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Thursday, September 30, 2010

BRUSSELS BEER & FRIES WEEK! PART DEUX: WITHDRAWAL SYMPTOMS

Somebody sunk serious money into this place and I suspect they’re much richer for it. If you want an authentic Brussels experience, this might not be the place, but if you want a good time with a stellar beer selection, Bob’s your uncle at Delirium Café.

Scanning the Guinness World Record beer selection - 2,000 kinds of beer! - we start with a faro from Lindeman’s - sweet, tangy and kind of Smith-Brothers-cough-drop-y. Not for the faint of heart, but big fun. The ‘café’ gets its name from Delirium Tremens - the Belgian beer whose name, roughly, means ‘the shakes you get from alcohol withdrawal.’ It would be hard for that to happen here.

For our second round, the group gives me free reign and, feeling nostalgic for the beer of former interviewee Armand Debelder, I order a vintage oude gueuze and an oude kriek from 3 Fonteinen: - both kept in a temperature-controlled walk-in cooler behind Delirium’s basement bar.

I’m with El Bulli sommeliers Ferran Centelles and David Seijas and on first sip of the gueuze, they pucker and screw up their faces before saying. “Wow…wow.” The kriek is a curiosity, but the gueuze is true discovery for all of us.

Motivating a group of sommeliers and getting them to try something new can be like herding cats, but I love sharing that moment.

Delirium Café - MAP
Impasse de la Fidelité 4A
Brussels
+32.2.514.44.34
http://www.deliriumcafe.be/

P.S. - Pick your visiting times carefully - this place is a zoo on a busy night.

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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

BRUSSELS BEER & FRIES WEEK! PART 1: REMEMBER THE FUNK

Back in Brussels, I quickly note that this is the trip where my eyes are still wide open, but the pieces of the city begin to connect.

Back at La Brocante, a beer bar I visited last year, I notice that this year, the deer head on the wall has a cigarette in its mouth and put a finger on one of my favorite things about this town: the inherent funkiness.

Even the popular Jupiler is an acquired taste that makes equivalents like Kronenbourg, Budweiser and Estrella Damm taste like ultra-pasteurized wimps.

I let the waiter steer me toward a beer called Floreffe, a Trappist triple with apple compote, smoke and some wonderful, nose-in-a-brewery smells.

On this day, with the flea market outside, there’s a band - Le Jeu de Balles - crammed into the space between the front door and a beer cooler. The guy next to me appears not to have left the premises since I was here a year ago. Another dude walks in wearing ski googles, followed by an older woman in heels and fur.

It’s good to be back.

Café La Brocante - MAP

Blaesstraat 170

Brussels

+32 (0) 2 512 13 43

Click here to read my 2009 Belgian beer story, “Stalking A Wild Brew

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

ON THE ROAD IN PARIS

The pre-meal e-mail back-and-forth went like this:

Me: For dinner, I want to start with cured herring on potatoes with a beer, followed by andouillette (tripe sausage) with some good wine.

Anne: MMMMMMMMMM!!!!

These are the friends you hang on to.

Dinner at Les Routiers had been pushed back several times, but was worth the wait. It’s the kind of place favored by Le Guide du Routard: a substantial meal, gentle prices, a little rough around the edges. There’s a giant zinc, assorted kitsch on the wall including a giant Georges Brassens head shot and a surly waitress.

Appetizers are a bargain and could be a meal in themselves. My herring and beer are just as they should be and Anne’s ‘figs stuffed with foie gras’ turns out to be a salad ringed with the figs - dried and fantastic - the salad is generously crowned with charcuterie not even listed on the menu.

The mains, on the other hand, are exactly what it says on the menu: my andouillette sits alone on the plate, reminding me of an infamous French dessert called rêve de jeune fille. Anne’s roast lamb is just that - no thought given to the presentation, but with a crust this crispy and interior this juicy, it doesn’t matter.

Dinner with wine, whether or not you get the prix fixe menu, will run 40-50 euros per person.

Restaurant Les Routiers – MAP
50 Rue Marx Dormoy
75018 Paris
+33 1 46 07 93 80

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

YOUR NAME IN JAPANESE, YOUR DINNER IN FRENCH

My colleague who works in the 8th arrondissement felt a bit challenged when he saw I was disappointed with our last lunch near the Champs Elysées.

For this meeting, he pulled the Aoki card. Not the Japanese pastry chef with outlets around town, but the one with a tiny restaurant a block away from the ‘most beautiful avenue in the world’ (pff!) who’s busy outdoing the chef up the street. At his own game. At half the price.

When I arrive, I give the name of my dining partner who’s made the reservation. The Japanese waiter then reads back the name from the reservation notebook, where it’s written in Japanese. This must be wildly perplexing to the French.

A cod and creamy smashed cauliflower main is cooked just right, but the star is a lentil salad appetizer with petals of cured ham and a gently poached egg. The lentils are more of a soup made bright by vinegar and luxurious by the egg floating on top. There’s a fun, almost light, spin on the baba au rhum for dessert.

Aoki trained under Alain Senderens and the result isn’t fusion cuisine or even French with an Asian flair, as the other Aoki does. Instead, it’s good, clean and modern French.

In Chilean and Argentine Patagonia, I visited foreign winemakers who used their skill to squeeze the most from the local grapes. Here, it’s a warped version - the Japanese chef in Paris showing his neighbors how it’s done.

Lunch formule (appetizer and main or main and dessert) for 21.50€. Great value. Makes me want to go back for dinner.

Restaurant Makoto Aoki
19 rue Jean Mermoz
75008 Paris
+33 1 43 59 29 24
Closed Saturday lunch and Sunday

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Tuesday, September 07, 2010

SOMETHING BIG AND ROUND THAT I HAVEN’T TRIED BEFORE

It’s a shame I ate my way through this neighborhood for two years and never once stopped at Melac.

