Friday, August 27, 2010

Spontaneous Thai Excursion

We're in the midst of moving madness, which has also meant a barrage of farewell dinners, often at our favorite haunts. But when one of those, Nea Genia, was closed, we needed a new plan. Fortunately our dining partner for that evening lives in the area and immediately thought of Tchin Tchin Thai. It was a lucky night.

The area around Chatelain is always hopping with restaurants and the Tuesday we were there was no exception. We arrived around 9 and got one of the few remaining tables. The menu was pretty standard and we had some of our usual vegetarian suspects: loempias with dipping sauce, and hearty helpings of curry tofu. I opted for red curry, which was delightfully spicy and full of cooked (but not soft) vegetables.

There seemed to only be one server for the room, which meant it was rather hard to get his attention, but we weren't in a particular rush - and the food was served quickly once we managed to place our order. It was a comfortable setting, tasty food, and clearly a popular destination. I'm only sorry to have discovered it just before leaving!

Tchin Tchin Thai
Rue Americaine 89
1050 Ixelles
Tel. 02 435 0073
No website (as far as I can tell)
Closed Saturday lunch & Sundays. Reservations might not be a bad idea, particularly on weekend nights.

Monday, July 26, 2010

In the Element

I'm both excited and sorry to say that my husband and I are moving back to the U.S. at the end of this summer. It's a new adventure - and hopefully a continued adventure in eating - but it's sad to say farewell to Brussels. What it does mean is that I've got a month of farewell dinners coming up in the next few weeks, which is great for my belly, but may not provide a lot of blog material, between the home-cooked meals and visits to many of the old favorites before we go.

One of those old favorites was L'Element Terre, which we visited last week on our farewell tour. This is one of Brussels' vegetarian restaurants, in the sense that they serve scampi. But they also offer plenty of "real" vegetarian options, based on a round-the-world theme.

Each dish first notes the country that it hearkens from. Their appetizers come in normal or "tapas" size portions, so we opted for three tapas for the four of us: Moroccan chick-pea-and-lentil-based "merguez", beautifully spiced and accented with chopped tomato and coriander; Ceylan's vegetable pakoras, which I would have called tempura, served with a pineapple-and-cinnamon chutney - a lovely flavor but not necessarily lovely with the tempura; and a Lebanese smokey baba ganoush served with the requisite pita.

My African vegetable and heavily-peppered-tofu skewers were topped with a chunky and spicy peanut sauce, served up with a pot of rice and some fried bananas. All yum although the tofu really had too much pepper. Around the table we had Moroccan tajine, again with aromatic spices and a bit of heat (a side of harissa or other hot sauce would have done well); a smooth and rich Indian chick-pea stew; and Italian vegetable strips wrapped around cheesy peppery stuffing. We had arrived hungry but by this point were happy and at the perfect point of well-fed-ness, with cleaned plates in front of us and enough room left for dessert.

Three of four dessert options involved chocolate, plus one fruit-based (cherries). We had one slice of chocolate-hazelnut torte, and another of white chocolate torte. The latter was based more on a sort of rice-pudding flavor although the white chocolate was present but not strongly enough for me, a great lover of rich white chocolate desserts. The choco-nut choice was nice, with a drier consistency and not too much sweetness. Espressos and fresh mint teas made for an excellent accompaniment.

The weather obliged so we sat in their garden, a nice, quiet and small area with tall bamboo and a cherry-plum crossbreed tree next to us. The indoors is also quaint with wood paneling and touches of red.

L'Element Terre is strong on presentation, and almost every dish is accented with a piece of fresh fruit - at least it was at this summertime meal. It's a feast for the eyes and the mouth, great for a nice and relaxing night out.

L'Element Terre
Chaussee de Waterloo 465
1050 Ixelles
Tel. 02 649 32 27
Closed Sundays and Mondays; reservations generally a good idea, particularly for garden seating in the summer

Friday, June 18, 2010

Soul food

We ended up at Soul last Sunday night, and although the experience was lovely and the food tasty, you really need some context first:

For one, I had been trying to go to Soul for about two years. The problem is that they are only open from Wednesday to Sunday and for some reason every time I thought of going there, it was Monday or Tuesday. Or New Years. Or summer holidays. Whatever the case, our schedules could not align themselves.

