Category Archives: Restaurants

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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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.

The Norm — Lunch on 14 March 2018

Photography wasn’t allowed inside the Brooklyn Museum’s brilliant David Bowie is exhibition, but I do have one takeaway from the show. After spending a couple of hours immersed in the life and works of The Man Who Fell to Earth, my niece and I had lunch at the museum’s restaurant, The Norm.

No, I don’t know why it’s called that, and my online search for an answer came up empty.

Post-Bowie, the name of one of the menu offerings was irresistible.


Museums are not generally noted for the quality of the food they offer, but the Brooklyn Museum is an exception. Chef here is Michelin-starred Saul Bolton, who has developed a small but intriguing menu.

My Diamond Dogfish and Chips were excellent, and I say that as a connoisseur of fish & chips.

The Norm's Diamond Dogfish and Chips, with Mushy Peas on the Side

The Norm’s Diamond Dogfish and Chips, with Mushy Peas on the Side

Ted’s Bulletin — Lunch on 25 February 2018

Ted's Bulletin

Ted’s Bulletin

On Sunday afternoon, I went to a fascinating performance of a play based on Ursula Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven. The production blended the minimalism of black box theatre with 21st-century technology, and delivered a wonderful interpretation of a book that I’d thought would be unplayable in a theatre.

I’d planned on having lunch in the area before curtain time, so I was checking out menus for 14th Street restaurants when I saw this:



My eyes lit up like I was five years old and it was Christmas morning.

I’ve written a couple of times about Yo Mama’s in New Orleans, which was my favourite dive bar in the entire world. Yo Mama’s claim to international fame was its gigantic Bacon Peanut Butter Burger, the best hamburger that I’ve ever eaten, in a life rich with hamburger consumption.*

And now I had a chance to try a DC version.

Peanut Butter and Bacon Burger

Peanut Butter and Bacon Burger. The Ted’s Bulletin Version.

Ted’s Bulletin on 14h Street, the place featuring the Bacon Peanut Butter Burger, is part of a small local restaurant group. It’s wildly popular, big, cheery, and bright. The greeter told me there’d be a 45-minute wait for a table, so I grabbed a seat at one of the bars.

The bartender and the server both knew Yo Mama’s, and we traded New Orleans restaurant stories while I waited for my Bacon Peanut Butter Burger.

But there would be no presents under the Christmas tree this year.

Yo Mama’s burger was half a pound of certified Angus Beef smothered with creamy peanut butter and topped with chunks of applewood smoked bacon. The one at Ted’s Bulletin was less than half that size, and the toppings—uncrumbled bacon and runny peanut butter—were simply thrown together. The fries were barely warm by the time they got to me.

A major disappointment.

Time to go back to the Big Easy, where they do things right.


*You might have noticed my use of the past tense. Alas, Yo Mama’s is no more, but its spirit lives on. In 2016, the owner left the site, taking Yo Mama’s name with him. About a week later, the restaurant re-opened with essentially the same staff and menu, under the name Port St. Peter. I haven’t been back since the new owner took over. Some people say it’s even better, some say not. The important thing is that the Bacon Peanut Butter Burger is still the star attraction.

Gotta say, though, that the name Yo Mama’s is clearly a better fit for a great dive bar than Port St. Peter.

Restaurant Eve — Lunch on 31 January 2018

Restaurant Eve

Restaurant Eve Entrance

2018 Winter Restaurant Week 3, Day 1

I’ve saved the best for last. My final stop on the 2018 Winter RW tour was Cathal Armstrong’s Restaurant Eve, in Old Town, Alexandria. The meal, the service, the ambiance—everything was flawless.

This is where President and Mrs. Obama celebrated their 19th anniversary.

The entrance to the restaurant is marked by a small, easy-to-miss sign next to an open door. You walk down a long, dark, open-air passage to get to the restaurant proper. Inside, you find—here comes that word again—elegance.

Long Dark Passage

Long Dark Passage

Mussels and Clams

First up: Clams and Mussels with Moroccan Spice. The spicy sauce is what made this dish so memorable.

Cod

Then came this beautiful piece of perfectly cooked Icelandic Cod, served with new potatoes and fennel in a shellfish nage, which was so rich and creamy that I was half-tempted to drink it straight from the pan.

Dessert

Dessert

This.

