Friday, August 27, 2010

Spontaneous Thai Excursion

We're in the midst of moving madness, which has also meant a barrage of farewell dinners, often at our favorite haunts. But when one of those, Nea Genia, was closed, we needed a new plan. Fortunately our dining partner for that evening lives in the area and immediately thought of Tchin Tchin Thai. It was a lucky night.

The area around Chatelain is always hopping with restaurants and the Tuesday we were there was no exception. We arrived around 9 and got one of the few remaining tables. The menu was pretty standard and we had some of our usual vegetarian suspects: loempias with dipping sauce, and hearty helpings of curry tofu. I opted for red curry, which was delightfully spicy and full of cooked (but not soft) vegetables.

There seemed to only be one server for the room, which meant it was rather hard to get his attention, but we weren't in a particular rush - and the food was served quickly once we managed to place our order. It was a comfortable setting, tasty food, and clearly a popular destination. I'm only sorry to have discovered it just before leaving!

Tchin Tchin Thai
Rue Americaine 89
1050 Ixelles
Tel. 02 435 0073
No website (as far as I can tell)
Closed Saturday lunch & Sundays. Reservations might not be a bad idea, particularly on weekend nights.

Monday, July 26, 2010

In the Element

I'm both excited and sorry to say that my husband and I are moving back to the U.S. at the end of this summer. It's a new adventure - and hopefully a continued adventure in eating - but it's sad to say farewell to Brussels. What it does mean is that I've got a month of farewell dinners coming up in the next few weeks, which is great for my belly, but may not provide a lot of blog material, between the home-cooked meals and visits to many of the old favorites before we go.

One of those old favorites was L'Element Terre, which we visited last week on our farewell tour. This is one of Brussels' vegetarian restaurants, in the sense that they serve scampi. But they also offer plenty of "real" vegetarian options, based on a round-the-world theme.

Each dish first notes the country that it hearkens from. Their appetizers come in normal or "tapas" size portions, so we opted for three tapas for the four of us: Moroccan chick-pea-and-lentil-based "merguez", beautifully spiced and accented with chopped tomato and coriander; Ceylan's vegetable pakoras, which I would have called tempura, served with a pineapple-and-cinnamon chutney - a lovely flavor but not necessarily lovely with the tempura; and a Lebanese smokey baba ganoush served with the requisite pita.

My African vegetable and heavily-peppered-tofu skewers were topped with a chunky and spicy peanut sauce, served up with a pot of rice and some fried bananas. All yum although the tofu really had too much pepper. Around the table we had Moroccan tajine, again with aromatic spices and a bit of heat (a side of harissa or other hot sauce would have done well); a smooth and rich Indian chick-pea stew; and Italian vegetable strips wrapped around cheesy peppery stuffing. We had arrived hungry but by this point were happy and at the perfect point of well-fed-ness, with cleaned plates in front of us and enough room left for dessert.

Three of four dessert options involved chocolate, plus one fruit-based (cherries). We had one slice of chocolate-hazelnut torte, and another of white chocolate torte. The latter was based more on a sort of rice-pudding flavor although the white chocolate was present but not strongly enough for me, a great lover of rich white chocolate desserts. The choco-nut choice was nice, with a drier consistency and not too much sweetness. Espressos and fresh mint teas made for an excellent accompaniment.

The weather obliged so we sat in their garden, a nice, quiet and small area with tall bamboo and a cherry-plum crossbreed tree next to us. The indoors is also quaint with wood paneling and touches of red.

L'Element Terre is strong on presentation, and almost every dish is accented with a piece of fresh fruit - at least it was at this summertime meal. It's a feast for the eyes and the mouth, great for a nice and relaxing night out.

L'Element Terre
Chaussee de Waterloo 465
1050 Ixelles
Tel. 02 649 32 27
Closed Sundays and Mondays; reservations generally a good idea, particularly for garden seating in the summer

Friday, June 18, 2010

Soul food

We ended up at Soul last Sunday night, and although the experience was lovely and the food tasty, you really need some context first:

For one, I had been trying to go to Soul for about two years. The problem is that they are only open from Wednesday to Sunday and for some reason every time I thought of going there, it was Monday or Tuesday. Or New Years. Or summer holidays. Whatever the case, our schedules could not align themselves.

