Archive for the ‘Belgium’ Category

Frederic Blondeel mint tea and macaroon, St. Catherine, Brussels

Before we left for Brussels, a couple of our friends in London warned us that the city would be boring “because of all the EU bureaucrats.” But speaking as someone who spent a lot of time in Washington, DC and loved parts of it, I’m always glad to stick up for seat-of-government cities that are overshadowed by more glamorous neighbors.

Pierre Marcolini window display, Grand Sablon, Brussels

Brussels lived up to its positive stereotype as the home of chocolates and frites. I loved the melt-in-your-mouth goodies at Pierre Marcolini. We went to the flagship on the Place du Grand Sablon, and although the shop was mobbed, it meant high inventory turnover, which meant fresh chocolates. I have a weakness for chocolate-covered almonds (dragees), and the almonds here are honey-roasted first, I think, so that after biting through the luscious bittersweet chocolate ganache and cocoa powder, you hit the supremely-crunchy-and-sweet roasted almond. Brilliance in a Box for 9.50 euros. (more…)

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Mussels at Les Brassins in Brussels

Written about in the New York Times a few months ago, Les Brassins is no secret. I was a little worried that it’d be Florence redux, and I’d be sitting among a million other tourists eating mediocre food at inflated prices.

Well, it turns out our meal at Les Brassins was with locals, eating delicious comfort food, and at reasonable prices. The Tourist Trifecta!

The dining room is kitschy bistro warmth – all amber lighting and posters of vintage ads. The half-timber ceilings gave the place a cozy Alpine chalet flavor, and the tables were ridiculously close together. But that was a good thing, because it enabled Jon and me to hear that our neighbors were all French-speaking and to peek at what they were eating. And the couple to my left, who live in the neighborhood, decided to strike up a conversation with us about the trappist ales we ordered. Who knew that a Chimay Blue and a Rochefort 8 would be the key to making new friends?

Although there were only two servers to wait on a packed dining room seating at least 100 people, both were surprisingly attentive and friendly.

Of course Jon and I started with mussels, which were hot, plump and fresh (photo at top). The loads of celery was a surprise, but it added a nice lightness to the usual buttery wine sauce. Eighteen euros was more than fair for such a generous and tasty portion.

My onglet with shallot sauce was a mixed bag, but still made for a delicious main course. For some reason, I was served two enormous steaks (either one on its own big enough to constitute a meal). One was perfectly bleu (rare) and juicy, and the other one old, chewy and totally inedible. So to make a good meal, all I had to do was eat the one good one and ignore the bad one. The shallot sauce was super sweet, which made me think it was more an onion sauce, but no complaints, because of course the key part is that the sauce went perfectly with the crispy, hot, salty frites. Those Belgians, they really do know their frites.

Jon’s carbonnade (which is pretty much boeuf bourgignon with beer instead of burgundy) was meaty, fork tender and rib-sticking like a good winter stew should, and when I tasted Jon’s dish, I found the stew tasted just like my “onion sauce.” I concluded it’s probably the same sauce, which is a little bit lazy of the kitchen, but it still tasted good, so I should let it go.

For a cold, wintry night, Les Brassins was the perfect warm escape serving Belgian classics well-prepared. Our tab for four beers, an espresso, mussels, steak and carbonnade totalled 60 euros. I’d definitely go back.

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Mannekin Pis, Brussels

Because it’s the overrated statue that spawned the world’s tackiest souvenirs, the Mannekin Pis is something I debated as the “lead” photo for this post, but I figured it’s not my fault the city of Brussels has affiliated itself with such a lame mascot. So I’ll perpetuate its lame convenience as an instantly-recognizable symbol of Brussels. And besides, I think the following image of Mannekins in Chains is pretty funny:Mannekins in chains, Brussels

Jon and I left London yesterday morning for 36 hours in Brussels. The Eurostar whisked us there in under two hours, and from the Brussels Midi Station, it was only a five-minute metro ride to Troon, the quiet neighborhood where the Stanhope Hotel is located.

Stanhope Hotel, Brussels, guest room

Normally, preferring to spend our money on food or shopping, we avoid fancy hotels, but this time, we figured we were staying only one night, and Jon was worried that a late-November trip to Brussels in the cold, dark, wintry weather was risky enough that some mitigation was in order. And you know, we loved it. The rooms were super plush, and I have to admit that as long as there are Molton Brown products in the bathroom, I’m sucked in. (more…)

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