New owners have performed a restaurant rescue on the Matterhorn, reviving the more than 25-year-old fondue institution as Matterhorn Restaurant and Bakery on September 24. After longtime Swiss-American owners Brigitte and Andrew Thorpe retired last year, new owners Natalie and Jason Horwath stepped in. They lived in Switzerland for several years, and upon returning to SF, started a fondue and raclette cheese pop-up at the Stow Lake Boathouse in Golden Gate Park.
“I selfishly didn’t want to stop eating [fondue],” says Natalie Horwath. ”And so I thought, ‘How can I make this work for everyone?’”
The Horwaths have lovingly updated the Matterhorn restaurant space, a hidden alpine escape inside a mixed-use apartment building on Van Ness Avenue. Longtime Matterhorn admirers will recognize the restaurant’s wall-to-wall knotty pine: That’s just as it’s been since 1987, when the building’s landlord (and the Matterhorn’s original owner), who is Swiss, had the interior assembled in Switzerland, taken apart, and shipped to the U.S.
Over two recent trips to Switzerland in preparation for their restaurant, the Horwaths gathered new items to add to the decor, like a vintage cuckoo clock and Swiss army blankets sewn into pillows. They decorated a previously drab hallway entrance, added a chandelier made from antlers, and completed the ski chalet feel with a real gondola, refurbished by a company in Colorado, which customers can reserve and sit in like a booth. French artist Charlie Adam contributed artwork and a new logo, and Swiss artist Esther Gerber designed the classic alpine decoupage.
Along with the interiors, there are some updates to the Matterhorn’s kitchen, too. It’s now lead by Natalie, who has worked at 20th Century Cafe in Hayes Valley and SF Scandinavian bakery Kantine. Her menu is fairly simple, with three melted-to-order raclette options or a “tour” of all three, dishes like veal and homemade spätzle, and a beef fondue option (that’s spice-rubbed beef cooked table-side in beef and red wine stock).
The main event is two classic cheese fondue choices: Either “Moitié–moitié,” a traditional fondue with 12-month aged Gruyère and Vacherin Fribourgeois; or fondue “emmental” with 18-month aged Gotthelf Emmental, L’Etivaz, and Vacherin Fribourgeois. “It’s a little tangier than a traditional cheese fondue, because we’re using aged cheeses [to make it],” Horwath says.
To dip, there are traditional potatoes, pickled vegetables, and in another new twist, house-made, 100 percent sourdough bread. Horwath will keep baking more items, with the eventual goal of opening for baked goods as a daytime cafe.
Grateful fans of the Matterhorn have all told Horwath how happy they are to see it return. “You get a lot of ‘Oh, I went there 20 years ago,’ or you get a group that used to come in on a regular basis, for parties or celebrations.”
Children in particular, like the Horwath’s 8-year-old son, can be particularly smitten with the place. Another new addition is likely to further enchant them: A model train of the Swiss Rhaetian Railway, visible through picture windows as it rounds miniature mountains and passes by a tiny Matterhorn restaurant.
Starting September 24, Matterhorn Restaurant and Bakery is open from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, with daytime hours to come.
Matterhorn Menu by Caleb Pershan on Scribd