Second, I had just written up Restaurant Week for Flanders Today (article here), a initiative whereby restaurants offer a three-course meal for 27 EUR. Soul was among the offerings. It was destiny.

Lastly, we were in Iceland on vacation until about 4 hours before the end of Restaurant Week. So it was Sunday night or bust. Also, having researched Icelandic food ahead of our trip and seeing that rotten shark and pickled testicles were among the culinary pleasures of our vacation destination, I figured a meal at a semi-vegetarian restaurant might be a light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel sort of thing. (We did eat fish pretty much non-stop for 10 days and hardly saw a fresh vegetable all week - and the fish was great.)

So after years of preparation, articles written, and Iceland conquered, we found ourselves sitting in Soul last Sunday, exhausted and vegetable-deprived. Soul delivered.

As we were there for the Restaurant Week gig, we did not get to choose our menu. Apparently most Restaurant Week diners got fish in their menus but we had specified vegetarian, which they were happy to accommodate.

We started with a tower of beet slices, delicately cooked aubergine slices, and creamy cottage cheese. It was simple, beautiful, fresh, and delicious.

For our main course, we received a substantial serving of spiced lentils with bites of carrot and pumpkin, topped with three large chunks of tangy feta cheese, and surrounded by a half-dozen "falafel" balls. Although these were recognizable as falafel, they were only lightly fried, and the batter had grated carrot and various non-falafely spices mixed in. It was chic falafel, and we enjoyed it - I just don't want you thinking of your local halal shwarma bar when you envision this falafel.

Our dessert was poached pears with a bit of caramel sauce, just the light ending I needed. All in all, I don't think we scored any savings by going via Restaurant Week, which to me means that their menu is a bit overpriced, but I'm sure part of that can be chalked up to the setting.

Soul is a quiet and cute space steps away from the Sablon. Bare bulbs decorate the ceiling (they were kept quite dim but I assume in darker months the electric lighting is stronger). I felt super trendy and cozy eating there, and it definitely seemed that most of the other diners were there on date night.

Although we didn't get to choose, I still asked to see the menu. Soul offers a number of themed menus that do not appear on their website - there's menus tailored for pregnancy, for detoxing, and for various other states of mind and body. I'm not so into homeopathy, but I can at least verify that the dishes sound tasty. Their menu is also very vegetarian friendly. They call themselves a "bio organic fusion" restaurant; I just call it yummy.

Rue de la Samaritaine 20
Brussels 1000
Tel.: 02 513 52 13
Open for lunch Wed-Fri; open for dinner Wed-Sun. Reservations recommended.

Friday, May 28, 2010

One can never have too many cupcakes

If you build it, cupcakes will come: here I was, innocently blogging my way along, and before I know it, a cupcake baker reads this blog and wants to bake me cupcakes. Is this the good life, or what?

The baker is Ashley, the North Carolinian behind, an online bakery. After some serious negotiations, I decided that my cupcake of choice would be her red velvet - a varietal from the U.S. South, it features chocolatey flavor and bright red cake. As Ashley strives to use organic ingredients wherever possible, her red coloring is not as vibrant as the deep, dark red I have come to expect in America - but the flavor certainly wasn't compromised.

She only bakes by the dozen, so I ended up with six featuring cream-cheese frosting and six with vanilla cream frosting. The vanilla went much better with the red velvet, but the cream-cheese was both creamy and light, and I imagine quite tasty with other cake flavors that can match its slight tartness.

For a bit of diversity, I also got to sample a couple of other flavors in mini-cupcake mode: the chocolate cake was divine, two thumbs up there. We also tried her strawberry polenta, with real strawberries baked in, balancing well with the grainy, corny polenta. A combination I couldn't have imagined before, but I certainly recommend.

