Open Mondays through Fridays from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and from 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., Saturdays from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m., closed Sundays. Street parking in the evenings. Accessible by wheelchair. American Express, Diners Club, Master Charge, Visa. Reservations not necessary.
There was a time when our children's idea of foreign cooking was Maryland fried chicken. But fortunately the District does have a goodly number of restaurants where young appetites can feel at home with something just a bit different from the old reliables.
On one such sortie, my wife and I took our daughter and an adventuresome, cheerful little friend of hers to the Swiss Chalet, a quaint and quiet, drop-in restaurant tucked in a block of Pennsylvania Avenue near Washington Circle NW.
It was disconcertingly quiet when we arrived, or at least I thought so when, after some sophisticated calculations, the four of us turned out to comprise two thirds of the clientele. That makes you whisper.
Still, it was early, around 7:15 or so, and it was August and the customers would trickle in eventually. For now, anyway, we'd benefit from plenty of staff attention.
Besides, it gave us an unobstructed panoramic view of the decorations, from a huge Swiss flag on the main wall to shields of Switzerland's various cantons (states), an old clock (sans cuckoo, as far as we could tell), some dandy cow bells and carved wooden everythings.
With a round of mixed drinks (meaning some were not like others), we turned to our menus. To begin with, a good Swiss restaurant needn't be related to the steak of the same name - though it's served here at $5.75.
In fact, parents should be advised that this offering is one of two for which the management is willing to waive its $2 "sharing charge" - but you have to ask. We'll get to the other one in due course, since that's just what the two girls did.
First, there was the matter of appetizers, which, after some extended debate, wound up sort of being tabled. We'd been interested in the potage of the day or the Swiss Mehlsuppe (burnet flour soup with croutons and cheese) at $1.75. But we were advised that the kitchen didn't bother with soup on these hot days, even in this air-conditioned Alpine setting.
Ah, but for the best picture of which Swiss dishes are tops here, you should say "cheese" - for that's the not-so-secret ingredient in many of the finest recipes.
For example, either as an appetizer at $3.25 or as a main dish at $6, there's La Raclette, a wheel of very pungent cheese carefully melted under a broiler, shaved off and served with boiled potato, onion and pickle.
The Swiss national dip - cheese fondue - is also offered at $6; or there's quiche lorraine appetizer at $2; or a cheese omelette at $4.50. For the skirter of cheese, there's filet mignon at $9, chicken at $7, tripe at $4.25 or beef fondue bourguignone at $12.50.
We wound up with a lively cross-section of Switzerland's French-German-Italian influences. My wife's choice, Swiss cheese pie at $4.75, turned out to be a snappy detour from anybody's diet and well worth it.
My selection was much easier to eat than to say: St. Galler Schueblig mit Roesti, which is a special homemade pork sausage with hash browns at $5.50.
The two youngest ladies split and enjoyed a $4 serving of Taglierini, a hearty Swiss Italian noodle and meat sauce dish. Each dinner order, we should add, was accompanied by a salad topped with an excellent homemade spiced mayonnaise.
For desserts, the operative word at the Swiss Chalet is chocolate. The chocolate cake at $1.50 wasn't available, though, and we learned that the fondue au chocolat at $2.50 is laced with hooze - news that produced two minor scowls.
So the children and I each leveled a generous fondue hot chocolate sundae, at $2. My wife and I also had coffee.
Our total bill for this lively spread was $27.92 plus tip.
Open Mondays through Fridays from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and from 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., Saturdays from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m., closed Sundays. Street parking in the evenings. Accessible by wheelchair. American Express, Diner Club, Master Charge, Visa. Reservations not necessary.