Food, Beer, and Travel

a dump from the mind of Jon Piper

Posts Tagged ‘Brussels’

Brussels – L’Huitriere

Posted by jwpiper on February 11, 2009

I wasn’t scheduled to return from London to Brussels until rather late, so I lamented having to eat in the airport instead of getting a proper meal on my last day in Europe. I always check to see if I can hop an earlier flight, and at the check-in counter they insisted that they’d closed reservations for the flight. But my rule of thumb is to always try to get to the gate. And I did – in time to make the earlier flight and make time for dinner in Brussels.

Based on the time and where I was staying, St. Catherine’s area seemed to be the only place I could squeeze in a meal. I was hopeful that Rugbyman Two would have foie gras, but alas, they didn’t. So I wandered the street until I found an interesting enough looking restaurant to try. It wasn’t until I handed the hostess my jacket that I noticed that L’Huitriere had been awarded a Michelin star in 2007.

Before the meal even started, I was presented with a small bowl of gray shrimp – another Belgian delicacy that I generally seek out. I’m never quite sure the proper way to eat these, as every culture has their preferred method with such a beast. In the south of France, pop their heads off and eat the whole remainder of the shrimp. In East Asian cultures, I’d expect they’d either eat the whole animal or at least suck out the brain after popping off the head. In the USA, they’d peel off the whole shell and eat only the body with no shell. I’m always torn between the three and really generally do whatever I fancy at the moment, which in this example was a combination of all three to be honest. In truth, I think the heads need to be either eaten or sucked out, and what to do with the body depends on you preference for texture. I did think the shrimp begged to be dipped into a nice mayonnaise, but my request was either forgotten or misunderstood.

I paired a Jupiler with the meal – the everyman Belgian pilsner. It is a nice clean pilsner: a true session beer which is better than Stella Artois and head and shoulders better than Stell Artois in the USA. I found the Hoegaarden to be more complex and interesting as a pairing at Rugbyman Two than the Jupiler this evening.

The lack of a warm, seared goose liver foie gras was a bit disappointing. But not to be entirely denied my desire, I ordered the Terrine de foie gras d’ Oie & sa confiture d’ oignons, a previously formed and cooked foie gras pâté which is then served cold in a block on bread with caramelized onions. It was rather tasty and quite full-flavored (I assume duck livers), but not at all what I was really craving. C’est la vie.

For my entree, I decided on Skrei aux jus de moules, mousse de trois legumes, or baby cod in the juice of mussels with a three potato mousse. It was delicious and clean, but as per my general dislike for cod, should I make the dish, I would likely select a different mild fish. In truth, it was quite good for cod, including the texture which was very moist and tender for cod.

The name of my dessert has escaped me – it is a classic French dessert of ice cream between two doughy pastries and topped with a Belgian chocolate sauce and toasted almonds. It was decadent and rich and finished the meal nicely.

In all, the meal was excellent, and I wouldn’t say the restaurant doesn’t deserve a Michelin star, but I’ve had better meals in Brussels in my opinion. I am likely to attempt a dish inspired by the cod in my own kitchen in the relatively near future. Next time I’m near St. Catherine’s in Brussels and Rugbyman Two is out of foie gras, I’ll likely be dining across the street.


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Brussels – Brasserie Cantillon

Posted by jwpiper on February 10, 2009

Based on what I’d heard about the place and how much I love their beer, Cantillon was a must stop while I was in Brussels. I wasn’t sure how I was going to fit it into my day, but I was committed to at least peek my head in.

The brewery is just outside a shopping district in Brussels where every street was double parked on both sides. Needless to say, I spent a good bit of time to even find an illegal parking spot within a couple of blocks of the brewery. Finally, I approached the building which gave no indication that it was open, but a push on the door revealed a strange old industrial building.

From how the brewers spoke with me, it was clear that they’re used to relative newbies. They kept referring to “real” and “traditional” lambic trying to feel out my familiarity with their style. It took some insistence before they were made to understand that not only do I enjoy their style of beer, I love their beer!

The sister of one of the brewers started my on my self-guided tour through the brewing process. As I’d been told, this brewery tour isn’t quite like every other tour I’ve been on. But more than that – being there was a unique experience for me. I felt like a guest in their home – like they had opened up a deeply personal part of their lives to me. And indeed, with the reverent way they speak of the beer and the brewing process, brewing is exactly that for each of them.

