June 30, 2018

Europe 2018 day 1: Hello, Brussels!

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We’re on a long, 18-day trip as we eat our way through Belgium and France. After landing in Brussels in early morning, we took the train from the airport to Gare de Bruxelles-Midi so that we can store our luggage in lockers and explore the city for a few hours.

Our first stop today was the Atomium. As a kid growing up in the 70s, the image of what was back then a futuristic structure had always been synonymous with Brussels, so it made sense to be our first stop.

The first part of the visit was an elevator ride to the top sphere to get a panoramic view of the city. After coming back down to the ground, we went through a few of the spheres while checking out the exhibition on the history of the Atomium as well as René Magritte’s work.

Our first meal of the trip – where we started the Michelin star count - was at Comme Chez Soi. Located at Place Rouppe, the restaurant was opened 92 years ago and has remained in the same family throughout this time.

We decided to forgo the various set menus and went à la carte. But first we were treated to a series of amuses bouches.

Krupuk with shrimp

Halibut millefeuille – with diced herbs.

Herring – with red peppercorns, diced red onions, something crunchy like kohlrabi maybe, and served with citrus gel on the side.

Octopus – with lobster and mayonnaise of lobster, diced green apples, and something else that provided crunch.

White cream of eel – creamy and acidic, with what I thought was parsley. The little chunks of eel inside were pretty bouncy and springy.

Filet of red mullet, lime butter with green sansho, cardamom, crispy vegetables with kalamansi – the mullet was marinated and had a rather firm texture, garnished with crispy fish scales on top. The medley of vegetables included courgettes, baby corn, micro tomatoes, salicornia, capsicum in different colors, and seasoned with curry/turmeric powder. Pretty interesting.

Marinated beef with juniper berries and tarragon, emulsion of tuna with caper berries – Hello Kitty's choice.  The slices of beef were very tender and still raw in the middle, and came on a bed of relish which included hazelnuts as well as flying fish roe in wasabi.  The emulsion on the side - curiously made with tuna and caper berries - was nice and acidic yet also savory.  As for those red dots in the middle... they tasted curiously like those Thai sweet chili sauce.

Presa Duroc from Batallé roasted with nuts oil, peas, ramonache, roquette, young Parmesan - this was some damn tasty pork!  Served with peas, zucchini, fava beans, asparagus, red onions, and deep-fried sticks of celeriac.

The pork was very tender, just seared on the outside.  The striations of the muscles looked very pretty, while the pork was incredibly tasty... with very strong flavors of the meat itself.

Royal quails from Dombes with Leffe Caractère beer and marjoram, stuffed celery root with snails from Namur and garlic - no surprise that this was Hello Kitty's choice.  The plating of this dish was also very beautiful.

The quail breast was fantastic!  While at first glance it seemed pretty fully-cooked, the center was actually still somewhat pink and raw.

The menu did say that both the pork and quail dishes included a second service, so our server came over to drop more pieces of pork and quail on our plates... as if we had more stomach space for them! Wasn't expecting to eat a lot for lunch but I just had to power through...

Mousse of strawberry and passion fruit with peppermint, tartare of litchi and lemon balm - this was our server's recommendation, and it was both pretty and tasty.  The gélée was made with strawberries, passion fruit, and peppermint.

Hidden in the block of mousse was finely chopped strawberries and lychee, with verbena.

The petits fours were nicely presented.

Canelé with orange

Macaron with basil

Chocolate with rhubarb - acidic jam in the middle.

Cassis mousse

Violet and lemon marshmallows

I hadn't planned on drinking wine at lunch, but figured we could do a half bottle...

2004 Georges Mugneret Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru Les Chaignots, en demi-bouteille - nice notes of leather, seemed a little stemmy.  Definitely typical NSG, with black fruits and some sweetness on the nose.

This was a very good meal, and we were happy that our first meal of the trip went so well.  The wine list had quite a lot of treasures, and I only regret was that we did not come for dinner...

We found out at the end that the reason we did not get to sit in the Art Nouveau dining room at the front of the restaurant was that it had been booked out by a group of Harley-Davidson owners... and there was a group of bikes parked in front of the restaurant!

Even though it was long past the time for Hello Kitty to get her caffeine fix, she still wanted to make a stop at Kaffabar - on the other side of Place Rouppe.  The reason?  Marcel, the house bulldog who spends most of the day sleeping in his bed.

Even though I just had an espresso at the end of lunch, I ordered myself a cold drip coffee.  Curiously this came with slices of orange, which lent the citrus fragrance to my coffee.

We strolled over to the luxury shopping area on Boulevard de Waterloo, then went back to the station to pick up our luggage for our long taxi ride out of town to our bed and breakfast.

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