You'll find her list of standard flavors on the website, with seasonal options, too. She can also accommodate special requests, and bakes non-cupcake delicacies as well. While she hopes to open a cafe eventually, she's currently baking to order, so advance notice and larger orders are necessary. A dozen will run you 25 EUR (to pick up) or 30 EUR with delivery. Perhaps not so practical to satisfy any old craving, but a great bonus for a special occasion.

Online only (for now) at
Orders must be placed at least 48 hours in advance

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Thai-Viet quickie

My husband introduced me to Saigon Bangkok. It’s around the corner from his office and seemed like a logical place to go before a dance performance at the Cirque Royal. His only warning was that his lunch experiences there did not feature quick service. And my pre-theater dinners are notorious for anxiety and clock-checking every 3 minutes.

So our first question when we sat down was: “we have to leave in 1 hour. Do we have time for a starter and a main course?” Answer: yes. When I then ordered the fried vegetarian rolls, I was helpfully informed by the waitress that the (cold) spring rolls would come out faster, since we were in a rush. Advice most appreciated for its relevance, and accuracy.

On to mains. Diversity in vegetarian fare is not Saigon Bangkok’s strong suit. We both took the tofu with curry – red for me, and the spicier green for Gidon. There’s also a non-spicy option of vegetables and tofu, and basically that’s it for their vegetarian mains. That said, both curries were delicious. The green packed a respectable punch, and even the red was spicy enough.

In, out, fed and happy: 55 minutes. Score!

Saigon Bangkok
Rue de la Pacification 36
1210 Saint-Josse-ten-Noode
Tel. 02 280 0475
Open lunch and dinner, Mon-Sat (closed for Sat lunch and all day Sunday)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Aperitifs, Antipasti and Books, oh my!

If you are a stagiaire, are friends with a stagiaire, or have ever spoken to a stagiaire, you have probably heard of Piola Libri. It's a bookshop by day, hopping wine bar for stagiaires (and others) by night.

Not being a stagiaire myself, my radar did identify a few fellow non-stagiaires present at Piola Libri, so all should feel welcome here. In fact, I might even say all should feel obligated to try it out - it's tasty food and easy-drinking wine at a great price.

First, the wines. Five reds, four whites, a rose and two sparkling varieties were on offer during my visit; each glass will run you four or five euros. The wines I tried - a sweet sparkling muscat and a semi-dry white - were not the most complicated flavors, but they were pleasant, and in this busy setting, I was hardly looking for something overly sophisticated.

Here's the bonus: their antipasti bar (free with your wine) features an amazing selection of fantastic vegetarian munchies. Sun-dried tomatoes, olives, potatoes roasted with rosemary, pickled onions, breadsticks, beans, hot peppers and more. It's basically all-you-can-eat - or at least all-you-can-fit-on-a-small-plate (but they don't give you a hard time if you go back for seconds).

Two glasses of wine and two plates of antipasti and I have to admit I didn't even need dinner - my four food groups might not have been accounted for, but for one night, I can let that go. And I can only imagine that the bookstore (filled with Italian books) is worth a visit before 6pm, too. Either way, the books make for a cozy atmosphere, which, by the time we left was standing-room only.

Piola Libri
66-68 rue Franklin
1000 Brussels
Tel. 02 736 9391
Open Monday-Friday for lunch; aperitifs and antipasti from 18h
Get there early.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Heading Up North

It's been weeks since my last posting - but in my defense, I was on vacation, then there was a volcano delay... and then I was just plain lazy. As if that wasn't bad enough, today's post is a little bit of a cop-out, but I promise there are more postings of new restaurants coming really soon!

On to today's cuisine: Up North, a Scandinavian restaurant. You'll find my full review in Bite, my Flanders Today weekly column. I did enjoy a lovely meal there - although if you are really vegetarian, this is not the place for you. If you eat fish, however, bon appetit!

The menu is fairly small, with fish featuring prominently, and a few meat dishes. The portions were ample, and the aquavit was refreshing. Scandinavian food features strong flavors, so this is not really a good place for cautious eaters, either. But the food was tasty, the service friendly, and the atmosphere comfortable.

