"Switzerland is in the heart of Europe," said Lengacher, who is celebrating his 15th year as owner of Lugano Swiss Bistro in The Barnyard in Carmel. "The cuisine is the best of Italy, Germany and France, mixed all together."
And so his menu includes seafood risotto, pan-fried schnitzel, and baked tilapia with citrus beurre blanc, among other specialties of his home country, such as pasta, polenta, sausages, duck with plum sauce, and roast rack of lamb.
And, of course, it wouldn't be Swiss without a little bit of fondue.
Not only is the classic cheese version offered, but also lighter variations, featuring chicken, seafood, beef and lamb simmered in a hearty broth. For dessert, the pièce de rèsistance is chocolate fondue.
How this little piece of Switzerland landed in Carmel was the result of a long and winding road for Lengacher, who has lived in a variety of places since embarking on the chef's life. It began when he learned to cook as a young boy, and his dad encouraged him to stick with it.
"My father always thought I should become a chef," said Lengacher. "He told me, 'You'll get to travel the world, and you'll probably never go hungry.'"
Both of those predictions would come true. Lengacher apprenticed at a small Swiss restaurant, and then went to work for the Hilton hotel chain, which did indeed allow him to see many different places.
He first came to the United States in1970, to Aspen - "to ski," Lengacher notes - and would eventually work for Hilton in 20 different states. Somewhere along the way, he discovered Carmel and fell in love with the town.
He and his wife, Nargis, decided to make this area their home and to open a little restaurant much like the one Lengacher originally trained in.
Lengacher points out that his spouse of 19 years has been instrumental in the success of Lugano Swiss Bistro. Nargis, a native of Kenya whose background is in the hospitality industry, runs the front end of the restaurant.
Over the years, the restaurant has become a local favorite as well as attracting busloads of tourists. The Lengachers' chalet-style establishment boasts colorful geraniums and hand-carved décor, wall murals and checkered tablecloths, all adding to the illusion that the diners are somewhere high in the Alps. And much of the decoration is authentic.
Lengacher said he returns to Switzerland every year, visiting friends and family, as well as looking for menu ideas and memorabilia to bring home.
Below, Lengacher shares his recipe for Swiss Tomato Fondue, which puts a fresh twist on an Old Country classic.
Lugano Swiss Bistro, 3670 The Barnyard, Carmel; 626-3779 or www.swissbistro.com
SWISS TOMATO FONDUE
8 plum tomatoes; peeled, seeded and chopped
2 cloves of garlic
2 cups of tomato juice
10 oz. each Gruyere and Emmenthaler cheese, grated
4 tsp. cornstarch
1 T heavy cream
1/4 cup pimento, chopped
Fresh ground pepper
Pinch of oregano, dried and crumbled
Peel, seed, and chop tomatoes. Mash garlic; combine with tomatoes in fondue pot and cook over medium heat until soft. Press through sieve into measuring cup and add tomato juice to make 1 1/2 cups.
Reserve 1/4 cup of tomato puree. Add cheese to the puree that remains in the pot and cornstarch to the reserved puree.
Mix cornstarch mixture until smooth; add to cheese mixture. Cook over high heat until cheese is melted. Season with pepper and oregano. Stir in cream and pimento; transfer to fondue pot. Serves two.
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