Second, I had just written up Restaurant Week for Flanders Today (article here), a initiative whereby restaurants offer a three-course meal for 27 EUR. Soul was among the offerings. It was destiny.

Lastly, we were in Iceland on vacation until about 4 hours before the end of Restaurant Week. So it was Sunday night or bust. Also, having researched Icelandic food ahead of our trip and seeing that rotten shark and pickled testicles were among the culinary pleasures of our vacation destination, I figured a meal at a semi-vegetarian restaurant might be a light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel sort of thing. (We did eat fish pretty much non-stop for 10 days and hardly saw a fresh vegetable all week - and the fish was great.)

So after years of preparation, articles written, and Iceland conquered, we found ourselves sitting in Soul last Sunday, exhausted and vegetable-deprived. Soul delivered.

As we were there for the Restaurant Week gig, we did not get to choose our menu. Apparently most Restaurant Week diners got fish in their menus but we had specified vegetarian, which they were happy to accommodate.

We started with a tower of beet slices, delicately cooked aubergine slices, and creamy cottage cheese. It was simple, beautiful, fresh, and delicious.

For our main course, we received a substantial serving of spiced lentils with bites of carrot and pumpkin, topped with three large chunks of tangy feta cheese, and surrounded by a half-dozen "falafel" balls. Although these were recognizable as falafel, they were only lightly fried, and the batter had grated carrot and various non-falafely spices mixed in. It was chic falafel, and we enjoyed it - I just don't want you thinking of your local halal shwarma bar when you envision this falafel.

Our dessert was poached pears with a bit of caramel sauce, just the light ending I needed. All in all, I don't think we scored any savings by going via Restaurant Week, which to me means that their menu is a bit overpriced, but I'm sure part of that can be chalked up to the setting.

Soul is a quiet and cute space steps away from the Sablon. Bare bulbs decorate the ceiling (they were kept quite dim but I assume in darker months the electric lighting is stronger). I felt super trendy and cozy eating there, and it definitely seemed that most of the other diners were there on date night.

Although we didn't get to choose, I still asked to see the menu. Soul offers a number of themed menus that do not appear on their website - there's menus tailored for pregnancy, for detoxing, and for various other states of mind and body. I'm not so into homeopathy, but I can at least verify that the dishes sound tasty. Their menu is also very vegetarian friendly. They call themselves a "bio organic fusion" restaurant; I just call it yummy.

Rue de la Samaritaine 20
Brussels 1000
Tel.: 02 513 52 13
Open for lunch Wed-Fri; open for dinner Wed-Sun. Reservations recommended.

Friday, May 28, 2010

One can never have too many cupcakes

If you build it, cupcakes will come: here I was, innocently blogging my way along, and before I know it, a cupcake baker reads this blog and wants to bake me cupcakes. Is this the good life, or what?

The baker is Ashley, the North Carolinian behind, an online bakery. After some serious negotiations, I decided that my cupcake of choice would be her red velvet - a varietal from the U.S. South, it features chocolatey flavor and bright red cake. As Ashley strives to use organic ingredients wherever possible, her red coloring is not as vibrant as the deep, dark red I have come to expect in America - but the flavor certainly wasn't compromised.

She only bakes by the dozen, so I ended up with six featuring cream-cheese frosting and six with vanilla cream frosting. The vanilla went much better with the red velvet, but the cream-cheese was both creamy and light, and I imagine quite tasty with other cake flavors that can match its slight tartness.

For a bit of diversity, I also got to sample a couple of other flavors in mini-cupcake mode: the chocolate cake was divine, two thumbs up there. We also tried her strawberry polenta, with real strawberries baked in, balancing well with the grainy, corny polenta. A combination I couldn't have imagined before, but I certainly recommend.

You'll find her list of standard flavors on the website, with seasonal options, too. She can also accommodate special requests, and bakes non-cupcake delicacies as well. While she hopes to open a cafe eventually, she's currently baking to order, so advance notice and larger orders are necessary. A dozen will run you 25 EUR (to pick up) or 30 EUR with delivery. Perhaps not so practical to satisfy any old craving, but a great bonus for a special occasion.

