By Eileen Ogintz
GRINDELWALD, Switzerland — There are no taxis and we’ve missed the last bus. Our only option is a three quarter of a mile walk up a steep hill to the restaurant
Café 3692 is named for the height (in meters) of the Wetterhorn Mountain, which looms over the town of Grindelwald along with the Eiger and other peaks in the Jungfrau range. On the Wetternorn is a lonely alpine hut where hikers get a bed, dinner and breakfast. The café’s owners Myriam and Bruno Kaufmann had worked for eight years at the hut and Bruno’s mom had run it for more than three decades.
Of course the locals in Grindelwald don’t think that is much of a hike at all. No wonder everyone is Switzerland is so fit! “We always walk when we go there,” our innkeeper says. “It is very special.”
But “if you just spend a day or two in Grindelwald, it is hard to find us,” laughs Bruno Kaufmann.”
We are on a self-guided hiking trip in Switzerland that has been arranged by the American-owned company Alpenwild and have spent three nights at a locally-owned hotel, Hotel Gletschergarten. Alpenwild has arranged for our bags to be sent from hotel to hotel and given us detailed itineraries with options to hike, take cable cars, trams, buses and trains to get where we want to go, maximizing our mountain views and experiences—passing cows with their giant bells around their necks, goats, mountain huts, glaciers, waterfalls, alpine meadows and sheer mountain faces.
After upwards of eight miles of arduous hikes, we don’t feel guilty indulging in a good evening meal and feel privileged finding the Café 3692 and meeting the Kaufmanns. It is rare to find a couple so passionate about what they do and what they have created on the site of what had been a Kauffmann home dating back generations. In fact, Bruno Kaufmann, a woodworker, used wood dating back to the 16thCentury; he also created an undulating wood ceiling to block some of the noise from the open kitchen.
Bruno Kauffman considers himself the “tool” to highlight the art of nature through woodworking and has gained such a reputation that he has been asked to design other restaurants.
The idea is to reinterpret old wood for modern purposes—the bar, for example, is an old work bench.
The restaurant is different from most here as it is only open for dinner Friday and Saturday nights—breakfast and lunch other days. As it is close to the children’s ski school, many families come for breakfast or lunch and there are baskets of kids’ toys and books. The night we were there, a local family came to sample some of the house made deserts; the kids happily entertained themselves with finger puppets.
To showcase the history of the tunnel through the Eiger, there is a small mining cart that is wheeled out on the terrace for barbeques. “We are different that we don’t have a set menu,” Myriam Kaufmann explains. “We see what is fresh and then we decide with the chef, Tilo Amft .”
The night we visit, there is a choice of osso bucco with polenta and ratatouille; saltimbocca with beef and local ham, apricot and elderberry risotto; sea bass, and a pork cutlet served on braised apricots. All delicious.
There are mini burgers on house made brioche buns for kids or mini sausages. The emphasis here is on quality and the local ingredients.
Pastry chef Franzi Wengner believes she has found the dream job because she can bake what she likes—“It’s never boring,” she says—whether mango cheese cake that looks too pretty to eat – ice cream cake, chocolate tiramisu, chocolate truffles… Tt is so hard to choose! Guests are invited to the look at the glass counter to decide for themselves.
The Kauffmanns opened the café July 4, 2013. They live upstairs and have steadily grown a following, in part based on enthusiastic reviews on Trip Advisor and Yelp.
As the restaurant is so small—only about 36 seats—you wont see large tour groups either. “We have many locals who come and many repeat guests,” Myriam explains. The views are stupendous—we can see the lonely light of the mountain hut in the gloaming high up on the Wetterhorn.
“This is our story,” says Bruno Kauffmann, looking around the cozy space where Friday night diners are enjoying a special meal with local wines. “We built our story.”