Sunday, September 11, 2011

Brussels: Things to do

I think we've already mentioned some of the main sites (e.g. Grand Place/Grote Markt, Manneken Pis), but here are some places that are worth visiting:

1) Place Sablon - this is a great area to walk around because of the dense concentration of art galleries and antiques stores.

apparently, ob/gyn tables haven't changed much over the last 150 years!

Moreover, when you need a break from all the window shopping, there are some AMAZING chocolate/dessert places to stop for a delicious pick-me-up. The weather got chilly for about 10 minutes, which was long enough for me to intensely desire hot chocolate - luckily, we were next to Wittamer.  I had read that the chocolate there was incredible but honestly, the hot chocolate was so good that I didn't have the patience (willpower?) to stop drinking it and take a picture of the striking cafe or the lovely hot chocolate. Upon returning here, I did stumble upon this recipe for their hot chocolate on the blog of David Lebovitz.  I am quite confident that I can't recreate their deliciousness but perhaps when it gets colder...
We also stopped by Pierre Marcolini because, quite frankly, I couldn't resist their beautiful window displays of macarons.  Seriously, check out how beautiful they are! The flavors of the nine macarons that I tried were great - with salted caramel and a subtle, chocolate-encased violet flavor winning out - but I must say, the texture was not completely perfect (despite the macarons having beautiful "feet").  I think a good macaron should have a slightly more formed, or crispy "shell."  Anyways, looking forward to trying more when we are in Paris in a few weeks!

2) Musée Magritte - Brussels has many great museums, but we were most interested in seeing the work of the Belgian painter René Magritte. Perhaps his most well-known painting is that of an image of a pipe with the seemingly contradictory caption below, "Cesi n'est pas une pipe" (this is not a pipe). The idea being that the object on the canvas was paint or an image, but not actually a pipe. Those of you who have seen me wear my "cesi n'est pas une pipe" t-shirt depicting a Nintendo pipe may understand how we couldn't miss going to this museum! The museum is really fun to walk through. Magritte often had his friends think up titles for his paintings - some seem to be completely unrelated to the painting - however, in simply thinking about the image in the context of this title, the meaning of the painting changes and often, in very humorous or clever ways.
near the Magritte Museum

3) Frites - there are frites everywhere in Brussels. In the old city, Friterie Tabora and Fritland are perfectly fine places to satisfy a craving but if you are willing to travel a little bit (a few miles!), Maison Antoine at Place Jourdan is definitely the place to go!  This becomes evident from the second you arrive and line up behind a long queue of people willing to wait 30 minutes for these frites which arrive double-fried and in a humongous cone. One has the choice of at least 20 different sauces here - everything from traditional mayo to sauces with names that bewildered us like samourai.  Of note, sauce Américaine is delicious - tomato-based with spices - and totally unfamiliar to both of us (it must be referring to the South America)! One of the great things about Maison Antoine, is that almost all the cafes and restaurants near there have signs stating that frites are allowed in their establishments - this means you can sit down and order a beer to enjoy with your cone of frites.

4) Beer - I will reiterate if you're interested in beer, Cantillon is not to be missed (see post)! But in terms of enjoying good Belgian beer, do not miss Moeder Lambic.  More than 40 local beers on tap, great ambiance, a knowledgeable staff - you can't go wrong here.  If you are interested in good beer, but are willing (aka- young enough) to tolerate loud, super packed spaces - check out the dictionary-sized beer menu (mainly bottles) at Delirium Cafe. Operated by Brouwerij Huyghe (makers of the "delirium" and several other beers), their own beers are heavily featured on tap.  We sampled a few good beers here, but Moeder Lambic remains my favorite beer place!
Moeder Lambic
Delirium Cafe: Locations may change, but double fisting Daavs is a constant!
5) Dinner - the best dinner that we had during our trip to Brussels was at In't Spinnekopke.  The restaurant is a great place for an introduction to more traditional Belgian cuisine - the food is prepared well and is served in a rustic, homey environment.  We started out with their house beer, which was on tap and delicious and opted for an appetizer of foie gras with poached pear and speculoos.  Speculoos is a dry cookie heavily spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg,  cloves, ginger, cardamom, and pepper and is popular in both the Netherlands and Belgium - the cookies are quite tasty and even David, who rarely eats desserts, has taken to having 2-3 cookies after dinner on most nights!  Anyways, this appetizer was amazing - the richness of a perfectly cooked, fatty piece of foie gras with spicy crumbles of cookie, and the light sweetness of pear was a great combination. Even the tart slices of apple decorating the plate, proved to be a well thought out diversion from the richness.  I'm including the pictures below...but they really don't do the food justice. We chose tete de veau tortue (calf's head) and coq spinnekopke (their house chicken) as the main courses.  We very rarely eat chicken at home and pretty much never order it at restaurants, but I think we were both very glad that we did here. The chicken was moist and cooked in flavorful, slightly sweet, thick sauce consisting of beer and mushrooms - plentiful in portion and the perfect comfort food. The tete de veau was served in a shiny copper vessel and the meat was delicate and swimming in a tangy tomato broth.  Oh my goodness, the food was good!  So good that we ate it all and did not have room for dessert, which convinced us that instead we needed digestifs.  We had fleur de houblon (made from the hops flower) and digestif maison (house limoncello) - a delicious ending to a great meal!  

In't Spinnekopke
Coq Spinnekopke
Foie Gras
Tete de Veau Tortue
Tete de Veau Tortue + house beer
I think this post has become a little my last, short recommendation: Viva M'boma. The name apparently means "long live the grandmother" and thus, does traditional cooking in a modern, black and white environment.  The restaurant specializes in offal - if you're not into offal, you can find a ton of other great restaurants in this area of the city.  The service here is wonderful - honestly, the servers are not only knowledgeable and helpful, but really just very nice.  The food is definitely good, but alas, this post is too long so I will leave you with the pictures.

head cheese

bone marrow, oxtail, veal cheeks

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