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

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.