Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Vegetarian in Brussels: A One-Act Play

The following post will either read as a rant, or an offering of vegetarian humor, depending on your/my state of mind:

The other night, I was invited to a work dinner at the Brussels Food & Wine Academy. My invitation offered a slew of culinary options - gluten-free, shellfish allergy, nut-free, even Kosher, for God's sake. Given that I actually keep kosher, I knew better than to request that option (waaay too complicated to figure out unless you live it), but I thought "surely, I'm safe if I take vegetarian. Vegan for Gidon." Famous last words.

I will qualify all of the following by reminding you that I am not vegetarian, and Gidon is not vegan - but for the purposes of the Food & Wine Academy, they should have been planning for those cases. Therefore we reserve the right to condemn them.

The evening started innocently enough with passed hors d'oeuvres. The only ones we could eat were the vegetables, which a vegan couldn't dip into the Russian dressing (mayonaise = eggs). We cheated on our vegetarian/vegan guises by partaking of the smoked salmon.

We sat down to dinner and starters were served. Salad for Gidon - so far, so good. Scallops for me. Houston, we have a problem.

Scene: a restaurant. Vegetarian diner seated at table. Enter waitress, with scallops.

Diner: Excuse me, these are scallops.
Waitress: Yes.
Diner: I am vegetarian.
Waitress: Yes.
Diner: I don't eat fish.
Waitress: Oh. You are vegan.
Diner: No, I am vegetarian. I don't eat animals, and I don't eat fish.
Waitress: So you're vegan.
Diner: NO, YOU RAVING IDIOT! (throws chair at Waitress)

All of that was true except the last line - which may, in fact, be the most believable part of that conversation. Having been (in)appropriately reprimanded by my superiority-complex endowed waitress, my scallops were finally removed and replaced with a salad.

Forty seven hours later, our main dishes arrived. By this time, they had conveniently placed me in the "vegan" box, so Gidon and I both got a few spoonfuls of rice, 6 cooked mushrooms, and some baked jerusalem artichokes. I have no complaints with the quality of the food, just the size of the portions, since thus far they had provided us with enough food to starve a rabbit.

In short, we came home at midnight and made dinner. Oh, the humanity!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Mushrooms from heaven

I admit, I have a big ol' soft spot in my heart for Cafe des Spores. For one, it was the first interesting restaurant that Gidon and I discovered in Brussels - just because we lived in the neighborhood at the time and walked past it late one night, when its windows were all steamed up and we spontaneously decided to stop in for a late dessert. It quickly became the restaurant we took all our visitors to - my parents, his parents, my brother's wife's mother, you get the picture. As if all those happy memories and meals weren't enough, Gidon proposed to me at CdS almost two years ago. So I definitely get all warm and fuzzy just thinking about the place.

But don't let my warped sense of reality sway you - Cafe des Spores gets good reviews from everyone, as far as I can tell. From the vegetarian perspective, you'll be looking at three main ingredients: mushrooms, cheese, and wine. How could you go wrong?

Cafe des Spores, despite the (witty) name, is probably more about the wine than the food. I'm sorry to say that I know ashamedly little about wine, but I can say that everything I've ever had there has been exceptional. As for the food, it's a small menu, with a half dozen starters and usually 3-4 mains, of which 1 is almost always vegetarian. So you don't have a ton of choice, but neither does anyone else, and everything available to you is guaranteed to be delicious.

Two starters have stayed on the menu since our first visit, and are mandatory every time we go: oeuf cocotte (we've had it with cepes and last week with truffles), and blondes aux herbes - delicious light caps with herbs and garlic, often served up in a little escargot tray. These two are scrumptious and absolutely non-negotiable.

Then we fill in around it. Last week we added some delicious cheesy teeny raviolis topped with (more) truffles, and for the main, we got the fondue for two: a wheel of melty Mont D'Or, topped with a plethora of lightly cooked mushrooms. Last week they were also offering some special wines of "natural fermentation" and I - again, knowing nothing about wine - really enjoyed the Vouvray they suggested.

For dessert, the mushroom inspired dishes have been really special - creme brulee with cepes, and cepes ice cream - but last week the desserts were mushroom-free, so we settled for a delicious tiramisu featuring calvados instead of coffee. Only people who knew me in college can appreciate the humor of my enjoying anything made with calvados, but this was good.

We've been trying to make a date there for the last two months but kept calling too late. CdS absolutely requires a reservation, even on a weeknight. There are not many tables and they only seem to do one seating per night. You'll be charmed by the decor - lots of sleek black wood with some pointed lighting, and an open kitchen taking up a good third of the floor space on the ground floor. The chef is friendly and it's a treat to watch him at work, especially from upstairs with an aerial view - but watch out, it does get hot up there.

There's a reason this place has practically a cult following in town. If I haven't convinced you yet, go give it a try and you'll soon understand.

Cafe des Spores
Chaussée d'Alsemberg 103
1060 Saint Gilles
Tel. 02 534 13 03
Closed Sunday, and lunch on Saturday and Monday. Reservations required.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Mysteries of Triskell

I am pulling myself back from the brink of blogicide! Weeks of not posting… mea culpa, mea culpa. I hope to have some good restaurants in store for you (and me) in the coming weeks.

Today, I want to talk about Triskell. Triskell can be hard to find, in the sense that it is very poorly labelled. But so long as you know the address, you are in for a treat. At the corner of Avenue Brugmann and Rue Berkendael, there is a charming Breton creperie: Triskell. For those in the know, of whom I am not one, Triskell is (if I have understood correctly) the symbol of Brittany, and containing an interconnected triad.

