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 brusselsinternational@tvbrussel.be 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!