Author Archives: bcarter3

Fin de Siècle — My Favourite Restaurant in Brussels

Fin de Siècle

Fin de Siècle. There’s often a line out the door.

Very early on, I Found My Restaurant—a rustic, no-frills place that gave me the authentic Belgian cuisine I was looking for.

When I’m traveling, I rarely dine at the same place more than once, because there are are hundreds of thousands of great places to eat in the world, and my goal is to try as many of them as possible. Reach should exceed grasp, and all that.

I went back to Fin de Siècle a second time, and then a third.

Let’s start with some of the things Fin de Siècle doesn’t have:

  • A phone number
  • A website
  • Reservations
  • An English-language menu
  • Any printed menu at all

Oh, and they don’t accept credit cards.


The menu, in French, is posted on the wall.  “Are you looking for something authentic?’ asked my charming server, in English. She directed me to the six items on the second panel, told me that they were a mix of traditional and modern Belgium standards, and described what each of them was. Service at  Fin de Siècle was unrushed, friendly, and always helpful—everyone I dealt with seemed happy to be working there.

Lapin à la Kriek

Lapin à la Kriek

My first meal at Fin de Siècle was Lapin à la Kriek, rabbit in Kriek beer sauce. And just like that, I was hooked. Even by American standards, the serving size was large, and I don’t think I’ve ever had a tastier rabbit dish. The side vegetables, too, were perfectly cooked.

Jambonneau Moutarde à l’Ancienne

A few days later, I was back again.  “Jambonneau Moutarde à l’Ancienne” sounds more impressive than “Ham Hock with Mustard Sauce, the Old Fashioned Way’ doesn’t it? Whether in French or in English, it was another exceptional meal.

Fin de Siècle is very popular, and during peak dining times the wait for a table can take quite a while. It’s worth the wait.

Carbonnades a la Chimay

Another classic. Carbonnades a la Chimay is a beef stew made with Chimay Grande Réserve, a Belgian dark ale. This was my final meal, for now, in my favourite Brussels restaurant. I haven’t been able to decide whether I liked the Lapin à la Kriek or the Carbonnades a la Chimay more, so further research is definitely required. If only Fin de Siècle were here in Washington, I’d be able to visit once a week.

For science.

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In the Cathedral

I’m not at all religious, but when I’m traveling, I like to visit churches. They’re usually warm and dry and quiet—good places to get away from the hectic life outside their doors. You can easily lose yourself in the beauty of the architecture and the stained glass. I can’t imagine being in Paris without spending some time in Sainte-Chapelle or in Krakow without a stop at St. Mary’s Basilica.

In Brussels, there’s Cathedrale St-Michel et Ste-Gudule, with its wonderful windows.


I (Unintentionally) Turn to the Dark Side.

As I was leaving the cathedral, I crossed paths with a large, distressed, American family group. They were trying to get to the vault on the church’s lower level, but to do that, they first had to pay the admission fee at a turnstile, which accepted nothing but €1 coins. They didn’t have enough of the correct currency. I had a lot of loose change, so I offered to trade.

It was only after the transaction that I realized the deplorable thing I’d done: Without ever intending to, I’d become one of the proverbial Moneychangers in the Temple.

I scurried away before anyone could throw me out.

Lunch at Chez Léon

Chez Léon

Chez Léon

After a good night’s sleep, I was ready for my first full day in Brussels. I headed to Chez Léon, a restaurant that had been recommended by a friend in Washington. It was only a few minutes walk from my hotel. In fact, during my sodden trek through yesterday’s rain, I’d already walked past it. Three times, from three different directions.

Mussels

Mussels

My friend had said the restaurant might have become somewhat touristy.* That proved to be the case. I arrived shortly after Chez Léon opened for lunch, and the restaurant filled up fast, with a predominantly East Asian clientele, guidebooks in hand. This was not a neighbourhood hangout known only to long-time residents.

But all those people were there for a reason. The food really was first rate. I ordered what the menu called “Mussels Gratinated”, and was served a rich and memorable plate of mussels topped with butter, nutmeg, and melted cheese. It was the best mussels dish I’ve eaten since the Moules Frites with creme and Auvergne bleu cheese that I had at Café Bruant in Paris a couple of years ago.


*I, of course, am not a tourist, but a traveler. You can easily tell the difference:  Tourists want the same food they’d order back home at Applebees and don’t know how to tip, while travelers describe meals by making pretentious references to earlier meals in another country, usually France.

“When You’re Lost in the Rain in Brussels and It’s Eastertime Too…”

There’s a widespread belief that thanks to global positioning systems, it is impossible to get lost in the 21st century.

“Ha!” I say, and “Ha!” I say again.

I’m willing to bet that the people who believe GPS propaganda like that have never stumbled out of the Bruxelles-Central train station into a heavy rainfall after a sleepless overnight transatlantic flight, only to find that the few visible street signs seemed to have been written without using any consonants.

Google Maps said it was a 10-minute walk from the station to my hotel. It took me slightly more than half an hour, but by the time I was finished, I’d become intimately familiar with the many side streets, dead ends, and unlabeled intersections along the way.

For me, getting lost in a new city where I don’t speak the language has always been one of the great pleasures of travel. Your senses are heightened and you become hyper-aware of your surroundings.  Unfortunately, that high level of functionality isn’t possible when you haven’t slept in 25 hours. By the time I staggered into the hotel lobby, I wanted nothing more than to take a quick hot shower and have a 14-hour nap.

Which was exactly what I did. And that was my first day in Belgium.

It got better after that.

Back in the Saddle Again

I spent this year’s unofficial “Spring Break” in Belgium, the land of chocolate, waffles, and, uh,  sprouts.

I’m back in the US now, and will be posting about my trip over the next couple of weeks, as an excuse to avoid starting to work on my income tax returns.

Adventure Time

I’m off on my annual Spring adventure.

Posting will resume around 8 April, when I’ll use it as an excuse to delay dealing with my income tax paperwork.

More Massive Attack

A few days back, I posted a video of Norwegian singer Aurora’s cover version of Massive Attack’s “Teardrop”. It was probably inevitable that I’d follow it down the rabbit hole, which led me to another video.

Kaleidoscopic, not to mention psychedelic. You’ll want to dim the lights and go full screen on this one,

Here’s an audio-only of “Paradise Circus”, one of my favourite Massive Attack songs.