Our work-driven travels took us on to Belgium after Paris, and I was not expecting much. But I had some pleasant surprises. While not destinations, these might be good addresses if you find yourself in similar circumstances.
Osteria Bolognese’s proprietor is from Emilia-Romagna and tries to stay faithful to that tradition. It’s a small place and tends to be booked out a few weeks ahead, but on Wednesdays they take no reservations, so if you show up when they open at 19:00, you can snag a table. Sorry, the light was dim, the photos are bad, but: the food was excellent, and reasonably priced.
Fried polenta with sautéed fresh porcini.
“Sliced” appetizer plate. That’s mortadella mousse in the centre.
Housemade fresh tortellini with cream and shaved black truffle. Really good.
Tagliatelle with ragù Bolognese. I have eaten this in Bologna, and I have spent time recreating it in my own kitchen. This version was dead on.
We had no space for dessert, but apparently it is good. One quibble: service was rather slapdash (our server was taking nips from a bottle of beer between forays onto the floor, and was enthusiastic but not really on top of things).
It was just below freezing in Bruges (Brugge); the canals had enough ice on them for ducks to stand on it. There were a few Asian tourists wandering about, but for the most part the place was empty, which I appreciated. I debated eating at Bistro Refter, the second address of the three-starred De Karmeliet, but instead opted for Bistro Pro Deo, at the eastern edge of the historic centre.
I couldn’t have their Stoofvlees op Vlaamse (Flemish beef stew) because it cooks all day, but the beef tartare was on the lunch menu (20 €) and both generous and well-prepared.
So, given that there was plenty to do in town, I went back for dinner. You can’t tell from the photo, but the stew (same price) was excellent as well.
Something I did not know before going: there is no notion of a “carafe d’eau” in Belgium. You want water with your meal, it comes in a bottle and you pay for it.
The next day I went to Ghent (Gent), which has at least as many interesting buildings, but in the middle of a real city with a lot of real inhabitants. My first choice was the one-starred Publiek, but I was turned away without a reservation. Just as well, probably; I was underdressed and would have felt out of place with the minimal bargain menu while everyone else was eating à la carte, but at my second choice, Korenlei Twee, the atmosphere was more relaxed and everyone was having the lunch menu.
What I had was: five fine de claire oysters; Belgian endive wrapped in ham, in a Gruyère sauce (“very traditional”, the server said), and poffertjes (puffy pancakes) in caramel sauce.
The lunch menu is 24€, and there’s a fine view of the canal and historic buildings.
Back in Brussels, I visited Moeder Lambic twice. It is known for its beer selection (about forty beers on tap), but I had a perfectly reasonable quiche Lorraine and salad for 8€. Friendly and attentive service also. It reminded me a lot of Toronado in SF, except that it isn’t a biker bar playing heavy metal.