joearay@gmail.com / +1 206 446 2425


image

Friday, October 08, 2010

IN BRUGES: LOLLING IN THE COACH HOUSE

Finding good accommodations online is as fun as buying a plane ticket. In Bruges, where seemingly every other business is a hotel catering to the legions of tourists who descend on this place in the warmer months, it’s particularly intimidating.

To avoid losing a day, I give myself 15 minutes and a budget, opening tabs left and right off of the helpful brugge.be Web site and doing a quick process of elimination.

God bless the off season - I’m now two for two at finding great B&Bs in Belgium.

The full day we’re at ‘t Koetshuis - the one you’d imagine spending all day wandering around one of Europe’s most beautiful cities? Well, the little guest house has a bath, a patio that looks out onto a canal, a fireplace, a big couch and a huge selection of beer; we spend most of the day lolling around, not feeling like we’re missing out at all.

I also like that it’s a pair of professionals - two child psychologists - running the place. Clearly, they don’t need to be doing this, but they’re generous with their time and have plenty of good recommendations for where to go in town.

Next time I’m here, booking will consist of one phone call.

‘t Koetshuis MAP
Sulferbergstraat 38

Bruges
+32 (0)50/348.867
www.gastenkamer.be

One suggestion: go with friends or family: the guesthouse has two rooms upstairs and a the common room (with the fire and the kitchen) downstairs. If the other room was occupied by people you didn’t know, I could imagine the lolling around part being a little awkward.

Follow me on Twitter: @joe_diner and on Facebook.



Twitter Facebook Delicious Digg | More
image

Thursday, October 07, 2010

IN BRUGES: RESTAURANT REVIEW - I TURNED AND THERE HE WAS…GONE!

The idea was to do a Belgian blog a day until it’s over (it’s almost over), but one or two of you may have noticed that ‘404 Not Found’ notice on these pages 24 hours ago. As my good friend Jerry Romano likes to say: “I turned and there he was…gone!”

Without further ado, it’s time for dinner in Bruges.

...

There’s a bit of sticker shock when you get here - your eyes go wide when they gaze up the beauty of the architecture and stay wide when they look down at the prices on the menu. The price of UNESCO status, I suppose.

On a tip and without much time to choose - they’re early eaters up this way - we head to De Wijngaart, just outside of where most visitors stray. The restaurant stays smart and honest in a town catering to so many out of towners that you have to watch your step.

It’s a treat to watch the guy at the grill which is cleverly placed at the center of the tiny dining room; his heat tolerance must be legendary in these parts. With stubby red fingers, he uses a long-handled cinder rake to move coals under the grill, giving him great heat control. It’s a very clever system.

What I also like is that while you’re eating your entrée, the grill man’s got your cut coming to room temperature, instead of going from the fridge to the flames.

One tic: the waiter asks if I want my steak medium rare, I say ‘rare’ and it comes out medium, but it’s still good enough that it doesn’t matter. We also have a salad using bacon that’s grilled right next to my steak that’s worth it just for the salty goodness of the meat.

Dessert? Too sweet. We eat it with a smile.

How much? We did some creative ordering, had a few beers and got out of there for 20 euros a head. Hungry eaters should count on about 30.

De Wijngaert - MAP
Wijngaardstraat 15
Bruges
+32 050 33 69 18
http://www.wijngaert.com

Follow me on Twitter: @joe_diner and on Facebook.



Twitter Facebook Delicious Digg | More
image

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

BRUSSELS BEER & FRIES WEEK! PART SIX: GOOD (FRY) HUMOR

I love this kind of place: old, out of the way and authentic. La Bonne Humeur is a spiritual cousin to the American diner, right down the splotch of Formica worn white by the thousands of Dutch ovens and plates set in front of every seat.

What’s cooking? Millions of mussels, a google of frites, too many Jupiler drafts to remember!

Here in the house of moules et frites, the offerings do not disappoint. The mussels are magnificent. What appears to be important is not which sauce (marinière? Green peppercorn?) but that you pause to spoon some of the buttery, fennel-y goodness up from the bottom and pour it over the top.

The fries, part of my five consecutive meal fry extravaganza, cause the group buffoon to shout “McDonalds!” when he first tastes them - which made me want to hit the dirt in case knives came flying from the kitchen … even if there’s a grain of truth to it. ‘McDonald’s in heaven’ is much more appropriate.

The clever can save money by ordering smaller numbers of bigger portions. Three larger portions - they are ordered by the kilo or kilo and half - are plenty for the five of us, buffoon included.

Count on about 30 euros and, as it’s in a funny neighborhood and not too close to a Metro stop, take a cab.

La Bonne Humeur - MAP
Chaussée de Louvain 244
Brussels
+32 02 230 71 69

Follow me on Twitter: @joe_diner and on Facebook.



