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.