Go here to read my column, and go here to eat:

Up North
Rue des Chapeliers 36
Brussels 1000
Tel. 02 502 77 29
Reservations not a bad idea
Open Tues-Sat for lunch and dinner

Friday, April 2, 2010

Pasta Party

We are now part-way into the Jewish holiday of Passover - 8 breadless days. Modern interpretations actually prohibit anything that could remotely be perceived as "leavened", or even items that might have been physically close to something leavened and therefore could - hypothetically - be contaminated. In short, lately we've been eating a lot of vegetables, fish, and of course the ubiquitous matzah, the unleavened "bread" (i.e. crackers) of the holiday.

But last Sunday, after scouring our kitchen from top to bottom and a day spent cooking special Passover dishes, Gidon and I set out for one last leavened bonanza, or as I like to call it, our "yeast feast". And when it comes to Passover prohibitions, no one does it better than Italy. So we tried out Fratelli la Bufala.

This restaurant is no secret. It's a highly trafficked venue on Rue Americaine, and part of an international, family-run chain, mostly found in Italy but with about a dozen other countries on their franchise list.

And, as you might guess from the name, the focus is on buffalo - its meat, milk, and the cheese made from that milk. To our chagrin, we were informed before ordering that they had had a busy weekend, and by the time of our dining on Sunday night, they had actually run out of the buffalo mozzarella. Given how packed they were on this particular Sunday (and I don't imagine this was a fluke of Jews dining out before Passover), it seems they could do with some better planning in that regard.

So while I can't really discuss the mozzarella with you, I can tell you that we certainly didn't starve and we actually very much enjoyed our mozzarella-less meal. We shared a starter of layers of baked aubergine with tomato and provola - a smoked, smooth cheese with a consistency similar to mozzarella. A great beginning.

I tried to order the gnocchi, served with a buffalo milk ricotta, but unfortunately they were out of that, too. I switched gears to the tortiglioni, in a buffalo cream sauce with zucchini (known to some around here as courgette). The pasta was al dente, the flavors were subtle, we were happy. We also sampled a pizza, which did feature buffalo mozzarella - we checked that when ordering. The crust was chewy and toasty, the toppings were fresh; the happiness continued.

On to dessert: mini cannoli, filled with buffalo ricotta, accented with chocolate. Our neighboring diners were a course ahead of us and when we saw this dessert served to them, our path was clear. A light and lovely ending.

While I was a bit disappointed with the limited menu, I was still pleased with the meal we ended up eating. To top it off, the service was friendly, and the setting was comfortable. At about 30 Euro per person, it was right on par with this trendy neighborhood's dining scene. It's worth a return visit - hopefully next time with some of that mozzarella.

Fratelli la Bufala
Rue Americaine 118
1050 Ixelles
Tel. 02 537 6700
Closed on Mondays
Reservations not a bad idea (enjoy the "cheesy" video...)

Monday, March 22, 2010

St Job Soirée

In case you weren't aware, Place St Job is one heck of a dining bonanza. Avenue Jean et Pierre Carsoel, running down the hill into the square, is lined with restaurant after restaurant - every one that I've tried makes for a great night out. Prime restaurant real estate!

Our most recent excursion landed us at La Soeur du Patron. The Uccle/St Job restaurant also has an Auderghem branch, with almost the same menu. I had heard a few positive rumors about this place, so at the end of a long work day, we treated ourselves to a meal.

The interior is quite chic, with red walls, and soft lighting emanating from unusual light fixtures. I have to admit that "real" (i.e. non-fish eating) vegetarians are going to run into some issues here, but if you're fish-friendly (or even better if you're carnivorous), you'll be pleased.

A page of standard Belgian starters was followed by a page of carpaccios. Between the three of us, we were off to a running start with a tuna carpaccio seasoned à la japonaise, scampi croquettes, and a salmon tartare on a bed of taboule. As I said, short on real vegetarian options, although their page of salads looked delectable, with one or two vegetarian choices, and several others probably easily adaptable to a vegetarian palate.

