Dining in Brussels

La Villette

La Villette

Belgium has always enjoyed a respectable (if somewhat unadventurous) culinary reputation, thanks to its border with the Netherlands and France. On one hand, some say that the local cuisine is classic French cooking served up in Dutch-sized potions, whereas for the vast majority of the chewing world, the only dishes that come to mind are Waffles, Beer, Moules Frîtes (mussels and fries) and of course my relentless weakness – chocolate. (More about that in a subsequent blog)

Delicatessen

Delicatessen

Not to be outdone by any other European city, Brussels has its fair share of serious eats, modern surprises and tourist traps. There isn’t a single visitor to the city who doesn’t arrive armed with the name Chez Leon as a recommendation from a cousin’s neighbor’s aunt’s sister’s hairdresser’s boyfriend’s therapist. Located on the awning-covered, light-bulb-string-illuminated, beggar-inhabited Rue de Bouchers, the only way to describe the Moules Frîtes at this Belgian institution – is institutional! If the boredom of the wait staff is any indication of how the cooks must feel every time a red-eyed, jet-lagged backpacker orders the exact same dish, it’s no surprise you’re left with a relentlessly lingering aftertaste of salty leaks. For a more pleasantly memorable Moules Frîtes experience, the delightful bistro on Sainte Catherine’s square called La Villette hits the spot. The menu is riddled with Belgian favorites from Grey shrimp to Sole to Entrecote steak.

Moules Frîtes with Belgian endives - La Villette

Moules Frîtes with Belgian endives – La Villette

Their Mussels with Belgian endives is flavored with white beer foam and cream, creating a rich, deep and buttery broth for the generous pot of fresh Zeeland bivalves, and for putting the hand-cut fries to good use.

Vol au Vent - La Villette

Vol au Vent – La Villette

The equally scrumptious Vol au Vent is best described as a deconstructed chicken pot-pie, with a very simple cream, beer and mushroom gravy. Desserts include the ubiquitous Pancakes and Profiteroles in some form or other, but the Crème Brulee made with Chamay beer is a true original.

Burratta - La Manufacture

Burratta – La Manufacture

Other classic restaurants in the city range from the 90 year old and multi Michelin star honoree Comme Chez Soi, to the hip, trendy locovore kitchens like Alexandre, Delicatessen, and the former suitcase factory La Manufacture – featuring a mind-blowing Burrata with external olive-oil infuser and a hot, crispy and sinfully delicious Goat Cheese Crème Brulee, but what the menu boasts in green olive and pistachio crusts or tarragon sauces is quickly diminished by the complete and abject lack of service.

Le Wine Bar de Sablon

Le Wine Bar de Sablon

My personal favorite has to be the neighborhood bistro Le Wine Bar de Sablon. The staggering menu features every part of every creature (snails, brains and sausages included) proudly produced by the tiniest of kitchens.

Sea bream Carpaccio - Le Wine Bar de Sablon

Sea bream Carpaccio

The Dorade Royale (sea bream) Carpaccio was spiked with red peppers and pickles, giving the fish a smooth, sour and spicy edge. The Rillettes were sinfully festooned in thick duck fat with pickled onions and stoneground mustard for a sharp contrast, but the runaway hit of the day was the Poêlée de Champignons.

Poêlée de Champignons - Le Wine Bar de Sablon

Poêlée de Champignons – Le Wine Bar de Sablon

A caramelized and sautéed trio of dark forest flavored and freshly plucked moist porcini, chanterelle and hedgehog mushrooms served with steaming hot polenta.

Lizzie's Wafels, Bruges

Lizzie’s Wafels, Bruges

And without doubt, the hands-down best Waffles in town – are actually located out of town. Just steps from the Grote Markt in nearby Bruges, Lizzie’s Wafels have conquered the hot, dimpled vanilla biscuit market. After years of being pestered by insistent tourists demanding waffles, Lizzie finally relented and took the popular all-day breakfast snack to a higher level. Serving nearly 150 super-sized crispy waffles per day with all the obvious (and some less obvious) toppings, Lizzie also created Chocolate “Roses”, which are peach-sized chocolate blooms in three flavors that are lowered into scalding milk for the most decadently wonderful melted hot-chocolate delight the world has ever tasted.

http://www.la-villette.be/reservation/

https://www.commechezsoi.be/Reservations/tabid/401/language/en-US/Default.aspx

http://www.lamanufacture.be/en/

http://www.winebarsablon.be/en

Hot Chocolate "Rose" - Lizzie's Wafels, Bruges

Hot Chocolate “Rose” – Lizzie’s Wafels, Bruges

Locanda Verde review

Locanda Verde -

By definition, a “Locanda” is an inn or guest-house, somewhere you can either eat or spend the night. The thing is, even though Andrew Carmellini’s sedate, sophisticated yet utterly sumptuous taverna Locanda Verde is located right inside Robert De Niro’s Greenwich Hotel, if push came to shove and I needed to bed down for a few hours after having gorged myself on “cicchetti” (small plates brimming with delectables), I would much rather do it right there on the marble counter, surrounded by some of the most dependably delicious house-made pastas and a bevy of full-bodied Barolo’s.

The L-shaped space at this Tribeca favorite is enormously welcoming with intermittent wine-racks partitioning the various dining areas. The only aspect that might be considered somewhat pretentious, are a certain species of diner who believe this to be a ripe sighting-ground for the likes of Hugh Jackman or Susan Sarandon. But trust me, the real stars are all on the menu. It’s all about Carmellini’s devotion to recreating an always-satisfying, urban Italian experience – regardless of whether you have only been here once, or one-hundred-and-once. His ingredient simplicity and restraint from over-fancying traditional dishes is what continues to make this a tough table to secure.

The Sheep’s milk Ricotta with sea-salt and herbs served with country toasts couldn’t possibly be a plainer dish. But once it arrives in a circle, surrounding a miniature birdbath of olive oil, you just want to dive in. When that sumptuous creaminess hits your tongue just after you bite down on the crusty bread, each of your taste buds races to be the first to define it. Is it (ever so slightly) sour? Maybe. Salty? Just a little. Creamy? Obviously!

The Insalata D’Andrea is another rather conventional-looking plate, but the sweetness of the apple and the tang of fennel and Asiago cheese would surprise anyone who would think this is just a salad. The Marinated Beets were a touch on the too-soft side for me, but the pistachios added some vital crunch.

Each of the house-made pastas are worth crossing Canal street for, but the all-time winner has to be the Pacherri with Sunday night Ragu. I’m never sure to which Sunday night they are referring: last week, last night, last fall? Who cares. All I know is – Sunday must have been a great night for cooking. The Dorade al forno is another standout. They fillet it and section it lovingly into convenient slithers amongst a buttery garden of tender artichokes and fennel with the slightest essence of sour lemon.

Keeping the citrus element alive, we moved on to the sublimely smooth wedge of Lime Tart with Buttermilk Gelato, when that all too familiar end-of-meal depression began to sink in – just like Sunday nights when I was still a schoolboy. Aaah.

http://www.locandaverdenyc.com/

Locanda Verde - Lime Tart with Buttermilk Gelato

Lime Tart with Buttermilk Gelato