They spoke of leaving the beer to its natural course and not modifying or manipulating the process in any way. It reminded me of how the first “brewers” thought of beer: as a gift from God. Indeed, it’s been theorized that manna was an beer-porridge. For millennia didn’t know what turned sugars to alcohol – they were just thankful for it. Not too different than my experience that day.

After the unique tour, I was treated to several small samples of their standard beers, including the gueuze and kriek. The other couple that wandered the brewery more or less alongside me were stopped there. However, I was also treated with a sample of a rhubarb lambic which they had “brewed on a whim” – it was so clean and a natural combination. They were out of the faro which is also usually part of the sample list, but when I asked if they had any young lambic, she wandered off and came back with a pitcher of it. It was so delicious, I had to buy a full glass. I finished out my day with a bottle of the St. Lamvinus. This seems to be a very well respected beer which I’d never yet tried partly due to the prices in the US, which can exceed $40 a bottle.

I had committed on this trip to spend more time with the lambics. I would love to have a closer look at Drie Fonteinen or Frank Boon’s operation, but my trip to Cantillon was one of best beer experiences I’ve had. Indeed, the young lambic was one of the best beers I’ve ever had. The respect the Van Roy’s have for beer demands equal respect from any visitor.

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Brussels – Rugbyman Two

Posted by jwpiper on February 9, 2009

Having been tipped off by a colleague that the best place for seafood in Brussels is near St. Catherine’s church and having also gotten the heads up from the folks I met at Kulminator, I had to check it out. So it was my first stop on my way down from Antwerp.

I had been told that one side of the road is a more refined experience (and thus pricier) than the other, so my natural inclination was to find the cheaper side and eat there. As I was looking at the menus, I happened upon my new friends, so I decided to pop into the same restaurant. Plus, the place where they were had goose livers on the menu: an Belgian speciality I’ve been searching for. Alas, after sitting down, I learned they were out.

I pieced together a simple meal from the menu. I started with Le cappuccino de bisque de homard a l’Armagnac, or lobster bisque with brandy, which was bright with a bit of spice and some nice lobster chunks. The lobster itself wasn’t terribly impressive as compared with the Maine lobsters with which I have the most familiarity. Served alongside the bisque were several chunks of perfect french bread.

My second course was Le tartare de saumon et thon rouge, ciboulette et concombre, or salmon and tuna tartare. This was the highlight of the meal: its simplicity highlighted the freshness of the fish and the bright onions and refreshing cucumbers were an excellent accompaniment.

I finished with La surprise normande flambée au calvadose, an apple pie flambé in a Calvadose syrup and topped with vanilla ice cream, which was rather rich and sweet.

In all, it was a very good meal, but given the amount of food I consumed, probably not worth the cost. I don’t know that the prices across the street were as substantially different as was described to me, but they were definitely better. Again, I’d also personally steer away from the Belgian lobster. It was good, but not as good as its much cheaper counterpart on the northern Atlantic coast of the US.

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Brussels – In ‘t Spinnekopke

Posted by jwpiper on February 5, 2009

Many of my best and most memorable meals in Brussels have been courtesy of a tiny French-speaking restaurant on the south-west side of city center.

The attitude is completely as you would expect out of a restaurant near Paris. The food is completely Belgian. And therin lies the charm. I don’t care you could smack me and spit in my face… if you feed me food like that, you’re alright by me. It’s just a bonus that they do none of the above (except purvey incomparable food) and equally fortunate that they’ve begun to recognize me, the self-proclaimed king of self-branding.

I start with an apéritif of Drie Fontenien Oude Kriek. For my meal, I order the same thing Andy did on his first visit: Coq Spinnekopke. It’s roasted leg and thigh of hen in a beer, cream mushroom sauce paired of course with pommes frites. Should I attempt this at home, as I very well may, I would try to crisp the skin on the hen before adding it to the gravy. That was just about my only suggestion for improving on the succulent, rich dish. I paired it with a Rochefort 10.

So worthy an apéritif sticks in your mind even after the meal, so when I saw sorbet a la kriek on the dessert list, I had to see what that was all about. First taste: “holy crap!”. This is perfect. Sour, a bit sweet with chunks of sour cherries, and more cherry pit flavor even than the beer. Perfect, I say.

In ‘t Spinnekopke you’ve bested yourself yet again. I will be back and not soon enough for me.

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