Saturday, August 27, 2011

Yet Another DC Mussels Joint

For some reason Belgian food is super trendy in DC. Not only have there been a ton of new bistro-style restaurants opening in the past few years, but there was even an official "Belgian Restaurant Week" leading up to the National Day which I suspect had more fanfare than in the homeland! Seriously, I think I've eaten more mussels here than I ever did in Antwerp.

With so many moules frites to choose from, here is a helpful guide to your options in the District:

Et Voila - Tim and I found out about this place because they served amazing waffles at the Belgian ambassador's national day party (yes, we are fancy). They are in the Palisades area of DC, and thus only accessible by car or taxi, but there's a huge upside: if you make reservations after 9:30pm, you get a free bottle of wine. Good Spanish wine, too! I had veal sweetbreads (a guilty pleasure of mine) and curry-flavored moules frites. Tim had smoked trout which he loved, and stoofvlees which he loved a bit less.

Bistrot Le Zinc - this place is located on Wisconsin Ave. north of Glover Park, about 20 min walk from where we live. It's only been open for a few weeks but we were really impressed with both the food and the service. I had a tasty hot goat cheese salad and red snapper with an eggplant tapenade, which was really strong tasting but good. Tim had a sea scallop appetizer and giant delicious leg of lamb for his main course, and we split a chocolate cake for dessert. We want to become regulars here, we liked it so much.

Marvin - this U street restaurant is an interesting mix of soul food and Belgian cuisine, based on the few years that Marvin Gaye spent living in the seaside town of Oostende. We visited during Belgian restaurant week and the chef whipped us up a tasting menu right on the spot. We had a bunch of small plates: garlic & beer mussels, lobster waterzooi and pork cheeks. The caramel toffee cake was to die for, and so was the lavender ice cream that went with the chocolate cake.

Belga Cafe - I visited this place for brunch with a Belgian friend, and we were unimpressed. It was really American food - savory waffles, for shame! The portion sizes were much too small for the price, as well. It's a pity because this is one of the few places on this list that actually has a Flemish chef (who is married to Greet Dekeyser, the Belgian TV foreign correspondent based in the US*). The lines get out of control on the weekends here, when everyone is out shopping in nearby Eastern Market.

Brasserie Beck - This place is known as being a popular happy hour spot for K Street lobbyists, but we went here for Sunday brunch with a few friends. Although one friend had a bad experience with her shredded chicken omelet, the rest of the food was good, including their fresh blueberry pancakes and a seafood salad. This place is pricey, though: the stoofvlees (carbonade) will set you back $27 and a seafood plate costs almost $100.

Granville Moore's - This is a rustic pub that's housed in an old doctor's office on H Street. The food is a mixture of mussels and burgers, but their beer list is extensive and impressive. Show up early or in a smaller group because they don't take reservations. There are plenty of bars around to grab a drink while you're waiting, though.

Bistrot Du Coin - this trendy, noisy Dupont French restaurant steals Belgian menu items. Our waiter bristled when we asked if the place was Belgian-style or French. "Of course we are French!" she sniffed, then proceeded to bring moules frites to half of the table. They were good mussels, though!

*She had to stand outside today in Annapolis and get pummeled by Hurricane Irene on live TV. Pech gehad!

Voila! There you had it, the Belgian restaurants in DC. The only restaurant missing from this list? Marcel's, which is located near the White House and is the kind of place that only serves prix-fixe menus, such as the hoity-toity sounding "pre-theater menu." Anyone feel like sponsoring us?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Coming to America

After waiting nearly a year for his visa, The Boy has finally arrived! And anyway, I figured it was about damn time I broke my blog vow of silence on the subject. Especially since I'm going to marry him.

Like immigrants of American yore, The Boy arrived with only his suitcases to his name. Suitcases which enclosed many delicious treats from Belgium, like Speculoospasta. Also plenty of liquor, but let's not mention that part in case Customs is reading this.

Just like the tales of many other immigrants, Tim's name has been unwillingly changed by various brainless officials. Usually they just smush the 2 words together into "Vanaelst", but my favorite, Geico, called him just "Van" on his auto insurance. I'm pretty relieved that in Belgian tradition, I don't have to change my name upon marriage - who knows what might happen if I did.

Worst of all, like many other immigrants, Tim is unable to go back to his home country. Not because of financial strife or war (although come to think of it, Belgium has been without a government for a year). No, it's because of immigration rules: K1 visa holders cannot leave the US until they get their green card. This takes 6-8 months, if you're lucky or if you have a relative who works at US immigrations.

Snide comments aside, this rule certainly curtails our international travel plans for a while. But not to worry - Tim and I have already bought tickets for our honeymoon, as far away in the US as you can get: Anchorage, Alaska. Maybe we'll be able to see Russia from our hotel!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Yes? Yes? NO!

