North Forks

Sedona Swiss, 350 Jordan Road, Sedona, 1-520-282-7959. Hours: Lunch, Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Dinner, Monday through Saturday, 5:30 to 9 p.m.

Once upon a time, Robert Ackermann worked in Washington, D.C., as the Swiss ambassador's executive chef, overseeing meals for an endless procession of officials, dignitaries and blue bloods.

But a 1991 visit to Sedona prompted him to give up his Embassy cooking post, pick up stakes, move here and open his own restaurant just off the city's main uptown drag.

Now it's tourists, not movers and shakers, whom Ackermann has to please. And that's exactly what he seems to be doing at the charming Sedona Swiss.

The place looks like every American's cliched conception of a Swiss restaurant. But the chalet setting somehow doesn't seem too outlandish here in Sedona--maybe it's the altitude and the ring of nearby mountains. Huge cowbells hang over the doorway, while clocks and other Alpine knickknacks sit on shelves. A wood-shingle roof covers the serving area, and framed crests of Swiss cities are hanging along the front wall. Predictably, piped-in accordion polka music provides aural diversion, with an occasional set by Vivaldi.

The night we were there, diners were also entertained by a freebie hors d'oeuvre, toasted rye bread covered with a creamy mushroom-cognac sauce. Is this any way to get our attention? You bet.

The menu lists only four appetizer choices, but their quality compensates for the lack of depth. The bundner plate features the Swiss version of carpaccio: air-dried beef scraped into wafer-thin slices, teamed with shaved Parma ham and several garnishes. Even better are the marvelous Burgundy snails, drenched in an overpoweringly fragrant rosemary-garlic butter and served with pesto-topped croutons. The croutons come in handy for sponging up the sauce. That's because the homemade dinner rolls offer surprisingly lackluster accompaniment.

Meals come with soup, and the chef doesn't treat this course as an afterthought. One evening's cream of broccoli sported real vegetable vigor.

Whether you've had a hard day hiking the backcountry, hitting the shops or absorbing the force of an energy center, you can count on the Swiss-continental entrees to satisfy the appetite you've worked up. In particular, the Swiss sausage platter will ensure that you won't wake up hungry in the middle of the night and stumble around your hotel room in a fruitless search for food. It delivers two fat, juicy, grilled sausages and a trio of salads--squash, red cabbage and dill-scented carrots. I doubt whether chef Ackermann ever served such a plebeian dish at the Swiss Embassy. But we plebes have no complaints.

Beef stroganoff, named after a Russian count, has a more patrician pedigree. Sedona Swiss's version is deftly prepared. Sauteed strips of tender fillet are combined with a pungent paprika cream sauce that has a zesty chile bite. Spoon the sauce over the homemade spätzle, doughy noodles that furnish just the right starchy support.

Wiener schnitzel is listed as a "house specialty," and I can understand the boast, especially if three of your favorite words are "fried in butter." It's a veal scallop, pounded thin, that's breaded and gently sauteed in butter to a crisp, golden-brown sheen. It's paired with rssti, a Swiss creation of thin-sliced potatoes compacted into a flat cake and fried to a delicate crunch.

Sometimes people forget that Switzerland shares a frontier with Italy. This kitchen remembers. It whipped up a first-rate pasta special, cheese ravioli swimming in a heady basil-tarragon cream sauce. Everything was right with this opulent dish: the hearty portion, the rich textures and the lively flavors.

A small cafe adjoining the main dining room is also part of the Sedona Swiss complex, supplying European-style pastries for the restaurant. (The cafe also looks like a promising spot for a continental breakfast.) As you might expect, chocolate plays a featured role at dessert. Look for the rich, dark, semisweet chocolate mousse or the fudgy slab of milk chocolate laced with Grand Marnier. And if you're into showy continental desserts, the kitchen will accommodate you with a flaming baked Alaska sporting a miniature Swiss flag planted in the meringue peak.

Some sage once noted that in order to be truly happy, it's not enough to have things go right; at the same time, your closest friends must also feel miserable. Eating at Sedona Swiss, and thinking about buddies back home baking in the Valley's relentless triple-digit heat, I believe I now understand just what true happiness is.

Dahl & Di Luca:
Polenta parmigiana
Fettuccine reale

Sedona Swiss:
Burgundy snails
Swiss sausage
Beef stroganoff
Chocolate mousse

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