This little restaurant deserves special mention for the quality of its service. Smiles all around; adamantly and pleasingly un-Belgian. As for the crepes, they have that nice buckwheat batter for the savory ones, and for veggies you have some nice cheeses, mushrooms, tomatos and so on to choose from. There’s some lovely dessert crepes, and delicious cider to wash it all down. Plenty to make a veggie (and your non-veggie friends) happy. The setting is cozy with big windows and soft lighting; an excellent place to hole up during the dark, cold Belgian winter. It’s simple and straight-forward, and makes for a lovely night out.

Avenue Brugmann 150
1190 Forest
Tel. : 02.347.04.39 (Reservations not required but not a bad idea)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Shanti time

How many times have I thought about trying Shanti, only to wuss out, thinking it was too far away when there are so many good restaurants just a stone’s throw away from home? This past weekend, we boldly headed all the way to the ULB area for a quiet dinner at this vegetarian (really pescetarian) restaurant.

The décor definitely deserves a comment: fresh blue walls, plants and candles everywhere. It’s eclectic and comfortable and really has a lovely ambiance.

I stayed veggie, starting with a truly delicious salad topped with melty chevre. The dressing balanced out the flavors well, and things were off to a good start. Gidon opted for fish patties that were crispy and satisfying.

We switched gears to Indian for our mains. The vegetarian version for me – dahl, mixed vegetables, rice, raita, chutney, a papadum, and a deep fried banana. The last point seemed out of place but I’m no expert on Indian banana consumption; as for the rest it was a nice Indian concoction but next time I will probably leave the Indian food for specialty Indian restaurants and try something different chez Shanti. Gidon had some tandoori fish that was very nicely spiced and worth another trip. His also came with a papadum, rice, and more of the same chutney, which disappointed us both although he got a little more worked up about it.

Shanti doubles as a bio store so we’ll have to time our next visit for when that is open. This was one of the few vegetarian venues in Brussels that we hadn’t tried yet (not sure there are any left, actually), so I’m pleased to say that it ranks with the other few out there – very well.

68 Ave Adolphe Buyl
1050 Ixelles
Tel. 02 649 40 96
Open Tuesday-Saturday for lunch & dinner

Made to Mesure

On Fridays I work from home, and I’m ashamed to admit that I often forget or can’t be bothered to make lunch. For now I’m trying to make lunch dates to ensure that doesn’t happen, which gave me a good excuse to try out Midi Sur Mesure, a salad bar at Bascule that I’ve passed many times on the tram.

If you’ve ever been to New York City, you know these joints: start by choosing a type of lettuce or pasta as your base. Pick and choose the ingredients, which are priced individually, and top it all off with a choice of dressing. The guy behind the counter tosses it up in a big bowl, adds up your total, and poof! Lunch.

Of course, in New York, being as it is America, the portions are a wee bit bigger than what Midi Sur Mesure offered. Even though I got several toppings – rucola with boiled egg, parmesan, croutons, and mushrooms – I definitely wasn’t full at the end of it. And naturally those toppings start adding up before you notice it. This one cost me about 7 Euros; believe it or not, some things are actually cheaper in New York.

To their credit, the salad was fresh and tasty and I still love this concept, but isn’t there anyone who can bring the price down a notch so I can get a real meal? And my message to whoever achieves this challenge: franchise.

Midi Sur Mesure
Two locations:
51, rue Archimède, 1000 Brussels
13, avenue Legrand, 1000 Brussels
Monday-Friday, 11h30-15h. Delivery supposedly available but I’ve never tried.
(Thanks to Sarah for that scrummy salad photo!)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

From Italy to India

This past weekend found us at two restaurants, at quite different ends of the culinary spectrum. Saturday night we went to A'mbriana, an Italian place in Uccle that other blogs and reviews online seemed fond of. Sunday night, we were kindly invited by the Hindu Forum of Belgium to a Diwali celebration at Krishna, an Indian restaurant in Overijse. Very different, and both very lovely. Let me elaborate:

A'mbriana: I'll be honest with you: there aren't many vegetarian options. The husband and wife team who run the place did do their best to try and accommodate us with all our weird eating habits (we can only imagine what they were saying about us in the kitchen). While the ordering process was a bit laborious, once the food started arriving, we had nothing to complain about. Some nicely spiced olives and crusty bread to begin, followed by a fish amuse bouche that we had to turn down for the shrimp (us: "what kind of fish is this?" Waitress: "It's good."). On to the entrees - a plate of marinated salmon and basil, flavors all very well balanced, and one of the specials - fried cepes. Three letters for you: y-u-m. For the mains, I opted for canneloni, which was basically pure cheese and pasta and might have benefited from some spinach or tomato. Gidon went with another special, a baked cod with vegetables. Short on starch but tasty. If you can stand the limited options, or if you're out with a non-vegetarian, this is a good way to go (although I can't vouch for the quality of the meat dishes).

Krishna: the Diwali celebration meant that we were on a fixed menu Sunday night. We were also eating with a bunch of people who knew Indian food a lot better than we did, which was a real treat - for one, because the food was nicely spicy without even having to ask. We started off with some fried cauliflower with yogurt sauce. The menu featured a beautiful dal (lentils), aloo sag (potatos and spinach), mixed vegetables, rice (with a strong clove flavor), and puri bread. While I can't speak for the menu you might get on a regular night, based on this meal, I can only imagine you'd be pleased.

Rue Edith Cavell 151
1180 Uccle
Tel. : 02.375.01.56
Closed Tuesdays and Saturday lunchtime

Brusselsesteenweg 312
Tel. : 02.688.04.99
Open evenings only except Sundays

Monday, October 20, 2008

Wagamama goes Belgian

Let it be said: I love Wagamama. I discovered it in 2001 while studying in London and quickly became a frequent visitor. When I found myself back in Brussels, each trip to London provided more opportunities to head out for some tasty, reliable Japanese yumminess.

Sunday night, Gidon took me to dinner in Antwerp. When our original plans for kosher food fell through (we're in the middle of a Jewish festival and although the restaurants could have been operational last night, they were mostly closed), we started wandering around, scouting out the options.

