Monday, March 30, 2009

Check out Chickpea - CLOSED

We're reaching the end of Passover here, meaning a. life is slowly calming down again, and b. soon we'll be eating normal food once more! Although I haven't had time to write about it until now, we did sneak in a trip to Chickpea just before Passover. This was an exciting discovery that I'm happy to share with you.

Located at the chic intersection of Avenue Louis Lepoutre and Chaussee de Waterloo (leave your car at home), Chickpea is a mediterranean restaurant that opened about 3 or 4 months ago. It's Israeli-owned, but not kosher - so it can serve as a partial replacement for the now-closed PilPel, certainly on the vegetarian side. That said, it's a bit more upscale than PilPel ever was, with a modern, candlelit interior, so you may want to save it for a nicer night out.

Then again, the night we were there, a fairly tame bachelor party of Israelis and Italians had dressed up the groom-to-be in a bunny outfit and he went around the restaurant selling chocolate eggs to the other patrons. So they aren't too hung up on propriety.

Fortunately, they are hung up on good food. The menu features a selection of starters, many of which are vegetarian, and all of which sound delish. We opted for their salad selection - a tapas-style serving of a dozen or so different salads, served with a warm, soft lavash type of bread. Although we were 4 at dinner, the waiter (thankfully) suggested ordering only enough for 2, since we would all be having main dishes afterwards. It was a welcome suggestion since the salads quickly filled the table - hummus, tehina, cucumber/tomato, spicy tomato salsa, pickles, cauliflower, falafel, you name it. All of it seasoned with different combinations of lemon, mint, pepper, and all the things that make mediterranean food so fresh and scrumptious.

For our main dishes, there were a few orders of fish and one meat. These were a bit of a disappointment, particularly following the fantastic starters. The fish was fine but really nothing to write home about. I bet they could do up some sort of vegetarian main if you were really hankering for it, although nothing appears on the menu. I'd suggest going full-on tapas style, ordering the salad selection for the whole party, throwing in some of the warm starters as well. Or just tell them you're vegetarian and see what they suggest.

We got talking to our waiter (who may also be the owner?), and I asked a very important question: what is their limonana status? For those who don't know, limonana is an out-of-this-world lemonade with fresh mint - actually, that's really all there is to it, and you can make it at home, but it's absolutely the perfect summer beverage (or really at any time of year). The bad news is that they don't have it. The good news is that they don't have it - yet. A machine is on order so I can soon get my fix. Meanwhile, you can make do with their decent wine list, including some Israeli kosher wines - a pleasant surprise for us.


Chaussée de Waterloo 510
1050 Ixelles
Tel: 02/345.80.08
Open every day! 12h-15h & 18h-22h30 (Fri/Sat til 23h)

No Oops at Oups

Oups was a delightful discovery shortly after I moved to Brussels. It was a few doors down from the now-closed Focus Career Services, which is more or less the first stop in Brussels for any trailing spouses (or girlfriends, in my case). While I didn't ever spend much time at Focus, I have always enjoyed a trip to Oups.

For those who don't know or haven't guessed, their specialty is soup. Behind the bar, you'll find a listing of about half a dozen soups that are on for that day. The best part - almost all are vegetarian. You place your order at the bar and then take a seat in their charming, simple and clean dining area. The soup arrives along with delish wholesome homemade bread.

To hard to choose? No problem. Take two 1/4 liter bowls of different flavors. It's the perfect solution. Want more bread? Just ask. The service here couldn't be friendlier. There's a nice selection of drinks as well, but be warned - after 1/2 a liter of soup, you're bound to be pretty full of liquid.

The soups on offer change all the time, but last week the offerings included a cream of tomato, a carrot/coconut milk blend, and a slightly heartier mediterranean inspired soup with bulgar, tomatos, lentils and more. Drop in this week and you're sure to have different choices, but you can be sure that they will all be good.

Rue Lesbroussart 13
1050 Brussels
Tel. : 02.646.88.41
Closed weekends

Monday, March 16, 2009

Brussels' Vegetarian Classics

Generally I strive to cover the places that don't turn up when you Google "Vegetarian" and "Brussels". That said, no vegetarian Brussels-based blog could possibly be complete without a visit to Dolma. Google "Vegetarian" and "Brussels" and just about everyone will send you there. With good reason.

Dolma is a fantabulous vegetarian restaurant right near Place Flagey. They offer a buffet at lunchtime and in the evenings, and every time I go, it's both different and delicious. It's all you can eat (except for the desserts). They also have a very small menu for those who wish to order a la carte, but that's hardly the point.

