Don’t expect a pot of melted cheese and long forks at the freshly minted Stable on H Street NE.
“We want to be Swiss, but not just fondue and raclette,” says Silvan Kraemer, the co-owner of an original flavor for the District. He and his business partner, David Fritsche, both hail from the German-speaking part of Switzerland and hope to expand diners’ knowledge of Swiss cuisine with dishes including vol-au-vent, puff pastry shells brimming with snow-white chicken dumplings.
Kraemer and Fritsche come to the project from the Dupont Circle Hotel, where Kraemer served as food and beverage director and Fritsche worked as a chef. While both men studied to become chefs, Fritsche is the face you see in the long, open kitchen and Kraemer is the charming presence in the dining room. More than once, I’ve watched the host pour a gratis taste of Swiss wine for someone who expressed curiosity about it, and give mini-tours of the restaurant (formerly Ocopa, the much-missed source for Peruvian). The chalk drawing of a mountain and a hotel on the wall leading to the back? Kraemer says the portrait depicts memories of the owners’ youth.
As with the menu, the setting lets you know you’re in a Swiss outpost without coming across like a tourist promotion. Sure, the checkered napkins are the red and white of the Swiss flag. Other design elements are more subtle. Dressing up the banquettes are cowhide pillows and Swiss Army blankets (a clever cushion on the hard benches). The front dining room is long and narrow and comes with the bonus of stools facing the sidewalk. The backroom is home to a bar and high peaked ceilings that wouldn’t be out of place in Zurich.
Bread, probably your first taste at Stable, is reassuring. Fritsche put in more than a year at the Swiss Bakery in Springfield, Va., and it shows in the wares at Stable. An appetizer of weekly changing cheese — cheddar-like Hoch Yybrig on a recent visit — arrives with wurzel bread, a twisted wheat bread. “Cheese puffs” translate to flaky twists flavored with Gruyere and paprika. My preferred way to ease into brunch is with ropy, spicy landjaeger (pork) sausage flanked with mustard, pickles and crusty brown bread. So it’s a disappointment to later discover dry schnitzel inside an equally undistinguished pretzel roll. At least the good cheer here is consistent.
Smoked salmon with an omelet sounds like breakfast for dinner. Stable serves the duo as an appetizer, and it’s lovely, especially with an escort of a crisp and subtly floral Chasselas, based on a Swiss varietal. The shimmering fish appears as a ruffle alongside a tender little omelet and a sprinkling of spring peas. Spaetzle, tinted green with ramps and beneath a web of melted Gruyere, is another first course that could easily be a main. Served in a bowl topped with crisp onion strings, the mound of squiggly dumplings seems designed more for an Alpine hiker than a Washington suit. Even so, cubicle dwellers might find themselves making short work of it, or bringing home leftovers.
Stable’s fried chicken wings aren’t a concession to American appetites but rather a throwback to the owners’ youths. Kraemer says they grew up eating poulet im chörbli, a.k.a. “chicken in a basket,” a passion Fritsche shares with diners in the form of three fat, piping-hot wings nestled in a basket with a puddle of herbed butter sauce. Arm yourself with a napkin tucked into your shirt or a Tide to Go stick or both: The wings are pale, but explosively juicy. Chicken also stars in a smooth, pink liver pâté fortified with brandy and port, the richness tempered with batons of poached rhubarb and shallot confit.
Cream is the common denominator in much of the food, which can leave the impression of baroque music: a meal composed from just a few notes. There’s as much dairy as vegetable in a bowl of asparagus soup, outfitted for the season with morel mushrooms. Stable’s best-selling veal, delivered as slices of pale back meat and shredded potatoes (roesti), is lapped with a sauce coaxed from wine, shallots, veal stock and guess what else? Cream also flows in the sauce for the vol-au-vent, whose white dumplings are made with a farce of chicken breast, cream and nutmeg that’s put into a pastry bag and piped into boiling water, then poached in a chicken broth that’s later reduced to form a sauce.
Raclette — melted cheese scraped onto a plate and eaten with small potatoes and tangy gherkins — is available, but only by reservation and for a minimum of four people. Stable has but two tables set with a proper raclette grill, explains Kraemer. As for fondue, diners will have to wait for colder weather, because “it’s best when it’s snowing outside,” he jokes.
The serious bore at the party is lamb edged in a damp herb crust, the meat and the border seemingly vying to see which can be duller. Boiled potatoes, green asparagus and a ring of jus do their best to make up for what smacks of banquet fare. One of the few meatless dishes, “spring” risotto, is so heavy, the entree feels like fall or winter despite the presence of asparagus, peas and even preserved lemon in the soupy swirl.
White as the peak of the Matterhorn, the finest finish, meringue glace, involves whipped cream, because how could it not? The dome created from egg whites and sugar covers scoops of house-churned vanilla and strawberry ice cream. Just looking at the confection makes you feel better about life.
If Stable sounds like a curious name for a restaurant, it’s better than the owners’ original idea. Hoping to connect Swiss and American interests, they wanted to call the place “Cow,” an idea that was nixed after people told them it sounded like a steakhouse. Stable achieves their bucolic intent.
“What made you want to come back?” an affable server asked me on my most recent visit. Discretion prevented me from telling him that I make at least three visits before rating a restaurant, so I gestured to my surroundings and said it reminded me of happy times in Switzerland.
Fondue or no, it’s true.
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1324 H St. NE.
Open: Dinner Tuesday through Saturday; brunch Saturday and Sunday
Prices: Dinner appetizers $6 to $15, entrees $19 to $27
Sound check: 73 decibels