Before I left for my trip to Belgium, I asked my favorite foodie friend what did I absolutely need to eat when I am there. Of all the typical Belgian food to choose from, she said “Eat the Moules and Frites!”
And so I did, starting with a meal at Aux Armes de Bruxelles. (http://www.auxarmesdebruxelles.com/en) I had to start here, since every website and tour book I read on Brussels referenced this place to eat. Located on Rue des Bouchers, the street for seafood, there are many noisy and casual bistros vying for your patronage. But walking into Armes, however, you are suddenly swept into a land of white table cloths and fine dining. Rick Steves had mentioned this dressy and more formal setting, but it is in stark contrast to it’s outside surroundings. They seemed fine, however, with casual clothing of its patrons and, as expected, the prices are a bit more to fit the ambiance.
I ordered the moules en vin blanc with frites, which is mussels cooked in white wine.
As always in cooking, the flavors in the wine is what lingers in the dish after the alcohol is burned off. This was ok. I would have expected a more flavorful white wine to be used but it was the sweetness of the fresh mussels that really made this dish. The pot may look big (and it was) but after all the shells are gone, the portion was just right.
The next day, I dined across the street from Aux Armes at Chez Leon. (http://www.chezleon.be/) Here is their moules in butter and garlic.
OMG, this was fantastic! The broth had so much flavor that I soaked up every last drop with bread and the frites. This was actually their special of a half order of mussels with frites and a beer. I think it was Rachael Ray who said to always look for specials at these touristy type places – you get more bang for the buck. And while it was a good deal, they did not skimp on the flavors or quality AT ALL.
Then on the last night, I had moules a la mariniere with frites at Le Pre Sale, a local favorite near the old fish market. Cooked with belgian beer, celery and shallots, this was pretty good. I thought it to be tastier than the vin blanc version but was flavorful as the butter one. But then again, butter makes everything taste better. 🙂
The portion was generous but the place was BUSY. I went without a reservation around 8 pm, and while I was given a seat, I was told that I had to leave within 45 minutes. Enough time for me to eat, but just something to keep in mind if you go. I saw several patrons be turned away for lack of space just during my meal! (http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g188644-d1027113-Reviews-Le_pre_sale-Brussels.html)
But besides the mussels cooked in the cassoulet, I did try mussels in other forms. Like this beautiful mussel soup from Chez Leon, made with saffron and garlic. All the flavors of paella in a bowl of soup!
Then fried mussels with tartar sauce at Mer du Nord/Nordzee. A seafood bar in the old fish market near St. Catherine Place, all orders are made fresh and so yummy. (http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g188644-d1133830-Reviews-Noordzee_Mer_du_Nord-Brussels.html)
And let’s not forget about getting frites to go! So many stands and side shops line the streets of Belgium selling cone of frites with dipping sauce. This is my “small order” of frites with mayo off the streets of Bruges.
When I asked the locals what is the best food to eat in Belgium, they all replied “the seafood”! And not so just the mussels but seafood in general. Two of the most notable seafood dishes I had was this crab burger at Mer du Nord/Nordzee:
But my absolute favorite was this steamed skate with butter and capers at La Maree.
This was divine. The fish fell right off the bone and the flavors of wine and butter drenched the meat. And you know it’s a great restaurant when the doors are covered with stickers for all the awards and stars that it’s been given.
Yummy. Wish I could have stayed longer and eaten more!