There’s more to Switzerland’s global city than banks, watches and the United Nations. Step away from Swiss-cheesy cliches and you will discover that this seemingly placid town bubbles with unique spots, serious chefs and international currents. Following in the footsteps of other European cities, Geneva now offers many new gourmet options, from healthy breakfasts to carnivorous feasts. Prices have remained on the high side, but diners are more value conscious and menus are featuring more choices for them. Vegetarian fare and even gluten-free alternatives can be found at most spots.
In the early hours, there are many reasons to seek the jetty over Lake Geneva to Bains des Paquis — the ancient public bath that is now a hip, pebbled beach — where La Buvette des Bains sits a few steps above the water (buvettedesbains.ch; 30 Quai du Mont-Blanc; 011-41-22-738-1616). Some stop by to swim in the translucent ripples, for a massage or to watch the boat traffic. Gourmands visit for the best bread in town, part of a delicious breakfast for about $10. Start with tartines, above — French-style, open-faced bread slices ladled with jam, organic honey or Cenovis, the Swiss savory yeast paste similar to Marmite — and choose between a fresh fruit salad and the homemade raspberry birchermüesli. Freshly squeezed juices and the house ginger tea are favorites, but you may need more of that loaf — a long peninsula of crispy crust and tender, springy crumb — an exclusive item baked with organic flour by Pascal Keller. At 9 a.m. sharp, (this is watch country, after all) don’t miss the rush of sunlit drops sprayed on the lake by the Jet d’Eau, the man-made geyser that shoots 460 feet into the air.
At lunch, hungry bankers and travelers head to Chez Philippe (chezphilippe.ch; 8 Rue du Rhone; 011-41-22-316-1616) a lively, well-conceived blend of American steakhouse and French brasserie. Geneva has become chef Philippe Chevrier’s culinary playground. Among his other establishments are a Michelin-starred flagship, a gourmet burger joint and this bi-level restaurant, his most recent opening. In the bar downstairs and throughout the upstairs dining room, appointments include exposed brick walls, black leather chairs and dark, wide-planked floors on which the waiters waltz in and out of the open kitchen dressed in their black shirts and pressed jeans. Meat rules here, but not just beef and not just grilled: Consider the earthy and tender braised lamb shank ($35), falling-off-the-bone barbecued local pork ribs ($22), and roasted carrot with ginger glaze ($4). Plump scallops redolent of lemon grass ($24) tilt the menu toward the water, as does a perfectly roasted teriyaki-infused cod ($24, above). To quench your thirst, turn to the rich wine list, divided into Swiss and “foreign” crus. A bite of sundae or cheesecake ($10), and you’ll think it’s the Hudson River that flows nearby.
At dinner, hop on the tramway to the charming district of Carouge, where cafes and restaurants spill out onto the leafy Place du Marche, named for the weekly greenmarket. With a new team in place, the Cafe du Marche (cafedumarchecarouge.ch; 4 Place du Marche, 011-41-22-301-2647) has reopened as a Mediterranean table within a traditional bistro atmosphere. Inside, old-fashioned wooden chairs and banquettes surround the bar, where both beer and wine flow on tap. White floor tiles reflect the ancient stone walls and lead to the cozy terrace. In the kitchen, Thierry Minguez’s cuisine sings as much as his Provençal accent. An olive panna cotta ($14) marks the entry into a Southern landscape, and grilled octopus with chorizo and potatoes ($17) takes diners to Spain, while simple salt and combava oil exalts a sea bass filet a la plancha ($38). For earthier accents, choose the lacquered local pork tagliata ($27) or braised veal over vegetables ($42), above. The menu changes with the seasons.