It has been forever since I updated this blog. Since September, I have been working part time blogging for other people so that took precedence, proving about how strong my blogging "keeping it real" principles are. Now that I'm somewhat less gainfully employed, I can go back to what I love best: telling strange stories about the French in their natural habitat.

Tim and I were sitting in a bistro in Reims, in the north of France, enjoying ourselves some delicious moelleux au chocolat (translation: lava cake. Is your mouth not watering?). In fact, it was so good that we started a fork swordfight over the last piece. The battle endured, but I swear we did not cause a scene. However, we were so absorbed in the fight that we did not notice the middle aged, very intoxicated French gentleman creeping toward us with a fork of his own. Seriously, we are pretty sure that he drank a whole bottle of table wine by himself.

As soon as we noticed him, mouths agape, he decided to be polite. "Yes? Yes?" he asked, fork quivering with anticipation. "NO!" Tim and I both shouted, maybe a little too loudly. He tried a different tactic. "American?" he asked.

Now, this was a moment of personal shame. I always make a point not to stand out as the American wherever I go, especially somewhere like France. I swear I was not wearing white tennis shoes, a baseball cap or sweatpants in public. I made a conscious effort to use my indoor voice.

Tim was wearing a Giants sweatshirt. "It's because of you," I hissed, glaring at the man. I considered saying some random things in Polish to throw him off.

"English? Allemand?" he tried.

"Espanol!" Tim gleefully replied. I facepalmed at that; we would make two of the most pasty-skinned Spaniards in history.

"Yes, American," I gave in.

The Frenchman may have guessed correctly, but he still couldn't have our cake. He went back to his seat in defeat, then proceeded to discuss where Tim and I might be from loudly the rest of the evening with his dinner companions. Loudly and clearly enough that even I could understand most of it.

So basically what I concluded from this experience is that based on fork swordfighting and overall gluttony, the French rank Americans number one, followed by the English and then the Germans. Either way, they figured that all three nationalities would give them carte blanche to speak about us loudly because there was no way we would actually understand it. Or no way that one of us might just turn out to be a Belgian who happens to enjoy watching American football.

But damn. That last bite of moelleux sure was delicious.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Almost heaven

It's a little bit of a sad realization after only a month living here, but D.C.? A little pretentious.

At least it is in comparison to little Frederick, Maryland, where I went with friends this weekend in honor of their annual "In the street" festival.

Frederick - like many other small towns in this neck of the woods - is the kind of place where you expect townsfolk to dress up like Civil War* soldiers and fight mock battles in their spare time. As a matter of fact, the Battle of Monocacy Junction** was fought just outside of town, and Frederick is on the Civil War Trail - meaning busloads of elderly tourists in matching T-shirts roll through to visit all the numerous war museums and historic markers.

Sounds like a pretty frumpy crowd, but luckily just as we arrived the early-bird-special set was already getting back on the bus to go back to their hotel, and the rowdy locals had taken over. It was clear to us that they had been in the street since breakfast.

Something about the Frederickians put me at ease. It wasn't just the lower ratio of government-issue ID cards - who other than a cop has an ID card in a place like Frederick? It had something to do with the fact that when the band played "Country Roads" the entire bar burst into song. And maybe the preponderance of very, very good local breweries that hold their own Oktoberfest every year.

Guess I just have a little hillbilly in my blood, but I think I'll be back in Frederick sometime soon - corn maze, anyone? Pumpkin patch? Oktoberfest?

* Or the War of Northern Aggression, if you're Southern
**For the record, the Confederates won

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Hand over the keys

I was so excited to get my car back upon coming to the US again that I forgot one important thing: I haven't driven regularly in two years. And now every time I get behind the wheel I think it's going to end up like the picture.

I thought I would be reasonably prepared after dealing with insane, elderly and foreign drivers in Orlando, who tend to cut you off randomly, go 45 in the left hand lane, or accidentally drive on the left. I thought wrong.

For one, the DC area is known for its legendary long commute times because of near-constant heavy traffic - a friend of mine drives an hour to cover a distance that should take less than 20 minutes. Not to mention, this is a place where there have been, I kid you not, road rage induced gunfights.

The other day, I was lost on the way to a job interview and was on the phone getting directions, and a middle aged woman gestured wildly at me and flicked me off because I was too slow in pulling out of a parking spot. There were plenty of other parking spots around, but she had to have mine, dammit! It's funny because in all other circumstances people around here are really friendly; apparently they turn into demons once they get behind the wheel.

Why not just take public transportation, you may ask? Call me crazy but I just feel less safe on public transportation here than I do in Europe. DC's metro is crummy looking - it is gray concrete block, no artwork anywhere, dirty and stained trains, and rather than a recorded voice announcing the stop clearly, it's the driver, whom you can hardly hear muffled over the loudspeaker. There is a also sort of stigma about public transport in America - as in, why would you ever take it if you can drive?

Anyway, if you need me, I'll be walking to Whole Foods - a whole 15 minute walk uphill... let's see how long my car protest lasts.