For mains, they offer pastas (mostly with meat or fish), fish choices, plenty of meats, and a page of "world food", again, all with meat or fish. We opted for a lime-glazed salmon, and a perch with yellow pepper coulis (also duck with calvados, mushrooms and apples for my truly non-veggie friend). The fish were both accompanied by nicely seasoned vegetables but the fish themselves were a bit on the bland side.

On to dessert: L'Arabica was delicious although I must admit I did not commit the list of ingredients to memory. Suffice it to say, it involved meringue, mascarpone, chocolate, coffee, and I think some ice cream. Very tasty.

For our second dessert, we couldn't resist their wildest offering: speculoos ice cream with parmesan shavings and balsamic vinegar coulis. Yes, you read that right. Sound weird? It was. The flavors were (obviously) diverse and I was very aware of different taste sensations happening in different parts of my mouth. But the flavors never really came together in a coherent way, making the experience intriguing but not worth repeating.

The bill worked out to about 45 EUR per person, although we paid a bit less after scoring a RestoPass discount. All in all, a nice meal with some adventurous flavors; worth a visit, but not for every day.

La Soeur du Patron
Ave Jean et Pierre Carsoel 5
1180 Uccle
Tel: 02.374.08.80

Chaussée de Wavre 1700
1160 Auderghem
Tel: 02.675.00.92

Both locations closed Saturday/Sunday lunchtime
Sunday evenings are complicated - Uccle is open Fall/Winter on Sunday nights, Auderghem in Spring/Summer, at least according to their website. Call ahead in any case, as reservations are a good idea.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Something pretty in the EU Quarter

Looking back over my blog entries, I see that Italian is the most popular of the various cuisines I've covered here. I find that kind of amusing, because my husband likes to point out that when I'm in charge of making dinner, we end up with something Asian (stir fry, curry) whereas when he's the chef of the night, we end up with something more European (e.g. Italian).

But I can hardly say I have anything against Italian food, and indeed, one restaurant in particular is a lunchtime favorite amidst the boring sandwich shops in the EU Quarter.

Carina means "pretty" in Italian, and seems to be pretty authentic - from the Italian ladies who run the operation, to the beautiful, fresh ingredients.

Vegetarians will find plenty to choose from here. On the cheap/quick side: opt for one of the paninis, displayed in the case at the front of the restaurant, heated up on order. Thick ciabattas, marinated vegetables, and flavorful cheeses - you can't go wrong.

You'll also find their exquisite vegetable plates, featuring fresh and marinated vegetables, usually some lentils or other protein source, and half a ball of fresh mozzarella. The price is a bit steep for a plate of vegetables (around 9 EUR) but I occasionally indulge myself in this treat nonetheless.

Salads and pastas are also available - last week, I opted for their ravioli in a sage-butter sauce. Rich, but not heavy. Sit down for your meal (instead of partaking in their bustling take-away business) and enjoy fresh foccacia with your order.

I don't often have a lunchtime dessert, but their fresh fruit salad, displayed in the take-away case, is truly a work of art and sometimes proves irresistible.

Carina is a popular lunchtime option, and may even suffer a bit from its success: all those diners make for quite a din - I often have felt like I'm shouting to my tablemates just be heard. A small price to pay for good, fresh food, though.

Rue de la Science 10
1000 Brussels
Tel. 02 230 81 88
Open lunchtimes Monday to Friday
Reservations recommended

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Another Indian Adventure

At a reader's recommendation (many moons ago), I finally got my act together and made it to Les Feux de Bengale, an Indian restaurant in the neighborhood of the Grand Place. I'm skeptical of many restaurants in that area, as I've found that many offer mediocre, overpriced food, but a recommendation is worth a lot in my book.

We started with the requisite papadums and chutney selection, so far, so good. My mango lassi was very thick and not too sweet; not bad, but not the best I've had. We then sampled all the vegetarian appetizer options on the menu: malakatani soup (which seems to have as many spellings as there are Indian restaurants), onion bhaji, and vegetable samosas. All were good, although I missed having an accompanying sauce for the non-soup starters.

Mains: first, the obligatory palak paneer. The spinach was thick and flavorful, the paneer seemed to be actual paneer (not always a guarantee), and the whole thing was nicely flavored with herbs and spices. Check.

