Mountain ‘Due

Mountain ‘Due

Temperatures have risen, but there’s a place on Whitney Avenue that recalls the heart of winter—not in New Haven, but in the Swiss Alps.

If the protagonist of Johanna Spyri’s Heidi grew up to open a restaurant, it would probably look like Au Chalet. Decorated with milk pails, vintage skis, wildflowers, cozy displays of floral china and heart-shaped cut-outs atop the chairs, the interior is dark, even at midday, and paneled entirely in blonde wood, with a touch of Nordic simplicity that saves it from being too precious. When I went in early June, there was French jazz playing.

Au Chalet is chef Adil Chokairy’s latest bid to put a bite of Europe on New Haven’s plate, and, making it possible to tour the continent in less than 20 yards, it’s right next to his French eatery Crepes Choupette, which feels like the breakfast/lunch to Au Chalet’s lunch/dinner.

sponsored by

Oklahoma by Goodspeed Musicals

The latter’s menu was brief, split into two main categories built on the foundation of melted cheese: Raclette ($22 for two servings) and Fondue ($15-18 per person). The former is a close cousin to a charcuterie board, with potatoes, cornichons, pickled white onions and cold meats served alongside a thick scraping of melted Raclette cheese.

My companion and I went straight for the main event, however, and ordered the Fondue Nature—the most basic of the fondue offerings, with nothing added to the cheese, although Au Chalet does offer mix-ins like porcini mushrooms, green peppers and champagne. The process was as fun as we’d hoped. An iron scrollwork mechanism arrived at the table first, its base filled with a phosphorescent blue substance that the manager identifies as Swiss fire gel. The cheese arrived a little later, already in a liquid state. The gel was lit, we were armed with long fondue forks and a basket of bread, and the cheese started to bubble.

A fondue novice, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the texture of the cheese. But it took to the bread beautifully, coating it to form a warm, gooey envelope. A mixture of Gruyere AOC and Emmental, two high-quality Swiss cheeses that come from specific regions in the country, together they formed a salty, funky brew ribboned with yellow grease that bubbled cheerily in its clay pot.

There’s a lot of pleasure in sharing a melting pot (and perhaps a brief fondue fork battle) with a companion or two, though I found myself wishing for a vibrant vegetable component. The only other dipping option, an add-on of potatoes, didn’t seem like it would offer that desired change of pace.

We finished with a Lemon Tart with Swiss Meringue ($9). Much like the fondue—the charm of which is its democratic treatment of a decadent meal—the tart’s presentation was both homey and elegant. The filling was cool, creamy and lemony in the crisp crust, but the real star was the dollop of meringue, which was marshmallowy, rich, just on the verge of melting and studded with raw sugar.

Then there was the wine. Au Chalet has a tightly curated wine list, most of which is French, with one Swiss outlier. I had a glass of the Luneau-Papin “Le Grange” Muscadet on an earlier visit, and, in addition to having a snazzy name, the wine itself was a well-balanced white—mineral and citrus as opposed to sweet—that I can imagine pairing well with a skillet of cheese, bread and perhaps a raging snow storm.

Au Chalet
24a Whitney Ave, New Haven (map)
Mon-Thur 11am-9:30pm, Fri 11am-10pm, Sat 11am-10:30pm
(475) 441-7998

Written and photographed by Sorrel Westbrook.

More Stories