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VALLEY WEEKEND | RESTAURANT REVIEW

Swiss and German Fare Draws Crowd to Matterhorn

Even in summer, the breaded veal cutlet, smoked pork loin and roast rabbit prove popular.

August 15, 1996|MAX JACOBSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Ueli Huegli is a Swiss-born mountain of a man familiar to many of us from his long tenure as chef at Adriano's in Beverly Glen. Now he has taken over a venerable Valley institution, Hoppe's Olde Heidelberg, renamed it Matterhorn Chef and given it a whole new life.

Those who ate here it when it was Hoppe's may recall the lounge-style bar, the walls paneled in darkly stained wood, the semicircular red leather booths and the faux stained-glass windows.

Though this is still essentially a clubby Germanic restaurant, Huegli has brightened it greatly by turning up the lights and hanging hundreds of tiny banners across the ceiling; most are the white-on-red cross of the Swiss flag, but a few dozen represent the various cantons of the Swiss Republic.

In short, Matterhorn Chef is a far more lively place than Hoppe's ever was. It draws a large, boisterous crowd of diners almost every evening; not bad in a Southland summer for a restaurant specializing in stick-to-the-ribs Swiss and German fare.

The food deserves much of the credit for the crowds at Matterhorn Chef. Huegli has retained a few of Hoppe's pleasing, if ponderous, German dishes, such as sauerbraten and jaegerschnitzel, but the rest of the menu is an amalgam of Italian, German, Continental and Swiss dishes.

You still start, as at Hoppe's, with an old-fashioned relish tray, the type once nearly universal in Los Angeles dinner houses. On it are sliced beets, marinated white beans, carrots, cucumbers and a dense liver pa^te. Try not to nibble too strenuously. There's lots more food to come.

A few of the Swiss appetizers inspire curiosity, but the best starter, moules poulette, is resolutely French. Huegli gets his flavorful small mussels from Prince Edward Island, and they are some of the most plump, tastiest mussels this side of Brittany. You get around two dozen in a classic nage of garlic, butter and white wine.

From Switzerland comes flaedli suppe, a mildly reduced beef consomme crowded with julienne pancakes. It's impressive--a soup that manages to be both ephemeral and satisfying. Think of buendnerfleisch as the Swiss take on the Italian bresaola: ultra-thin slices of salty, tangy air-dried beef served with little pickled onions and crisp, sour French gherkins.

Raclette du Valais is a thoroughly Swiss idea: scooping up melted cheese with French bread. In Switzerland, it's usually served in a pot, but this raclette is just a plate covered with melted cheese, with some scallop-shaped slices of potato on the side. It's tasty enough, but I wouldn't blame you if you think it loses something in the translation.

Huegli hasn't lost his hand with pasta since Adriano's. Ravioli Fiesolana, with a light filling of minced beef, comes in a butter sage sauce. The lightest Swiss entree is brochet frit comme a Schaffouse, moist, fragrant pike deep-fried in a crisp batter.

Remo's cordon bleu a l'Oberland is a breaded veal cutlet (almost entirely greaseless) topped with ham and melted Swiss cheese. If you're as hungry as an Alpine climber, the Berner platte gives you a hunk of smoked pork loin, two fatty slabs of country-style bacon, a bratwurst and a knockwurst, plus sauerkraut, string beans and spinach.

The menu's Continental Favorites section is worth a look. Coniglio con polenta is roasted rabbit in red wine sauce with grilled polenta, and although the meat has the tame flavor of domestic rabbit, the whole preparation is appealing.

Broiled spring chicken basted with extra-virgin olive oil has a crisp, garlic-studded skin. I remember from Adriano's his osso buco gremolata, a tender braised veal shank served with a crunchy risotto porcini.

The desserts are homemade and not quite as hearty as the preceding courses. Pear tart with lemon granita--a light, crusty tart with a sharp, grainy lemon sorbet--is, to my mind, the most intelligent way to end a meal here.

The thin-crusted apfelstrudel would be more sensible without the warm vanilla sauce that is poured all over it, hard to resist though the vanilla sauce is. You might have the Schwarzwalder torte--better known on these shores as Black Forest cake--if you are a sucker for good chocolate, thick cherry jam and whipped cream. It also helps if you are planning to scale an Alp or two after dinner.

DETAILS

* WHAT: Matterhorn Chef.

* WHERE: 13726 Oxnard St., Van Nuys.

* WHEN: Lunch, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; dinner, 5-10 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 4-10 a.m. Sunday.

* FYI: Full bar, parking in lot. All major cards.

* HOW MUCH: Dinner for two, $32-$54.

* SUGGESTED DISHES: Suggested dishes: moules poulette, $7; flaedli suppe, $3; Remo's cordon bleu a l'Oberland, $15.50; osso buco gremolata, $17.50; pear tarte and granita, $3.50.

* CALL: (818) 781-4330

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