Lo and behold: Wagamama appeared like a mirage. I could barely believe my eyes. Jumping for joy, we headed in, got our table, and ordered. I'm very sorry to say that much of the joy ended there. Gidon ordered Salmon ramen, I wanted Yasai katsu curry - they were out of both. Of course in my case, they only informed me that they were out after they had accidentally served me the chicken version of my dish, meaning I watched Gidon eat, and then my food arrived, and he watched me eat.

In the end, he opted for a noodle dish but was disappointed to be lacking on the protein front. We split edamame with chili/garlic salt (hadn't tried that before) and some vegetable dumplings, both as good as I remembered. I ended up with tofu/veggie fried rice, which was passable fried rice but not worth a trip to Antwerp.

I don't have a problem with the general Wagamama philopsophy that food arrives as it is prepared. Normally this means that all the food comes out piecemeal, generally quite quickly, and I never mind what order it comes in. But the service Sunday night certainly left something to be desired - like a trip to London.

Still, it is hard to hold a grudge. I have a soft spot in my heart for Wagamama, and if they open a branch in Brussels I'll be more than happy to give it another go. Maybe in a few months' time I'll get my hopes up again and even give the Antwerp branch another chance. They do offer their same nice selection of vegetarian choices, and I can usually count on a good meal there. Let's just hope Sunday night was a fluke.

De Keyserlei 15
Tel. 032349980
Open seven days a week: lunch, dinner and in between

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Parrots and Pitas

Before heading off to the first of my Bozar chamber music concerts this year, my friend and I spent an hour over dinner at Le Perroquet. For the vicinity of the Sablon, you can't beat it for price. Maybe Pain Quotidien provides some competition in that department, but while PQ has nice ambiance, you really could be anywhere in the world when you're sitting there. At Le Perroquet, you are unquestionably in Brussels.

Tables are crammed in to this food and drink joint, with a smattering of tables outdoors on the sidewalk. Le Perroquet is crazy for pitas - hot, cold, stuffed with everything under the sun, and - get this - a little leaf tells you when one is veggie. And they actually seem to get what that means, so there are no leaves next to pitas garnished with bacon, or shrimp. Not that I've had everything on the menu, so they could still prove me wrong.

They also splash out on a couple of salads and pastas, but with three pages of pita combinations, that's what most people come for. I went for a hot one last night, goat's cheese with some nice basil and tomato. I think I would probably go for a firmer cheese next time to get more of the meltiness of heating it up. But it's best not to over-analyze. That's not why you go to Le Perroquet. So grab a seat, grab and sandwich, and bon app.

Le Perroquet
Rue Watteeu 31
1000 Brussel
Tel. 02 512 99 22‎
Open 7 days a week - can you believe it?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Who's yo mama?

I stumbled on Fresh Mama a few months ago on one of my frequent Friday outings on Xavier de Bue in Uccle. I've always enjoyed this shopping street, and used to stop in once in a while to a salad bar there that has sadly moved on to salad bar heaven. So I was pleased when Fresh Mama opened its doors across the street.

Fresh Mama does a bit of everything: part shop, part restaurant, part kitchen supplies, part catering, part food classes (not yet offered), they seek to be a go-to destination for Seasonalivores (is that a word? OK, now it is). Their produce changes based on what's in season, so you won't be seeing artichokes flown in from Argentina in the middle of winter. Their produce is indeed gorgeous (their mushroom selection is especially nice), and you do pay a pretty penny (eurocent?) for it, so this isn't a place to do my daily shopping, at least not with my wallet. But if you're looking for something special, the folks here will be more than happy to help you - and they are super friendly, a welcome rareity here.

When Gidon stopped in a few weeks back, they explained that vegetables are the featured items on the menu, and fish and meat is just an accompaniment. Indeed, settling in for lunch yesterday and perusing their September/October menu, there was quite a lot for a vegetarian to choose from. My friend had a thick, creamy mushroom soup, and I took a salad: lentils, soft-poached egg, leek, emmenthal, red pepper reduction and greens in a punchy vinagrette. De-lish. And expensive. Yesterday I could say that it was in the name of research - all for you, dear reader! - but with soups at 6.50, salads around 12, and some dishes as much as 17 euro, this definitely won't become a habit.

Fresh Mama has definitely won a soft spot in my heart, so even if I can't afford to splash out there all too often, you may see me standing at window, eyeing the vegetables and resisting the urge to scurry back for a little lunchtime indulgence.

Fresh Mama
Rue Xavier de Bue 65
1180 Uccle
Tel. 02 343 10 05
Open Mon-Sat, 9h - 18h30

World melange

After a recommendation from Andreea, I finally ventured out to Hemispheres. I had oggled their online menu a while back, thrilled with the number of vegetarian possibilities. (Their website appears to be down as of this posting)

I might as well get out of the way that the service was a big disappointment. This wasn't just Brussels-usual-slowness, this was extreme-Brussels-slowness.

That said, if you're not in any kind of hurry and fancy a good meal, this place definitely deserves a spot on your list. I opted for the vegetarian menu:
- courgette patties with a nice spicy thai-dipping-like-sauce,
- fried noodles with tofu and aubergine - turned out to come in a tomatoey sauce that was a bit too much for my liking
- fruit and good quality yogurt for dessert.

Gidon took the harira soup, which was good on its own and was also nice when he added in a little harissa (super spicy pepper/garlic puree). He moved on to the vegetarian tajine, nicely done up with lots of beans but short on protein. We were both highly interested in baklava for dessert, but they were out. Gidon settled on some other dessert - neither of us caught the name - that the waiter said was the closest thing to baklava they still had left. It had less honey and was crustier than baklava and gave a good indication that the baklava would also be worth trying.

The menu covers every ethnicity of food you can think of, so this is a great place if you and your date can't come to an agreement about what type of food you want. There is an emphasis on North African and Asian foods, though - right up my alley, but maybe not yours. Enjoy!