Number two: bhindi bhaji, fried okra. A personal favorite, okra sometimes cooks up to be sort of slimy. Not so here, where the okra were fairly firm, and even a bit spicy. Check.

Lastly: dal. It was pleasant but fairly forgettable - the malakatani was a more memorable lentil option.

Throw in a few chapatis, raiti, and rice, and you have the makings of a serious Indian evening. Enjoyable and filling, it was a nice meal but probably not worth heading across town for. That said, everyone finds themselves in the Grand Place area at one time or another, and for that, Les Feux de Bengale is a nice option.

Les Feux de Bengale
Rue des Eperonniers 69
Brussels 1000
Tel. 02.513.51.63
Open for dinner every day

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

If you're only gonna do one thing, do it well

I really thought I knew every vegetarian restaurant in Brussels - at the very least, I thought I'd heard of them all. Then a few nights ago, a friend and I were looking for a dinner that wouldn't break the bank, and sure enough, there was Mr. Falafel.

Despite the plethora of shwarma snackbars in Brussels, I haven't ever found one that served exceptional falafel. It's rarely terrible, but it also seems like a bit of an afterthought.

Mr. Falafel is a tiny snackbar that looks like any other snackbar in town: a small counter, a fridge with drinks, and three high tables. Except for the word "Vegetarian" plastered in large lettering across the front window, there is little, at first glance, that sets it apart.

Once inside, however, you may notice that there is also no menu. That is because Mr. Falafel does one thing and one thing only: falafel. The only question is how many falafel sandwiches you want. They are on the small side - one makes for a light meal; take two (or more) if you're famished. Each sandwich will run you 3.50 Euro.

The falafel balls are small and crispy, with a good mix of herbs and spices, and they cook up in no time at all. They are served up in a pita with room to spare, for good reason: Mr. Falafel is all about the garnish. A bar of two dozen salads takes up a substantial part of this small establishment. I go for hot pickled peppers, cabbage, mixed tomato-and-red-onion salad, and a drop of the hot sauce, which is indeed quite hot. You'll also find a whole slew of other vegetables and sauces to personalize your sandwich.

The owner is from Holland - he doesn't speak French but English or Dutch are fine. He's also very friendly. According to him, when he lived in Egypt, he ate falafel all the time and just likes the stuff; he's not actually vegetarian himself. He opened this place in late 2008, and boy, am I glad. Pay him a visit.

Mr. Falafel
Boulevard Lemonnier 53 (Metro: Annessens)
Brussels 1000
Open noon to midnight, 7 days a week

Monday, February 15, 2010

EU Lunch Quest

My poor officemate, Julia, gets the privilege of listening to me whining day after day as I steel myself to seek out lunch, once again, in the EU quarter. I've said it before, I'll say it again: For the love of God, will someone please open a salad bar? I'll take anything within a 5-minute walk of Rue de Luxembourg.

So until someone comes along to fulfill my salad bar dreams, I'm looking at vast quantities of sandwiches, occasional soups, and once in a while, pizza.

Lo Spuntino is a tiny restaurant that focuses on take-away - the truly brave can fight for one of the few seats, but either way this is not a place built for lingering. The menu and format is familiar to anyone who has visited Mamma Roma: big sheets of pizza are displayed for your selection. You pick and choose - both the flavors and the proportions - which are then weighed, heated, paid for, and eaten.

In places like these, pizza is pizza. None of the crazy apples-and-cinnamon stuff you find at some U.S. pizza joints. You'll see beautifully prepared classic flavors - tomatoes, mozzarella (sometimes di bufala), aubergines, mushrooms (from the "forest" variety to truffle oil). Potato shows up on occasion, as well as different green leafies (e.g. rucola). The crusts are doughy and toasty. And there's plenty of meat-free pizza, so it's great for veggies.

All in all, a great lunchtime solution - and possibly only a lunchtime solution. I admit I haven't done my homework here, but I would be surprised if they are open for dinner, or for that matter on weekends. If anyone knows otherwise, I welcome being corrected!

