Walking through heavy wooden doors into the decades-old Swiss chalet, I’m hit with a smell reminiscent of when I was a girl vacationing at Lake Tahoe in summer. The aromatic, clean, wooden scent is a familiar one for people who love the mountains and delicious European cuisine.
Generations of families have been coming through Swiss Lakewood and great-great grandchildren are now enjoying traditional favorites along with more modern,
Ninety-three years ago in Homewood, a restaurant was built with a windmill out front called Cunningham’s. In 1963, new owners took over the restaurant and gave it a go for two years before Swiss emigrants Peewee and Milos Smika acquired it and renamed it Swiss Lakewood in 1965. Helga and Albert Marty partnered with the Smikas, with Marty acted as the chef from 1973 to 2002. About 10 years ago, Rick Brown bought the restaurant. In fact, he now owns two of Tahoe’s oldest establishments: Swiss Lakewood and Chamber’s Landing in Tahoma.
“I acquired the lease to keep the traditions of Lake Tahoe and the West Shore alive,” he says. “Growing up, we always came in here as a family. I remember I put my blue blazer on, got all dressed up.”
Throughout the years, Swiss Lakewood has served famous people including Barbara Streisand, James Brolin, Clint Eastwood and Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Keeping tradition alive is the main theme of Swiss Lakewood and manager Doris Rinderknecht has been a big part of Lake Tahoe’s past; she has worked at the restaurant since 1977.
“Doris is the personality and face of this restaurant. She’s been a mainstay for the past 41 years. She’s the institution as much as the building,” says Brown.
Generations of families have been coming through Swiss Lakewood and great-great grandchildren are now enjoying traditional favorites such as Wiener schnitzel and Veal Emince along with more modern, lighter dishes such as Scallops and Sole California. Brown says it’s hard to take a dish off the menu that has been around for more than 90 years. Yet, he has integrated contemporary specials.
Brown’s favorite dish is the Veal Emince: “It’s comfort food — rich, like a beef stew but with veal,” he says.
Rinderknecht adds that it’s a typical dish served in Zurich along with spaetzle.
After meeting with Brown and Rinderknecht, my friend, Casey Meddock, and I went in for dinner the next night to try it for ourselves. The restaurant has an extensive wine list with reasonably priced varietals from all over the world. We each enjoyed a glass of the Joel Gott Chardonnay before Rinderknecht seated us in the dining room. There were several other diners already enjoying their meals. Casey and I started out with a cup of Asparagus Soup and the Beet Salad. The soup was creamy and filling with just a hint of an asparagus.
“It’s everything you could ever want in a soup,” Casey said.
Next, we inhaled the Beet Salad, comprised of beets, butter lettuce, gorgonzola, roasted eggplant shallot vinaigrette and balsamic reduction. It provided a nice combination of flavors.
For our entrees, we ordered the Sole California, Veal Emince and Scallops. Each dish complemented the others while tasting unique. The small pieces of veal and equally sized button mushrooms swam in a rich brown demi glaze served alongside spaetzle, which are small dumplings made of egg, flour and water.
The Sole California was perfectly cooked through and mild with minced crab on top and served on a bed of sautéed spinach, lemon-caper sauce and pureed avocado. We both felt that the pan-seared scallops melted in our mouths; they were served with butternut squash risotto dressed in passion fruit sauce.
After dinner, we were absolutely stuffed but determined to make room for dessert. Since the Grand Marnier Soufflé has to be ordered ahead of time because it takes 30 minutes to prepare, we opted for the Coupe Swiss Lakewood and Angel Toast.
We ordered a glass of Freixenet to accompany the desserts. The Angel Toast is exactly how it sounds — toasted angel cake. It was topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and caramel drizzle; Casey called it “pure indulgence.” It paired perfectly with the Coupe Swiss Lakewood chocolate mousse and vanilla ice cream with a moat of kirsch, a colorless, dry brandy liquor. It added a bit of boozy richness.
The dinner was a memorable experience and each dish tasted like a lot of love, care and authenticity went into it.
Try Swiss Lakewood’s recipe for Veal Emince
1 lb. veal tenderloin, thinly sliced
2 C button mushrooms, sliced
1 oz. shallots, diced
½ C veal demi-glaze
½ C heavy cream
½ oz. lemon juice
½ C white wine
Worcestershire sauce, dash
Salt and white pepper
Flour for dusting
Olive oil or canola oil
In a large skillet, working quickly, scar and brown the veal in the oil. Remove to a servable pan.
In the hot skillet, add shallots, mushrooms and salt and pepper until the mushrooms brown. Add wine, reduce; add lemon juice, reduce; add cream and brown demi-glaze. Ladle sauce over veal. Bring to a boil. Serve with spaetzle.
Swiss Lakewood Restaurant is open Tuesday through Sunday in the summer from 5:30 to 9 p.m. It is located at 5055 Westlake Blvd. in Homewood. | (530) 525-5211, Swiss Lakewood Lake Tahoe on Facebook