Round one, I hit the soup-and-salad table. A hot vegetarian soup, crisp vegetables, a couple of kinds of lettuce, something marinated, some fruit salad. If you're there at lunchtime, a hefty serving from that table could be enough to send a veggie home smiling. But there's more!

Round two: the hot stuff. First, the bain-marie, generally with two kinds of rice (white and brown), some stewed vegetables, maybe some protein. Then we move on to a whole selection of vegetarian goodness. Last week - just as a sampling - this meant: lasagne "bolognese"; beautifully spiced grilled aubergines; courgettes and peppers with a yogurt sauce (which was also delish with the aubergines); and a veggie quiche. The bain-marie featured green beans and pumpkin in a coconut milk sauce, and marinated mushrooms.

Round three: this is where I go back for more of the stuff that was particularly good in round two. Yum.

Round four: dessert. Sadly, this is by far Dolma's weakpoint. A lot of their desserts seem to be vegan, and mastering the vegan cake without sacrificing flavor is a challenge for anyone. There are usually offerings in the chocolate, fruit, and creamy departments, but I've rarely had anything worth writing home about. Thankfully by that point in the meal, I'm too full to care.

Love Dolma enough to take it home with you? Sure you do. Walk next door and you'll find their shop, full of exciting bio products that you won't find in your local GB.

Don't fancy the whole buffet-surprise thing? Check out Tsampa, Dolma's sister restaurant (plus shop!) off Rue du Bailli, where you have a much better selection in ordering off the menu. I used to eat there all the time until they started closing at 7pm; the shop stays open until 8pm these days. This makes them more of a lunchtime affair, or a really early dinner, I guess. Plus they do take-away.

Both Tsampa and Dolma are heavy on the Tibetan flag-decor (apparently the original owners were Lamas), and both have a homey feel, with lots of wood panelling.

Good food in a comforting atmosphere, and you can eat everything in the place... what could be better than that?

Chaussée d'Ixelles 329
1050 Ixelles
Tel. 02 649 89 81 (Reservations not required but not a bad idea either)
Open Tues-Sat for lunch and dinner
Lunch will run you 15 Eur; Dinner at 18

Rue de Livourne 109
1050 Ixelles
Tel. 02 647 03 67
Open Mon-Fri from 12-7pm

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Bagel Wonderland

As part of my professional life, I work part-time for the International Jewish Center (IJC) where I get to answer all kinds of fun questions. By far my favorite was an email that came in a couple of years ago: "Hi, I just moved to town and I'm looking for a place where I can buy a good bagel." To those of you out there who hearken from New York, Montreal, or other important points in the world of bagel geography, I can already hear the resoundingly sarcastic "Good luck!"

So it was certainly an exciting moment when I discovered that PilPel (a shop/restaurant which has already been reviewed on this blog) carries frozen H&H bagels. New Yorkers, eat your heart out. But recently, I heard about Au Pays des Merveilles ("Wonderland", as in, "Alice in"), a little bagel restaurant/coffee shop in St Gilles. Whereas most Belgians seem to think that a bagel is just a roll with a hole in the middle, APDM at least gets the bagel concept a little more accurately, if not exactly up to North American standards.

I felt obligated to go with the classic: cream cheese and lox. A bit of criticism here: for one, APDM actually has a section on their menu called "classics" - and cream cheese and lox does not make the cut. More to the point, don't get your hopes up for lox; smoked salmon was all that was on offer, although I've come to expect that in this bagelly-hopeless country. (For those who don't know, lox is not smoked and has a salt content high enough to harden your arteries just by looking at it.) I was happy to see that they were generous with the "schmear" (i.e. cream cheese), and the service gets two thumbs up for friendliness.

APDM's bagels come in from Amsterdam, and I'm glad they make the trip. These certainly beat the other "bagels" on offer around town (perhaps with the exception of those frozen H&H beauties, but the fresher the better so I'm about 50/50 on this one). Also the tea, coffee, and hot chocolate selection makes this place a surefire destination for a Sunday brunch. Clearly other people agree, since the small and adorably decorated seating area was full up by 11:30am last Sunday morning, and there was no shortage of people lined up for takeout.

The bagel conundrum remains, but give APDM a try.

Au Pays des Merveilles
42 avenue Jean Volders
1060 Saint-Gilles
Tel. 0488 476 826
Open 7/7! Mon-Fri from 9h-18h; Sat-Sun from 10h-19h