Lo Spuntino
Rue Caroly 42
1050 Ixelles
Tel. 02 503 52 22
Open: definitely at lunchtime; for the rest...?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Your 15 Minutes

Evan, the very nice man who produced the "My Brussels" segment about me and this blog on TV Brussel, mentioned to me that he's always looking for interesting people to profile for the show.

Think you qualify? Send your details to with subject line "MyBrussels".

Monday, February 8, 2010

Bizarro Bazaar

Bazaar has been on my list for ages - since I was last there, actually. I visited the nightclub half of Bazaar on a Saturday night shortly after moving here. For some reason we ran upstairs to see the restaurant, which was packed with people and looked swank and crazy and I couldn't wait to go back (see photo). It only took me 5 years.

Our January visit had quite a different air. It was a Tuesday and the place was nearly empty and a little lacking in heating. But the crazy decor was just as I remembered. The place has the feel of a Moroccan tent, with a gigantic hot-air balloon over the bar, and now featuring huge headshot photos of be-robed people.

But all that I had seen before. It was the food that was new. The menu is quasi-mediterranean, and I must admit we started out with some disappointments. I ordered the mozzarella and grilled eggplant; based on that description alone, I expected a warm dish. I was wrong. The dish was clearly pulled from a refrigerator moments before being brought to the table. While the dish could work in a not-warm format, having it flat-out cold really limited the flavors. Gidon, on the other hand, ordered marinated sardines, which turned out to be herring. For herring, they were good; for sardines, they were a flop.

On to the mains: we were now in much safer territory. Feeling fishy, I took their no-frills grilled salmon - even after the waitress advised that between the seabass and the salmon, she preferred the seabass. No mistakes here, though. The salmon was grilled beautifully, with crispy skin; really a delight. The rest of the plate - vegetables, etc - was nice but forgettable. Gidon opted for tuna, which was also a big hit. And our friend Richard had a beautiful and quite sizeable vegetarian risotto. Three for three on the mains.

Stuffed, we ordered one dessert between the three of us. After much negotiating, we settled on the chocolate cake "moelleux" with ice cream. "Moelleux" seems to range from "normal cake" to "gooey melty filling" and this cake - to my great joy - fell at the latter end of the spectrum. Not the easiest for sharing three ways once it started oozing all over the plate but you didn't hear us complaining.

Rue des Capucins 63
1000 Brussels (Marolles)
Tel. 02 511 26 00
Open from 19h30 Tuesday-Saturday

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Start the clock on my 15 minutes of fame

Turns out I have readers in high places! Two weeks ago, I was contacted by someone who works for TV Brussel. He has been reading this blog, and thought I sounded interesting enough to be on television - at least for two minutes.

Which is how Brussels International, a weekly show on TV Brussel, ended up doing a short segment about me this past Sunday, January 31. It’s focused on my “expat experience” and this blog - how great is that?

You can view it here.

I think it's kind of funny that the segment has been called "Tips on Kosher Eating from Sharon Light", but what can you do?

The interview took place at Tsampa, which I've written up here, along with its sister restaurant, Dolma. A big thank you to them!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Trufflicious Bonanza

It was time for a dinner five years in the making: L’Atelier de la Truffe Noire. After strong recommendations by a friend when I first moved to Belgium, I promised my then-boyfriend that when I finally nailed down a job, I would treat him to a meal at this Avenue Louise establishment.

I now have three concurrent jobs nailed down and decided that for our second wedding anniversary, I might as well fulfill an old promise.

L’Atelier is the affordable version of the unaffordable La Truffe Noire – one of the most expensive and famous restaurants in town. While I respect that the food of choice – the black truffle – is vegetarian friendly, it hardly seems worth spending Truffe Noire prices for a vegetarian meal. The menu options will be limited, and besides, I’ve heard the whole thing is overpriced to begin with.

The Atelier is another story altogether. The setting is more bistro-style; the menu is cheaper (although not cheap!); and even vegetarians have a respectable choice.