Rue Des L'Ecuyer 65
1000 Brussels
Tel. 02 513 93 70
Open Mon-Sat, except Sat lunch
Website (if it comes back!): http://www.hemispheres-resto.be

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

No starving in this Ethernopia

I can hardly think of an Ethiopian restaurant without at least briefly thinking of Billy Crystal's joke in "When Harry Met Sally": "I took her for dinner in an Ethiopian restaurant. I said to her, 'This will be quick; they'll give us two empty plates and we can go home.'"

Fortunately, Kokob is here to prove him wrong.

Last night we finally made it there. I say 'finally' because we had already tried to get in - mid-week - and were told that reservations were absolutely necessary. So this time we called ahead, albeit at 2pm, and got a table at 8.

Past the first hurdle, it was now time for the explanation of the menu. I've eaten Ethiopian food before and I enjoy it both because of the how it is prepared and of course the variety of vegetarian options. Kokob did not disappoint. Their menu folds in two ways - one offering their meat options, the other offering the vegetarian options. A 50/50 split? Not bad.

Gidon and I took a menu, which was plenty filling. Ethiopian food is served on a sour crepe called 'injera', and although Kokob's were not as sour as I remembered, they were very spongy and didn't overpower the rest of the flavors. Those flavors included Shiro Wot, a delicious spicy dish made of pea flour and shallots (I'll be going back for that one); Carrot ena Fa solia wot, which was basically cooked carrots and green beans - not a terribly special addition, particularly as the veg was well cooked and I personally prefer them closer to raw; and Key sir ena denich wot, also known as potatos and beets - simply and nicely prepared. The menu includes one side dish, for which we took spiced fried potato wedges. Yum. You eat it all up with injera using your fingers. When I saw how soupy the Shiro Wot was, I wondered how that would ever possibly work but a remarkably small amount of dinner ended up on the table instead of in our mouths.

We were also given a lot of free stuff: free aperitifs upon arrival; a cereal-based amuse-bouche; scrumptious cold green lentils as a side dish, along with a simple green salad. We finished the meal with an espresso for Gidon (par for the course) and a hot milk with cinnamon and honey for me - a very pleasant end to a fine meal.

Rue des Grands Carmes, 10
1000 Bruxelles
Tel. 02 511 1950
Open every day - check website for times
Reservations necessary

Monday, September 8, 2008

Bring on the spice

On Saturday night, I decided to branch out a bit on the Indian front and boldly (for me) headed for Jaipur, at the corner of De Fre and Cavell in Uccle. There were very few people there when we showed up at 9pm, which was a bit worrisome, but my worries were not necessary.

I was there with a British friend and the waiter picked that up and spoke to us in English. When we ordered our vegetarian Thalis, he asked if we wanted it mild or spicy – the first time I’ve been asked that at any Indian restaurant in Brussels. We went for spicy. He explained that he only asked because we spoke English; he doesn’t even bother asking the Belgians since they can’t handle the spice!

Spicy it was, but pleasantly so. The Thali featured four dishes: palak paneer, mixed vegetables, an eggplant bhaji, and dal. The palak paneer, always a favorite with me, was creamy and nicely spiced without too much heat. The eggplant bhaji on the other hand more than made up for that, packing a nice punch. The dal was tangy and made for good quality comfort food. The mixed vegetables didn’t do much for me, but then again, they never do. All of this was accompanied by warm nan, a pile of rice, and a thick, creamy raita.

At 18 euros a pop, I’ll be sticking with the thali, although they do offer items a la carte for those who wish. Go enjoy, and splash out on a little spice, if you dare.

Avenue De Fré 201
Uccle 1180
Tel. : 02.374.93.94
Open all meals except Monday lunch
Also offers takeaway

Monday, September 1, 2008

Bxl Sprout joins the Foodie Blogroll!

As you will unavoidably notice from the widget to the right, Brussels Sprout has officially joined the Foodie Blogroll. This is a great resource to link up to other food blogs worldwide. Check out the links, or get your blog added, too.

Blurb from their website:
"The Foodie Blogroll is the first of its kind and is one of the fastest growing online communities for foodbloggers. With close to 2000 members spanning the globe in less than a year, there is a reason for its popularity. It is the first blogroll created just for foodies like you by a foodie like you."


Friday, August 29, 2008

Luncho Mexicana

I work in the EU Quarter, where all the food costs twice as much as it should, and finding a non-sandwich, non-4-course lunch is nigh-impossible. After months of Pulp, Exki, and the occasional tuna sandwich, I sometimes want to throw myself out a window. Fortunately, I have one little reprieve when things get bad: El Vergel.

This Mexican resto is actually a spin-off from the London establishment of the same name. They have a fair trade policy, several vegetarian options, and a pricing scheme in line with the surrounding area, meaning that I generally restrict myself to one or two visits a month. But still. The soups and specials are often vegetarian or available in a vegetarian format. On the menu, I've had:
- vegetarian tacos (my favorite) done up with some lovely feta cheese
- vegetarian tostadas which are a bit too small to really fill you up, and
- vegetarian empanadas with spinach and feta.

They do a range of sandwiches and salads as well. I usually do take-away but if you eat in, watch out for their juices - very tasty but uber-expensive for the teeny cup.

Things I've never taken advantage of at El Vergel include their breakfasts and their late opening Thursdays, the latter including cocktails (I guess business is going well enough that they don't yet need to offer cocktails at breakfast). Both sound worth trying and one of these days you just might find me there at 8 for a little pre-work indulgence.

All in all a good option, but be aware that it does get very busy at lunchtime and after a meal your clothes will smell Mexicany for the rest of the day. But some people go for that sort of thing.

