On our first night in Brussels, we elected to take a gourmet walking tour.
Our intrepid guide, Marc, of Global Enterprises, had conducted two tours earlier in the day: a chocolate breakfast tour and an afternoon beer sampling. He was then, as you might expect, a *jolly* soul by the time our dinner odyssey started. But this was fine — especially once our sweet friend J. yanked his chain a bit for dropping one too many expletives during our orientation. 🙂
We started off with a stop at Elisabeth, a boutique chocolatier just footsteps away from the Grand Place. While the American tourists were packing the Godiva store (but why, when they can get Godiva chocolates — more cheaply! — in the States?), we sampled exquisite tangerine truffles dusted with bitter cocoa. Yum!
From there, we paid a visit to a local bar that’s been in continuous operation for more than 350 years. The joint serves pretty much every beer you can think of, offering samples of a local blueberry-flavored beer (“for the ladies,” our guide insisted) and a bold, rich, hearty ale (“The Unlucky Blonde”) for the gentlemen.
The crown jewel of the tour? Dinner at Le Chat Noir. Things got off to a great start with the Brussels Mussels, exquisite seafood served in bucket of celery-based broth. I’ve never had better mussels … and I can’t recall ever seeing diners digging in the mussel bucket with hunks of bread, trying to sop up every last drop of broth — but we did!
That done, we tucked into the chicons au gratin — Belgian endives wrapped in ham and baked in cheese. (Hey, ya gotta eat your vegetables!)
Alongside this: the “filet Americain” — or steak tartare. This was my first experience eating steak tartare: big, round, thick, fat patties of ground steak, just as red and chilly as you might imagine, resting on a bed of verdant greens. My first bite was hesitant, I admit. But the meat was well seasoned with a hint of onion, and the soft texture was surprisingly velvety on the tongue. I ended up eating my portion … and then some.
I could kick myself for not writing down the name of the next course: a delicious, slow-cooked, tender beef dish in a thick, savory sauce. It turned out to be everyone’s favorite dish of the night — and once again, everyone was dipping bread in pot and soaking up every ounce.
From there, we strolled over to Mokafe in Les Galleries Saint Herbert for our first taste of Belgian waffles. Listen: I don’t care where you’ve had Belgian waffles in the States … nothing compares to the light, crisp, sweet confection sold here in Brussels. These waffles need nothing more than a light dusting of powdered sugar (okay, well, and some cafe au lait on the side) to perfect their flavor. Amazing.
We did other things on our first day — shopping, strolling, nosing around the Grand Place, sampling chocolates — but the culinary tour was definitely the highlight, in no small part due to the friendly, laid-back personality of Marc (who, as it turns out, not only owns the tour company we worked with, but a lovely house in Nepal, to boot).
Headed to Brussels? Give Marc a holler — he knows all the right places to take hungry Americans looking for a short cut to the best Brussels has to offer.