More than once I thought of my favorite restaurant in town – Café des Spores – which also happens to be a mushroom-based culinary experience. I would say that the Atelier is a bit more classical, and a bit more French-focused in its preparations, but that’s almost splitting hairs. It’s really the Adoration of the Truffle that makes it distinct.

I started with the house aperitif: fresh squeezed grapefruit juice, lait d’amandes, and berry liquor. Super sweet, but not overpowering. While reviewing the menu, we got hit with our first whiff of truffles as a plate was delivered to another table. I realized at that moment that part of the cost of dining here is purely to enjoy that smell; I already knew it would be money well spent.

For starters, I had a cappuccino of forest mushrooms, topped with white truffle oil. It was essentially a frothy soup of ample size, and it was exquisite. Gidon tackled two soft-boiled eggs, served with black truffle shavings and truffle oil. Delicious, but it paled a bit compared to the soup.

On to mains: I had tortellini, topped with a cream sauce and slices of truffle. Gidon opted for the millefeuille – slices of baked potato, covered in what seemed to be the same cream sauce, and topped with slices of truffle. Perhaps not a great degree of variation between the two, but oh-so-good (it was all I could do to prevent Gidon from licking his plate).

We were too stuffed to order dessert, but no matter, we went home happy. Besides, they don’t put truffles in the desserts, so what’s the point?

Our waiter was very attentive, and took care to point out that the amuse-bouche (truffle-free tiny cannelloni) was vegetarian. Apparently there is even good service to be found in this town, after all.
L'Atelier de la Truffe Noire
Avenue Louise 300
1050 Ixelles
Tel. 02 640 54 55
Open Mon-Sat; Closed on Sundays and Monday evenings - Reservations not a bad idea.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Lebanese Evening

Al Barmaki has been on my list for a long time. It's got a pretty good rep on the blogs, and it's mentioned in the Michelin guide. The latter may also relate to the one recurring complaint: it's overpriced. And to some extent, it is. But the food is also delicious and when you're paying for real estate a couple of blocks from the Grand Place, you have to pay a certain price for quality.

A vegetarian can eat well at Al Barmaki, but only the mezzes. You have to order a minimum of three per person, which is also just about the right size for one person. The server also offered to make up a mixed platter for us, even vegetarian, but I was wary of what the bill might look like so we ordered six dishes of our own choosing.

The menu just gives the names of the dishes, no explanation, but the server was happy to answer questions. Our six dishes were:
- Hommos: this had a significant smokey flavor that surprised me but was quite nice. If you want it with tehina, that's a separate dish; we passed on that.
- Tomato and cucumber salad: ample and delish, done up with a fresh, light dressing. As good as it was, I have a hard time justifying 7 euros for it.
- Cheese in pastry: another winner. The pastry dough was thicker than I expected; the cheese was soft and mixed with herbs. Yum.
- Labne: there was much debate between this dish and another mezze of yogurt with garlic. With 20/20 hindsight, I think we should have tried the yogurt - the labne was thick and creamy but I've had better.
- Fried eggplants and cauliflower: I envisioned fritters made of both items, but this was actually just the vegetables, fried up. The eggplant was exceptional. The cauliflower was a little boring.
- Falafel: another success. Crispy, good size falafel balls, and we had unconsciously ordered all the fixin's.

All this was served with thin, soft bread (I was corrected for calling it pita), and we got a bowlful of tasty black olives (and I'm normally not a fan of black olives) and pickled peppers. Service was mediocre by Belgian standards, and although the setting isn't particularly swanky, it would definitely make for a good date location.

Plus the place gets bonus points for the table seated right next to us: five older gentlemen who looked Lebanese and also looked like they ate there at least twice a week. That's the best vote of confidence any restaurant can ask for.

Split down the middle, the bill came to just over 25 eur for each of us, including drinks, which might be a bit on the steep side but isn't outrageous. In my never-ending quest for quality food in the area of the Bourse, I think I can safely add Al Barmaki to my list.

Al Barmaki
67, rue des Eperonniers
1000 Brussels
Tel. 02 513 08 34
Open from 19h to midnight, Mon-Sat
Reservations recommended.