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)