El Vergel
39 rue du Trone
1050 Brussels
Tel. 02 502 6930
Opening from 8.00 to 15.00 Mon-Fri, plus 18.00-22.30 on Thursdays

Friday, August 22, 2008

Those two dudes

Sorry for the radio silence - we've been off in Ireland on vacation, and wow can they cook! To all those people who wondered what we were thinking being excited ahead of time about the food, we can now say that indeed, we were right and they were wrong. That said, it was the fish that was spectacular, so I'll save my thoughts for another blog. To be fair, there were a good number of vegetarian options to keep us happy on that front too.

But back in Brussels, I was off to I Due Signori, a lovely Italian place near Square Montgomery. It was a business dinner, which was nice for me since the prices were a bit higher than I would normally spend, once you add up the many courses that you are expected to consume.

We started with an amuse gueule that was already 2/3 vegetarian - some aubergine and some courgette. If you don't like looking at the slice of meat that consistutes the remaining third, they will happily bring you a plate without it.

Then it was time to review the menu, at which time they plonked a dish of truffles onto the table worth about $10,000 - just to tempt us.

After that it was on to starters. I had a cream of tomato soup that was short on cream even though it was quite nice. There were other typical Italian starters that got good reviews around the table (tomato/mozzarella salad, minestrone soup). On to pasta: what I should have eaten was the linguine with truffles. They were onto something with that little temptation while ordering, and I wish I had succombed. The waiter (who is apparently formerly of Villa Lorraine) dresses all the dishes at the table, and on this dish the truffles get grated onto your pasta while you watch. Yum. However, I had opted for cannelloni which was tasty but not special. Dessert was a delicious heart-shaped fondant au chocolat that I would happily have again - not overly sweet and super-melty on the inside. Others at the table did the more typical Italian pasta-course-followed-by-fish-or-meat-course, which I would recommend to the fish/meat eaters out there since it all looked well prepared and I think would make the whole meal more filling.

All in all, a nice ambiance, helpful staff (a rarety in this town), and good food = a good place to add to my list.

I Due Signori
60 bd. Brand Whitlock
1200 Brussels
Tel: 02.733.5954
Mon-Sat 12-14.30 and 19-22.30
Reservations recommended - they filled up on the Wednesday night we were there.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Savor the Saveurs

Thursday night I needed a restaurant that was
a. veggie-friendly (obviously)
b. could easily accommodate a to-be-determined group of 6-10 people, and
c. open during the bloody summer vacations.

For these circumstances, I took a little trip back in time to Saveurs du Liban, a restaurant I had visited three years ago and had fond memories of. Last night confirmed that those memories were well founded.

Vegetarians will be eating tapas-style here out of the cold and warm starters, but don't fear - there are 15 veggie-friendly choices (we counted; in fact, we nearly ordered them all) and 4 of us were totally stuffed on the 10 that we split between us. The rest of the group ate meat and were apparently happy with it, but you don't care. What you want to know is what to order when you visit - or take away, since they also do that, even with delivery via RestoPresto. So don't miss:

- the hummus (need I say 'duh'?)
- the labneh with garlic and mint, which tastes like Boursin but fresher and better
- balila, which is warm chickpeas with maybe some lemon and other tastiness
- the eggplant dish that resembles babaghanoush but has a different name
- rkakat - cheese-filled fried cigars.... mmmm....
- we also ended up with a nicely dressed salad with pita chips on top that was excellent but I have no idea what you call it.

It was quiet there on a Thursday at 9pm but the last time I went it was a Saturday and earlier in evening, which meant, you guessed it: belly dancer. Goes on the above list of "don't miss."

Saveurs du Liban
Chaussee de Waterloo 599
1050 IxellesPhone: 02.347.79.39

Photo from RestoPresto

Thai time

It was thai time again on Wednesday night, this time at my tried-and-true favorite, Fanny Thai. You know that street near the Bourse with a million Asian restaurants? This is the best among them. And I can say that, having only tried three others... well, I can at least say that it's awesome.

This week, they even gave me a little surprise: they've expanded their vegetarian menu!! Boy, was I excited. For you, dear reader, I varied my usual orders to take advantage of these new offerings, so I can now recommend Fanny Thai's own:
- spring rolls (excellent sauce)
- tofu satay (equal portions of peanuts, coconut, and yumminess)
- tofu or seitan in yellow/red/green curry sauce, depending on how daring you feel (I take red)
- tofu or seitan with chili and garlic (among the new additions; nicely spiced)

Gidon had the tofu in ginger sauce, another new addition, and they have a tofu or seitan with thai basil that a friend had there once, which was also good. In short, there's a full page of vegetarian options, everything so far has been delicious, so you can't go wrong - with the exception of the very big head sculpture that decorates one wall and kind of scares me a little. So just get a seat with your back to that.

Fanny Thai
Rue Jules Van Praet 36
Brussels 1000
Phone: 02 502 6422
Open every day!

Muchas gracias vegancowgirl for the photo!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Dolce Divino

Last week was officially Italian week for my stomach. Three out of four nights I was sitting in an Italian restaurant (and on that fourth night I was sitting at home eating homemade mashed potatos and watching Pride & Prejudice – an ideal evening if there ever was one).

Italian night #2 took me back for the umpteenth time to Divino, a little Italian joint that Gidon and I stumbled on shortly after I moved here and which we’ve been to countless times since. If you’ve ever seen the fantastic little statue of ‘Zinneke Pis’ (the peeing dog - hat tip to brusselspictures for the photo), then you’ve probably seen Divino, at least from the outside. It’s a small restaurant, with a nice garden waaaay out back. Reservations are recommended on pretty much any night of the week.

Divino serves up a nice selection of pizzas and pastas. Their appetizers don’t leave many choices for vegetarians but with a little adaptation you can probably have a choice of about 2 (or 3 if you eat fish). On the pizza/pasta front, vegetarians will be happy bunnies with plenty of choices for yummy Italian fare. I have to give a special shout-out to the dessert - or, more precisely, to the one dessert that I have every time I go there: Fresh Strawberries with Mascarpone, with a sprig of mint. On this past visit, Gidon had the Moelleux au Chocolat. Two words for you: yum and yum. Save room.

