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Matterhorn Restaurant

The Swiss Matter in SF

Switzerland is a mountainous wonderland reputed for its timely precision, sequestered accounts, yodeling goatherds, and the majestic Swiss Alps, crowned by the world-renowned Matterhorn.

Let's toboggan down to San Francisco's version of the Matterhorn, owner-operated for 5+ years by a Swiss couple, Brigitte and Andrew Thorpe. A friend introduced me to this distinctive place a year ago. He has a fondness for fondue, the seminal 70s fad, when people ascended mountains to ski, and après, to sip hot toddies and dip nibbles into a bubbling cauldron of melted cheeses.

On a weeknight at the Matterhorn, leaving busy Van Ness Avenue, we entered a cozy Swiss chalet nestled in snow-capped peaks. Brigitte immediately seated us in a wooden booth with simple cushions. A fruity kirsch and kir royale ($6-8) whetted our appetites for the hearty fare to come.

The Raclette Valaisanne ($7) a superb starter, is a pleasingly pungent cheese dish, slightly melted with potatoes and pickles. On another night we ventured to order the Walliser Alpine Delights ($7.50), a plate of deliciously cured meats - air-dried beef, smoked ham, and farmers sausage.

Now for the peak experience, the Fondue Festival! Fonduers may choose either cheese or meat fondues, with a prelude: a zesty mixed baby green salad ($5.75 a la carte). We prefer the cheese fondues for their rare flavors ($28/2pp.) Choices vary from the 'The Highlander' Fondue Ecossaise (cheddar and gruyere cheeses with a 'wee dramm') to 'The Oh la la' Fondue Normandie (French raclette and Camembert). Bread accompanies the fondues; for creative dipping, try sides of mushrooms, sausages, apples, and potatoes ($4 each). The fondue arrives hot and bubbly in a saucepot over flame. Stir often to prevent scorching - an excuse to indulge. Dip morsels into the cheese infusion and savor the blend of flavors. Heavenly!

Seeking the Full Monty? There are three 'in the boeuf' fondues ($40): Fondue Chinoise (beef in vegetable broth), Fondue Bourguignonne (beef in oil), and Fondue Bacchus (beef in red wine), all with sauces and condiments. Sides for dipping are prawns, chicken, pork and scallops ($4.50-$8.50).

Matterhorn also offers individual entrees. We ordered Breast of Sonoma Chicken, sesame-encrusted with a mustard sauce ($15), and filet of pesto-laced salmon ($16.95). Both dishes come with spaetzel and al dente veggies. Other entrées are Pork Tenderloin 'Zermatt' ($16.50), adorned with gratinee of cheese (of course!) and onions, and 'Wienerschnitzel' ($17.00), a traditional veal dish, both served with Swiss-style potatoes.

Reaching the pinnacle of sumptuous Swiss fare, dessert is the ultimate height! Matterhorn offers chocolate fondue with fresh fruit ($14 for two). Nothing beats dipping strawberries into warm melted chocolate. Das gute! Another traditional dessert: homemade apple strudel served with vanilla ice cream ($7)-very tasty, though we chocoholics prefer fondue by leaps and yodels.

So, enjoy haute cuisine at Matterhorn for festive fondue and other Swiss delectables, and you don't have to tram up a mountain to savor it.