the few times in that 40 minutes our waiter entered our room, he averted his eyes and slipped out again as quickly as he could. Also conspicuously absent was the somewhat bombastic and overbearing manager who, much earlier in the evening, had seated us and taken our order with great flourish.

We were not the only marathoners. A French couple at the next table had ordered the same menu and also endured the excruciating delays.

The sorbet with fruit finally arrived with a half-hearted, mumbled apology. We quickly finished and departed, foregoing the Café et liquers. As we walked through the almost deserted restaurant, the manager and our waiter were nowhere to be seen. Only busboys folding linen were left to ignore us. In keeping with restaurant policy, they did.

The Sarazena is one of our stranger restaurant adventures. The first two courses showed that its kitchen can turn out marvelous dishes. Perhaps the Chinese menu items—which by the way, one could choose and pay far less for a meal than for the grander fixed-price menu—are the restaurant's strength. But the welcome and service, which began well enough, totally disintegrated. To make customers wait for such an extended period of time without explanation is inexcusable. A top-flight restaurant—no, even an ordinary one—deals with problems head-on and at the very least makes an explanation to the customer. To disappear when the going gets tough is unforgivable.

We don't have a rating category that fits the Sarazena. Thus we'll let you make up your mind based on the foregoing.

* Sarazena, CH-7504, phone 082/663 53. Major cards. Expensive.

September 1993