It’s not my favorite Italian in town but it does the trick, the décor is cute, and you can’t beat the location.

Buon appetito!

Rue des Chartreux 56
Brussels 1000
Tel. : 02.503.39.09
Closed: Sunday and Saturday lunch

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

How do you say "yum" in Italian?

Not only was it Monday, it was the Belgian National Holiday. If it weren’t for Google, we would have been eating some combination of whatever-was-left-in-our-fridge. Instead, we got Sale Pepe Rosmarino – quality Italian in Saint Gilles.

This sweet little restaurant was packed, even on a Monday, even on a National Holiday – maybe because it was both a Monday and a National Holiday, but I don’t think so. The owner seemed to know about half the people who came through the door. The operation has menus but also has one single specials board which is small enough that they bring it to your table one at a time. There’s no wine list, just some shelves in the back where you choose your bottle (prices are posted on the shelves).

You can do a true Italian dinner here – platters of antipasti are layed out at the back, and a few people were ordering up their pasta to be followed by a second course of meat or fish. Gidon had a tasty mushroom tortellioni (although a bit on the small side; perhaps better when paired with a second course or at least an appetizer). I enjoyed a very satisfying and not too big pizza. We split a fantastic tiramisu for dessert that basically evaporated off of our plate. And we spent a sizable part of the meal reminiscing about our last vacation in Tuscany.

Despite the friendly atmosphere promoted by the owner, we did wait an exceptionally long time to be served, but a few others around us were served very quickly. I read online that it's a place that really embraces, ahem, the 'Italian pace of life', shall we say, and you should be prepared to sit tight until your food arrives. If you're starving or just generally impatient, take a pass; otherwise I think you'll find it's worth the wait.

Sale Pepe Rosmarino
Tel. : 02.538.90.63
Rue Berckmans 98
Saint-Gilles 1060
Closed: Saturday lunch & Sunday

Belgium's Latest Export

No Belgian food blog can consider itself complete without a trip to Le Pain Quotidien. Not only are they all over Brussels, they are now all over the world. Does this make them more special or less special? Either way, their Belgian outposts serve up tasty sandwiches and salads, and an excellent selection of juices, teas and coffees.

PQs always include a big communal table, part of their philosophy but not something I’ve ever connected with. What I do enjoy is all the light shades of wood, the well-lit dining areas, and (often) a garden or some sort of outdoor eating area that can brighten up just about any gloomy Brussels day.

My favorite menu item I find is best for sharing: the Tuscan platter. Ricotta, parmesan shavings, sundried tomatos, tapenade, and more, all served up with a basket of bread… delicious. Make sure to ask for it without ham, and sometimes they will even be nice enough to add a little extra cheese to make up the difference. Their selection of tartines and salads gives vegetarians plenty to get excited about, although the salads in particular will cost you a pretty penny (eurocent?).

Also, they are open for Sunday brunch. It’s no diner, but if you’re American and missing that Sunday morning food-fest with your newspaper, it’ll do the trick.

Le Pain Quotidien
Various locations in Belgium and beyond:

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Rhode to Thailand

It was my birthday celebration, which meant that Gidon tried to come up with an interesting restaurant that would be open on a Sunday and when that didn’t work, he let me choose. Which is how we ended up at Bois Savanes, in Rhode Saint Genèse. Don’t let the location scare you off (unless you don’t have a car, in which case, forget it) – it’s only a 5-minute drive into Rhode from the Southern side of Uccle. OK, so it’s not exactly next door if you live in Schaarbeek but it’s not on the far side of the moon either.

The cuisine is tasty thai, which is definitely a cuisine that I’m digging these days. To be more accurate, I’ve dragged Gidon out for Thai food every chance I get in the last year or so. Bois Savanes was new for us and a fun experiment. I have to admit that there isn’t a whole lot on the menu for vegetarians: 1 appetizer and 2 main dishes. Add the (kosher) fish into the mix and we had another 1 appetizer and 2 more main dishes. For eaters of anything that comes from the sea (e.g. crustaceans), you’ve just opened up a whole other set of possibilities. But as it stood for us, we were looking at fairly slim pickins.

Fortunately for us, the pickins was tasty. For starters, we had the vegetarian spring rolls, which are just a bit bigger than bite size and you can actually taste vegetables inside instead of non-descript shredded business that comes in most rolls. We also split fried cod patties that came with a delish ginger sauce. For mains, we split the green curry vegetables and a tilapia with lemongrass and chili. The curry was really just vegetables, and I missed having a bit of tofu or seitan thrown in for good protein-ic measure. But the curry sauce itself was nice, spicy without blowing you out of the water. The tilapia, on the other hand, had both of us in a sweat. But we still loved it because you could also taste the other flavors in the dish.

For dessert, we had the ‘tarte au jasmin’, a to-die-for fluffy jasmine cake with a small scoop of almond milk ice cream. This gets its own line because it alone was worth the trip to Rhode.

In short, I say: Super Yum!