Online only (for now) at
Orders must be placed at least 48 hours in advance

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Thai-Viet quickie

My husband introduced me to Saigon Bangkok. It’s around the corner from his office and seemed like a logical place to go before a dance performance at the Cirque Royal. His only warning was that his lunch experiences there did not feature quick service. And my pre-theater dinners are notorious for anxiety and clock-checking every 3 minutes.

So our first question when we sat down was: “we have to leave in 1 hour. Do we have time for a starter and a main course?” Answer: yes. When I then ordered the fried vegetarian rolls, I was helpfully informed by the waitress that the (cold) spring rolls would come out faster, since we were in a rush. Advice most appreciated for its relevance, and accuracy.

On to mains. Diversity in vegetarian fare is not Saigon Bangkok’s strong suit. We both took the tofu with curry – red for me, and the spicier green for Gidon. There’s also a non-spicy option of vegetables and tofu, and basically that’s it for their vegetarian mains. That said, both curries were delicious. The green packed a respectable punch, and even the red was spicy enough.

In, out, fed and happy: 55 minutes. Score!

Saigon Bangkok
Rue de la Pacification 36
1210 Saint-Josse-ten-Noode
Tel. 02 280 0475
Open lunch and dinner, Mon-Sat (closed for Sat lunch and all day Sunday)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Aperitifs, Antipasti and Books, oh my!

If you are a stagiaire, are friends with a stagiaire, or have ever spoken to a stagiaire, you have probably heard of Piola Libri. It's a bookshop by day, hopping wine bar for stagiaires (and others) by night.

Not being a stagiaire myself, my radar did identify a few fellow non-stagiaires present at Piola Libri, so all should feel welcome here. In fact, I might even say all should feel obligated to try it out - it's tasty food and easy-drinking wine at a great price.

First, the wines. Five reds, four whites, a rose and two sparkling varieties were on offer during my visit; each glass will run you four or five euros. The wines I tried - a sweet sparkling muscat and a semi-dry white - were not the most complicated flavors, but they were pleasant, and in this busy setting, I was hardly looking for something overly sophisticated.

Here's the bonus: their antipasti bar (free with your wine) features an amazing selection of fantastic vegetarian munchies. Sun-dried tomatoes, olives, potatoes roasted with rosemary, pickled onions, breadsticks, beans, hot peppers and more. It's basically all-you-can-eat - or at least all-you-can-fit-on-a-small-plate (but they don't give you a hard time if you go back for seconds).

Two glasses of wine and two plates of antipasti and I have to admit I didn't even need dinner - my four food groups might not have been accounted for, but for one night, I can let that go. And I can only imagine that the bookstore (filled with Italian books) is worth a visit before 6pm, too. Either way, the books make for a cozy atmosphere, which, by the time we left was standing-room only.

Piola Libri
66-68 rue Franklin
1000 Brussels
Tel. 02 736 9391
Open Monday-Friday for lunch; aperitifs and antipasti from 18h
Get there early.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Heading Up North

It's been weeks since my last posting - but in my defense, I was on vacation, then there was a volcano delay... and then I was just plain lazy. As if that wasn't bad enough, today's post is a little bit of a cop-out, but I promise there are more postings of new restaurants coming really soon!

On to today's cuisine: Up North, a Scandinavian restaurant. You'll find my full review in Bite, my Flanders Today weekly column. I did enjoy a lovely meal there - although if you are really vegetarian, this is not the place for you. If you eat fish, however, bon appetit!

The menu is fairly small, with fish featuring prominently, and a few meat dishes. The portions were ample, and the aquavit was refreshing. Scandinavian food features strong flavors, so this is not really a good place for cautious eaters, either. But the food was tasty, the service friendly, and the atmosphere comfortable.

Go here to read my column, and go here to eat:

Up North
Rue des Chapeliers 36
Brussels 1000
Tel. 02 502 77 29
Reservations not a bad idea
Open Tues-Sat for lunch and dinner