The first two courses had been splendid, but dessert, Meyer Lemon Pavlova with Raspberry Granita, was flat-out amazing.  It blew everything that had come before out of the water.*

Pavlova, named after a Russian ballerina, originated in New Zealand about a hundred years ago. A pavlova is a meringue with a crunchy crust and a soft sweet filling, topped with cream and, in this case, preserved raspberries grown in the restaurant’s garden last summer.

“It’s the chef’s favourite dessert,” my server told me, and that was easy to believe.


So I ended 2018 Winter Restaurant Weeks on the highest possible note. I’d found some great new places that I’m sure I’ll be visiting again, and a couple of not-so-great places to cross off my list. As ever, it was an interesting and hugely enjoyable adventure.

And it’s only six more months until 2018 Summer Restaurant Weeks.


*Appropriately, since cod, clams, and mussels are seafood.

(I believe this is what’s known as a “Dad Joke”.)

Sfoglina — Lunch on 27 January 2018

Sfoglina

Sfoglina

2018 Winter Restaurant Week 2, Day 4

We’re nearing the end now. Only one more restaurant after this write-up of Fabio Trabocchi’s Sfoglina, and, for me, 2018 Winter Restaurant Weeks come to an end.

Trabocchi and his wife own five highly-rated DC restaurants. Fiola has a Michelin star, and Sfoglina was just added to Michelin’s DC Bib Gourmand list for 2018.

Salad

Salad

This is Sfoglina’s take on a puntarelle and arugula Caesar Salad.

Sea Bass

Sea Bass

A small serving of sea bass, with Roman artichokes and a parsnip purée.

Dessert

Dessert

This was listed as a Soft Serve of Blood Orange and Chocolate. Perhaps the size was meant to compensate for the meagreness of the starter and the main.

The food was good and the service was excellent, but I left unhappy. It wasn’t just the serving sizes that disappointed, it was something on the bill.

I don’t drink wine at lunch, and ordered a Diet Coke, which the server poured from an eight-ounce bottle. When I got the check, I saw that I’d been billed $6 for the drink.

I know that restaurants make much of their money from the inflated charges for drinks, but at the CVS a block away from the restaurant, 64-ounce bottles of Diet Coke were on sale at $1.66 each. If my math is correct, the markup here is about 2,890%, which is outrageous. If you’re wondering whatever happened to the notorious pharmadouche Martin Shrkeli, he may have been hired to set prices at Sfoglina.

It was a sour note, and it left a bad taste in my mouth.

The Hamilton — Lunch on 26 January 2018

The Hamilton

The Hamilton

2018 Winter Restaurant Week 2, Day 3

I reluctantly canceled my lunch reservations for Wednesday and Thursday so that I could stay at home and work on the computer problems that had kept me out of touch since the weekend. By Thursday night—actually, by early Friday morning—things were finally looking good. Not great, but close enough so that I could take a break without worrying that my printer would burst into flames at any moment. (I hate it when that happens. That’s how I lost my only copies of the Trump tax returns and the secret diary of J. Edgar Hoover.)

So it was off to The Hamilton for lunch.

The Hamilton is huge. I’m not sure how many dining areas it has, but it’s large enough to hold at least two long bars and its own music hall. The restaurant has the dark-wood-and-paneling look of a classic steakhouse, but the menu is modern and eclectic. Most days, it’s open from 11AM until 2AM, and a little later on weekends.

Calamari

Calamari

The starter: A generous serving of Cornmeal-crusted Sweet Chili Calamari, with Thai peanut dipping sauce.

Beef Stroganoff

Beef Stroganoff

Beef Stroganoff!

Beef Stroganoff had its heyday in the 1950s. I can’t remember the last time I saw it on a menu, but it was probably before the Millenium. And isn’t there a law that makes it a felony to serve Beef Stroganoff without offering Shrimp Cocktail as a complementary appetizer?

The Hamilton’s “modernized” version featured house-made campanelle pasta and a tenderloin and mushroom ragù, with crème fraiche and shredded Pecorino-Romano cheese.

Once again, the serving was too large to finish in one sitting, so I took half of it home.

[Memo to self: Find a good recipe for classic Beef Stroganoff and make it sometime soon.]

Hazelnut Chocolate Mousse

Hazelnut Chocolate Mousse

Hazelnut Chocolate Mousse for dessert.