PS: call ahead because A. they were busy even on a Sunday (maybe because they are the only place open!), and B. they told us last night they are closing for the summer…

Bois Savanes
Chaussée de Waterloo, 208
1640 Rhode Saint Genèse
Tel : 02 358 37 78
Open from 12:00 to 14:00 and from 19:00 to 21:30, 22:00 on weekends.Closed Mondays and Saturday lunch.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Sprout, Sans Bxl

I've spent the last 4.5 days in the US of A - a place where it's not only easy to be vegetarian, but even being a vegan is surprisingly simple. Since this is a Brussels-based blog, I will keep this short, but just to let you know the culinary highlights of my trip, for the next time you find yourself on the East Coast:

1. Indique: scrumpious Indian in Washington, D.C.

2. Zen Palate: a vegetarian or vegan's dream, in NYC or Princeton, NJ.

3. Mediterra: a good number of veggie options, and an exciting wine list, also in Princeton.

Also, please note: JFK Terminal 7 (United, British Airways) - not so veggie-friendly. Looking forward to my next adventure here at home!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Mountain of Light, Mountain of Food

It was Tuesday and just about the only fresh thing left in our fridge was a bulb of fennel, which frightened Gidon more than he would like to admit. So we were off to our favorite Indian restaurant in town, which also happens to be our favorite restaurant within a 5-minute walk of our home: Kohinoor.

You should know that I’ve never been to India. I think the closest I’ve come is about 6,000 miles away, which still leaves a bit of a schlep between me and a fresh samosa. In fact, the best Indian meal that I have never had is going to be served to me at a dinner date later this month with our friends the Benskys, who spent several years in India with the American Foreign Service. If you know anything about Indian food, you may not even want to read this entry.

But given the dozen or so Indian restaurants that I’ve eaten in over the years, the few that I’ve visited in Brussels have, in short, sucked. (Everyone keeps sending me to Mumtaz in Matonge but I really was not impressed.) So I was delighted when I found Kohinoor as I was running errands a couple of years ago (has it really been that long?) and now the waiter practically calls our order down to the kitchen before we’ve even sat down.

The name Kohinoor (as I have just learned from my good friend Google) means 'Mountain of Light' and refers to a diamond from India once known as the largest diamond in the world. The stone itself is currently housed in the Tower of London. Brussels's Kohinoor may not make diamond-quality food, but I can vouch for its yumminess.
As with most Indian restaurants, vegetarian options are plentiful. We usually take the vegetarian fixed menu for 2 – Vegetable Samosas, Onion Bhaji, Alou Sag, Vegetable Bhaji, Baigan Bhaji, Raita, Pilao Rice, Nan, Tea or Coffee, all for 35 Euros. Gidon, my resident coffee snob, warns against their coffee, but they have a lovely jasmine tea. They also top their mango lassis with some shredded coconut which is a nice touch. I’ve been a bit disappointed with their Palak Paneer, which is my all-time (again, uneducated) favorite Indian dish, but not enough to stop me from ordering it. I love their lentil soup, which is heavily flavored with lemon, and last night we tried the Vegetable Korma which was creamy and coconuty, if a little over-potatoed. We’re lucky we live within walking distance – downhill no less – so we can roll ourselves home when we’re done. But then again, who goes to an Indian restaurant for a light meal?

Last night was one of those spectacularly sunny evenings where it’s as bright as mid-afternoon when we were just finishing our meal. All in all, a great evening to sit in their unbelieveably quiet garden and just relax and stuff ourselves at the end of a long day. I suggest you do the same.

Rue Vanderkindere 232
1180 Uccle
Tel. : 02.347.31.42
Open all the time except Sundays at lunchtime (we’ve even gone on New Years Day – take that, Belgium!). Also, they do take-away with a 10% discount.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A little of this, a little of that

I always have high hopes for Asian food, sometimes maybe too high. We have a couple of favorites in town in the Thai and Indian areas in particular, but you’ll have to wait on those since a couple of nights ago I ate at Chin.

The idea behind it is one that I’m enamoured of:
Step 1: Pick and choose from a buffet of raw vegetables, tofu, meats and fish.
Step 2: Pick from one of 9 sauces.
Step 3: Food is cooked and delivered to your table.

The vegetable selection was respectable, and since it’s an all-you-can-eat cover, there was enough diversity on the buffet to make each of my three trips a bit different. Of course the sauces are where things really get shaken up, and those were uneven. My first guess was the best of the three: red curry, one of my favorite flavors in general and well done here. Sweet-and-sour followed, which was a little too sweet, and then a Garlic-and-ginger, which had a bit of a strange aftertaste. Our table also tried out the Szechuan (very hot, well received) and Hoisin (not vegetarian).

It may not have been the Asian pick-and-mix that I had hoped for, but at 14 Euros a pop on a weeknight (a fuller 18 Euro buffet with salad and dessert features on weekends), I have a feeling I’ll get drawn back one of these days.

Rue de l'aqueduc 103 (near Place du Chatelain)
Tel: 02/537.22.90
Open all times except Saturday lunch

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Tell me about the salads

We had arranged to meet our vegetarian friend Lisa (we're actually a little skeptical of her vegetarian credentials following a little tempeh fiasco a few months ago) on a Monday night – enough of a challenge given that Monday is a night when many restaurants go dark. Then she started getting fussy: “I’m on a budget, so keep it below 15 Euros”, and then “wow, the sun is shining for once, get me a restaurant with a terrace!”

The solution: Raconte-moi des Salades on Place Chatelain. Very cute terrace, open on Mondays, dishes in the 10-15 Euro range, and, of course, vegetarian options (even for Lisa-the-questionable-vegetarian). The day is mine!

In fact, despite the optimism that the name instilled in me, these friendly guys seem to enjoy throwing meat or fish into their salads, rendering them mostly off-limits for a humble veggie-lover like myself. Lisa and I went for pasta, hers with a duo of mozzarella and smoked mozzarella that she deemed “delicious” and mine a mushroom, cream, and ham combo (less the ham) that filled me up and which I deemed “very tasty”, which Lisa contends is less good that “delicious.”

Gidon went for (vegetarians avert your eyes!) a seared tuna “salad”, which was basically several strips of tuna with a side of some shredded vegetables. While the tuna was cooked beautifully – cooked through on the outside, raw inside – it wasn’t enough for a dinner, and certainly not at the price they asked for it, which broke Lisa’s 15 Euro cap. We all split Le New York Brownie for dessert, which was definitely yummy although I am still waiting to find out what exactly was “New York” about it.