Walk in the door of this 1938 bistrot à vins and underneath the sign that reads “water is for the plants” you’ll find the monstrously mustachioed owner greeting those who he wants with a big smile and a handshake. Sylvie, my cheesemonger friend and longtime regular, gets bisous. Behind him, giant wheels of beautiful cheese take up a counter and the walls in the shade are filled with shelves and shelves of wine.

We move from the first dining room to the second - a movie-like sequence that takes us through tables of jovial long-time customers, a corner of the kitchen complete with sizzling pans and the rack of cloth napkins and customized napkin rings given to preferred customers. The second dining room is every bit as nice as the first.

For wine, Sylvie - who has a napkin ring - has only to ask the waiter for something “big, round and that I haven’t tried before” and he nods and comes back with a bottle of Marcillac which we drink à la ficelle - you pay for as much as you drink. Get in as much trouble as you want.

The chef is new as of this summer and I’d guess he’ll be around for a bit. There will be no reinventing of the wheel and we’ll be very happy that way.  A chicken liver appetizer comes bathing in a beautiful sauce, rich in wine and onions and crowned with two broiled eggs. A bread-dipper’s delight.

Lunch is simple and solid bistro fare: good sausage on a bed of aligot - mashed potatoes with Cantal curd and garlic that nod to the restaurant’s roots in the Auvergne, and a flank steak that’s a little tough but full of flavor. Dessert is riz au lait that would send Mom over the moon.

This is very much a place that’s the sum of the parts - a troika made up of food, wine and ambience that makes you want to eat with friends. I’ll take visitors here. I’ll take friends here. It’s a bit of the real thing.

Count on about 20€ per person, plus wine.

Melac - MAP
42 rue Leon Frot
75011 Paris
+33 1 43 70 59 27 (reserve ahead for dinner)
Closed Sunday & Monday

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Sunday, September 05, 2010

NEWS FLASH - SECRET SPRING

Get there while you can.

We got a walk-in seat for dinner at Spring last night.

As in Spring, where you usually have to wait months for a table. We just sat at the downstairs bar and ordered à la carte.

We had walked by after being shut out at Chez Denise, which, we learned, is either closed on Saturdays or still enjoying summer vacation. Wandering aimlessly, I went in to say hello to chef Daniel Rose who opened Spring in its new location a few months back.

“Come check out the bar!” he said.

And while, at 9:30 at night, there were still people upstairs still kicking around from the lobster roll lunch he does every Saturday (no Saturday dinner), downstairs, the beautiful ‘cave’ is essentially functioning as a little restaurant with a bar.

“Spring Buvette!” he declared.

“When did you open?”

“Last night.”

As Rose tells it, he just didn’t tell anyone about it. At this point, he really doesn’t need to.

No reservations, tiny, very reasonably-priced menu, order à la carte (as opposed to the prix fixe upstairs) beautiful space, killer wines.

Last night, we had little canned sardines with perfect bread and butter, wonderful Spanish charcuterie (including a chorizo, which, on that bread with a thin layer of that butter may have been my favorite bite of the meal), a veal and foie gras ‘tourte’ topped with little, ruby-colored radish sprouts and a lamb and cèpe stew with white beans.

Our meal was destined for a bunch of catch-up with an old friend, but we kept getting interrupted by the food that would make my friend moan.

“Some of this is better than bad sex,” I joke.

“Some of this is better than good sex,” she replies.

You’ve got about three days to get there before the word’s out and the line’s out the door.


Count on about 30 euros per person. Without wine. Most bottles start at 30 euros and go up from there.

Spring Buvette - MAP
6 Rue Bailleul
75001 Paris
+33.1.45.96.05.72

Follow me on Twitter: @joe_diner.



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Thursday, September 02, 2010

GOD BLESS CHEESE. ESPECIALLY FREE CHEESE.

I’m late for my plane.

I’ve been simultaneously packing to leave for summer in the USA, packing up to move apartments and file my taxes for the last few days and, shutting the door behind me, realize I probably won’t be able take the metro and make it on time.

I also can’t find a taxi and have to stop in to pick up my sister’s request of fresh, salty butter. That’s all she ever wants me to bring from France and I can’t blame her. It’s sublime.

But I’m late.

En route for the taxi stand where there are always taxis but never any drivers, I run past Belleville’s Fromagerie Beaufils.

It’s early and Beaufils is one of the only shops on rue de Belleville that’s open, Monsieur Beaufils (?) still arranging cheeses.

“Hi, I’d like some butter for my sister,” I say, leaning my suitcase up against the display case.

He smiles, pulls down some fresh butter from the Ile de Ré and asks where I’m heading.

I explain the Oregon/Seattle/New Hampshire itinerary, noting the family connections along the way. Ready to leap out the door if a taxi rolls by.

“Does your family like cheese?” he asks.

“Bien sur!” I reply, wondering how the hell the guy knows I have “god bless cheese” written on my business card.

He turns around, picks up a two-pound hunk of Comté laced with those good-news crystals of amino acids, holds it up for me to see and says, “for your family.”

I’ve never met the man before and, as far as he knows, I’m never to be seen again, and he sticks what I’d guess to be a 20-euro ($26) hunk of cheese in my hands, charging me three bucks for the butter and waiving the fee to put everything in a vac-pac bag.

We eat it on a vineyard in Oregon. They like the cheese.


Fromagerie Beaufils - MAP
118 rue de Belleville
75020 Paris
+33 (0)1 46 36 61 71

Follow me on Twitter: @joe_diner.



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