Twitter Facebook Delicious Digg | More
image

Monday, October 04, 2010

BRUSSELS BEER & FRIES WEEK! PART CINQ: SUDDEN DEATH IS PREFERRED

My word, what a mess.

The “If You Go” recommendation from my Globe lambic story that said “Skip the food, have a drink and move on” was more accurate than I thought.

A La Mort Subite - French for “sudden death” - is a Brussels landmark bar and restaurant, replete with scores of beer and a beautiful hall for quaffing.

Disasters on this scale are tricky to explain, so let’s stick to the facts.

I joined a group of fifty for dinner - we had the upstairs hall to ourselves, a bit too exclusively. Though one guy ran the occasional tray or two of beer up the stairs, here was one waitress assigned to us. One.

She was heroic in her efforts, but at the end of the day, she was all alone. For most of us, it took two hours for our food - salads and omelets - to arrive.

As a restaurateur who has likely known for weeks that a group of 50 is coming for dinner, how do you screw up that badly? If feeding 50 people à la carte (as we did) is beyond your capacity, why not say so and propose another option? Why not make sure you have the staff to keep the beer flowing and the food moving? Why not have the chef chop up a few tomatoes ahead of time?

At the one hour 45 minute mark, I looked over at a friend who had an expression on his face that said, ‘shoot me.’

“You’d better write about this,” he sighed.

A la Mort Subite

rue Montagne-aux-Herbes Potagères 7

Brussels

+32 (0)2 513 13 18

www.alamortsubite.com

Follow me on Twitter: @joe_diner and on Facebook.



Twitter Facebook Delicious Digg | More
image

Saturday, October 02, 2010

BRUSSELS BEER & FRIES WEEK! PART QUATRE: FRY ME A RIVER

Part by design, part by chance, I had fries at five meals in a row in Brussels, including one breakfast.

This might rile some feathers, but what’s funny is that the Bruxellois don’t seem terribly picky about their fry stands as long as their frites are done right: fried once to cook them through, then a second time to crisp up the edges at a hotter temperature.

My two faves come from dedicated places outside the center, often surrounded by pimply students who make lunches out of fried meat sandwiches called mitraillettes – pure roach coach grub ‘machine guns’ topped with a few fries and drowned in the sauce of your choosing. Let your eyes alone do the feasting.

Here, the fries are thick, stubby, soft, crispy and salty - the kind of things that have you walking along, gazing up at the city and chuckling to yourself, thinking ‘I’m eating fries in Brussels’ as you pop another another in your mouth.

Two notables:
Friterie de la Place de la Chapelle - MAP
Place de la Chapelle
Brussels
First ones I had on this trip. Breakfast, bien sûr!

Friterie de la Barriere - MAP
5, Avenue du Parc
Brussels

Follow me on Twitter: @joe_diner and on Facebook.



Twitter Facebook Delicious Digg | More
image

Friday, October 01, 2010

BRUSSELS BEER & FRIES WEEK! PART TROIS: BEER’S MOEDER SHIP

Last year, one of my favorite, accidental and off-the-map finds was Chez Moeder Lambic up above the wonderful Parvis Saint-Gilles.

This year, I herded the cats again, this time to the Moeder Lambic’s new downtown outpost - Moeder Lambic Fontainas - with 46 beers on tap.

It was empty.

“Sometimes you don’t have to go to the perfect place,” says the group buffoon. I wanted to punch him in the nose, only partially because he was right. Nothing deflates my balloon like bringing a gang of foodies to a place that looks like it might be a dud.

Au contraire.

Despite the relatively flashy look - at least compared to their, er, Moeder ship - selection and service are impeccable. There are scads of Cantillon beers on tap (MMMM!!!!) and even the younger members on the staff know their product cold. Even the buffoon can’t flap our waitress. Compared to what’s available in the center of the city, this is a great addition.

Beer fans - continue your reading here with my Boston Globe story, Stalking A Wild Brew and Bottled Brilliance in Centurion Magazine.

Moeder Lambic Fontainas - MAP
Place Fontainas, 8-10
Brussels

Follow me on Twitter: @joe_diner and on Facebook.



Twitter Facebook Delicious Digg | More
image

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.

Follow me on Twitter: @joe_diner and on Facebook.



Twitter Facebook Delicious Digg | More
image

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

Follow me on Twitter: @joe_diner and on Facebook.



Twitter Facebook Delicious Digg | More
image

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

Follow me on Twitter: @joe_diner and on Facebook.



Twitter Facebook Delicious Digg | More
image

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

Follow me on Twitter: @joe_diner and on Facebook.



Twitter Facebook Delicious Digg | More
NEWER ENTRIES >
< PREVIOUS ENTRIES