In short, the décor is adorable and there are still a few vegetarian-friendly salads and pastas that beckon me back (particularly if you eat fish), but this wasn’t the huge, filling salady kind of place I was hoping for.

Raconte Moi Des Salades
Place du Chatelain - 02/534 27 27
Chaussee de Waterloo - 02/345 35 25
Mon-Sat, De 12h00 à 14h30 et de 19h00 à 23h00

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Don't call them tapas

Gidon and I hadn't seen much of each other lately so I put him in charge of planning a little date for us. My one request: take me somewhere where I will have some choice on the menu. We can all give him a nice little round of applause for this one:


It means "how do I eat" in Spanish, and the answer at Comocomo is "not with utensils". The restaurant follows the YO! Sushi model, i.e. a handy conveyer belt winds around the restaurant, bringing the food from the open-air kitchen right to your seat. Instead of sushi, you get to sample pintxos, which is the Basque version of tapas.

The word 'Basque' usually makes me think something like 'militant' or 'nationalist', but that was before I knew they could cook! Top of my list was definitely the Bravas Ali-Oli, which was basically thick-cut potato wedges fresh out of the deep fryer, topped with aioli (we had to have that one twice). I also enjoyed manchego with rosemary honey and quince jam, served, as many of the pintxos are, on a piece of bread. Gidon had a seemingly-vegan mushroom mix with truffle oil on millefeuille and also made some very excited noises over deep fried sardines. For dessert we had churros and arroz con leche, which happily put us over the edge towards explosion.

A few pintxos were not so successful, either the flavorings weren't very interesting or, in the case of a white-asparagus-and-cheese dish that I was very intrigued by, the asparagus was virtually impossible to bite through. While we were fond of the conveyor belt gimmick, germophobes will probably be horrified (most dishes are covered with a little plastic dome, if that helps put your mind at ease). They say that each dish will only make the rounds so many times before it gets replaced but you do wonder how they monitor that, or at least I did. Still, we took the risk and came out not only unscathed, but happy.

The color of the plate tells you which category for the food falls into: cheesies (yellow), veggies (green), some garlickies (purple), and sweeties (orange) are veggie-friendly, and are so labelled on the big poster on the wall that gives you the full list of options. There are also fishies (blue) for those who swing that way. The names are a bit to cutsie for our liking, but the food is good enough that we're willing to overlook it. The restaurant also has an extensive wine menu, coded with little icons to help you choose dry/sweet, or what kinds of flavors you want in your wine.

At the end of the night, they count the number of plates sitting in front of you and tally up a bill; the cost per plate goes down the more you eat and there are three set menus of 3 (8.50 Eur), 6 (14 Eur), or 9 (19 Eur) pintxos. There are 6 dishes in each category, so it's more than enough to send a vegetarian home happy. Then again, not all the dishes are on the conveyor at the same time, so we did end up waiting for certain ones and eventually caved in and ordered a couple of things.

Total (stomach) damage on this visit? 20 plates. A rare feat for me but it was obviously all in the name of research. You could easily make a meal out of 6-9 each, depending on how ravenous you are. And as the food is already making its circuit as you walk in, this definitely makes for quality fast food, assuming you aren't too picky about which dishes you take. It's equally easy to linger over a few glasses of wine, wait for the particular pintxos you want, and turn it into a nice, leisurely outing.

As for us, there are still a few pintxos we haven't tried yet, so you may see us there when you visit.

Address: Antoine Dansaert 19,
Brussels, 1000
Tel: 02 503 03 30 Hours: 12:00-14:30 & 19:00-23:00 7/7 Also in Antwerp.
Menu, information and online reservations at http://comocomo.be/main.html

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Blog Begins

I should admit first that I'm not really a vegetarian. What business do I have writing about vegetarian options in Brussels? This business:

I moved to Brussels, Belgium on New Years Eve, 2004. My husband (then boyfriend), Gidon, and I keep a kosher diet, which means that we're restricted to vegetarian food and certain kinds of fish in restaurants. And I'm not much of a fish eater. I used to live in Boston and went to Wesleyan University before that, which was lefty-liberal enough that I never needed to warn hosts about my vegetarian preferences - every meal featured vegetarian, vegan, lactose-intolerant, and nut-allergy alternatives, and of course a special cinnamon-free serving for our friend Leiran, because eating it makes his eyebrow twitch.

In Brussels?

Me: "You said the salad was vegetarian."
Waiter: "It is vegetarian."
Me: "It has bacon on it."
Waiter: [blank stare]

Or better yet (for the real vegetarian geeks among you):

Gidon (at a cheese shop): "Which of these cheeses are vegetarian?"
Shopkeeper: [pause] "All cheese is vegetarian; cows don't eat meat."

(Gidon is the kind of person who wants to know where his rennet - the enzyme that makes milk into cheese - comes from. Traditionally it comes from the gut of a cow.)

Gidon and I quickly worked our way through the restaurants that bill themselves as 'vegetarian' - nearly all of which serve fish, but still, gift horses and all. We also worked our way through a fair number of restaurants that were not vegetarian, where, on a good night, we had 2 menu options that we could eat.

And we've found a decent number of restaurants that you would never in a million years call 'vegetarian', but where we had half a dozen or so menu items and where a vegetarian could comfortably eat. But finding these restaurants is hard. After my umpteenth Google search looking for a website that would list not only vegetarian but vegetarian-friendly restaurants, it seemed it was time to take matters into my own hands.

So welcome to my blog where I'll attempt to give you a few extra options and a better culinary impression (as well as my own impressions) of the Capital of Europe. It may not all be strictly vegetarian - fish is bound to make a few cameo appearances, and a fair-share of non-vegetarian-rennet cheese - but hopefully you can learn a thing or two about our experiences, or at least enjoy reading about them.