In Zurich, a Short Trip to Japan

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As expected from a restaurant owner who moonlights as the president of a local Slow Food chapter, Markus Baumgartner obsesses over his kitchen's ingredients. He has direct relationships with all his purveyors, from a former banker who now raises salmon out of terraced ponds 25 miles from Zurich's city center to a cattle farming family 60 miles away whose small herd gets massages twice daily.

But there is much that defies expectation at this small minimalist restaurant, outfitted with a sole communal table, opened by Mr. Baumgartner and his partner, Yuko Suzuki, in July near the banks of the Sihl River. For starters, the food isn't Swiss. "We're taking mostly organic ingredients from right outside of Zurich and preparing them in a real Japanese kitchen," Mr. Baumgartner said. They also hired a consulting chef, Takashi Ono, from Kyushu.

Some of those ingredients are Japanese either in provenance or inspiration. The former banker raises cherry salmon hatched from fresh eggs shipped from Japan's Miyazaki Prefecture. And those pampered cows not only get regular rubdowns, but are also fed beer, following the template of Kobe beef.

Even the most dedicated ingredient hounds, though, can only go so far with a Japanese kitchen stocked only with local ingredients. So the pair import specialty items from Japan (fresh wasabi, konjac noodles, dried seaweed); the front portion of their restaurant is devoted to retail space. (A small but well-curated sake list is the result of an intensive course Mr. Baumgartner took in Tokyo.)

On a recent evening, all that attention to detail played out in a succession of small, immaculately prepared dishes: pristine sushi on delicately seasoned mounds of rice, a house-made soup of three-month fermented miso, and cherry salmon prepared four ways. For the succulent teriyaki chicken, a standout entree, the kitchen lacquered choice necks from free-range, organic birds with a six-hour sauce, yielding a pleasant caramelization. Dessert consisted of three sweets: matcha cake, creamy sesame panna cotta and a sorbet that highlighted the bright, zingy flavors of yuzu.

Regardless of their origin, Mr. Baumgartner and Ms. Suzuki seek a harmony between ingredients. "We want to stand behind what we offer," he said. 

Shinwazen, Freischützgasse 10, Zurich; (41-44) 321-01-11; shinwazen.com. An average meal for two, without drinks or tip, is about 190 Swiss francs ($215 at .88 Swiss francs to the dollar).

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This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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