Though the Bruxellois are famous for their discerning palates, it is the presence of a large community of bureaucrats — with generous expense accounts — that has been chiefly responsible for creating one of the best food scenes in Europe. Long dominated by formal, expensive French restaurants, Brussels now offers inventive cuisine by talented young chefs, as well as homey Belgian bistro cooking.
Alexandre. After training with some of the city’s top chefs, young talent Alexandre Dionisio has created a sensation among local gourmets with this lively contemporary bistro in the heart of the city. Dishes not to miss include salmon marinated in soy sauce with ginger and crunchy vegetables, white Malines asparagus in season, and roast pigeon with sautéed herbed potatoes and an herb salad. 164 rue du Midi. Tel. 502-4055.
L’Achepot. This friendly, well-run bistro is a perfect choice for lunch on a sunny terrace overlooking the church of Saint Catherine, or a relaxed dinner in its cozy wood-paneled interior. Choose from the daily specials such as delicious langoustine-stuffed ravioli in a basil-spiked hollandaise sauce, or opt for comfort food like “Steak Americaine,” which is what the Belgians call steak tartare, or boulettes (meatballs) in tomato and vegetable sauce with excellent frites (which come with mayonnaise, as they always do in Belgium). 1 place Sainte-Catherine. Tel. 511-6221.
Chou. Chef Dominique Aubry’s good-looking modern bistro has wood-paneled walls and stylish lighting, with one dining room illuminated in yellow, the other in red. You can watch him at work in the open kitchen, where he prepares dishes such as a delicious and original soup of foie gras and oysters, sea bream with grapefruit petals on pea purée, and hot apple tart with caramel sauce. There is a great terrace out front for warm-weather dining. 4 place de Londres. Tel. 511-9238.
Jaloa. Chef Gaëtan Colin’s restaurant occupies a 17th-century townhouse in one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods. His menu offers the kind of inventive, internationally inspired cooking that can be found in Brussels these days. The four-, six- or nine-course tasting menus change frequently, but highlights of a recent meal included sea bass with oyster and cauliflower foam, and loin of wild hare cooked rare and served with leeks, rutabaga, turnips and celery root, plus a side casserole of civet de lièvre (stewed hare) with cep mushrooms. Different wines are served with every course — which can be irritating — but we enjoyed a Pouilly-Fuissé with the bass and an excellent Argentine Malbec with the hare. 4 quai aux Barques. Tel. 513-1992.
Orphyse Chaussette. Located in the stylish Sablon neighborhood, this handsome bistro is run by the engaging Philippe Renoux. It specializes in the cooking and wines of southwestern France and is a great choice for a casual but memorable meal. A crystal chandelier casts soft light on a pretty interior with a Belle Epoque tile floor and dark wood chairs and tables. The menu offers dishes such as marinated mackerel with citrus fruit and seaweed, superb foie gras, and veal with orange-and-leek butter and Parmesan risotto. 5 rue Charles Hanssens. Tel. 502-7581.
Restaurant Le Zinneke. It is well worth the cab fare to the outlying location of this friendly bistro to sample well-made and generously served Belgian comfort food. Start with the delicious homemade pâté with sour cherries and onion jam, or the superb crisply fried cheese croquettes, and then opt for moules frites, or stoemp (mashed potatoes with leeks) and grilled sausage, steak tartare, pork-and-veal meatballs in tomato sauce, or sole meunière. Desserts are equally homey and appealing, and include Belgian waffles with whipped cream. 26 place de la Patrie. Tel. 245-0322.
Taverne du Passage. Tucked away inside the elegant Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, this old-fashioned brasserie is a long-running favorite of the local bourgeoisie — hence the occasionally stuffy waiters. It is one of our preferred places to go on Sunday night when almost everything else is closed. The long, narrow dining room with white tablecloths and banquette seating offers great people-watching, a sense of history and better-than-average Belgian comfort food, such as deep-fried Béchamel-and-shrimp-filled croquettes served with fried parsley and lemon wedges, an excellent steak tartare, and a very good vol-au-vent de volaille (puff pastry filled with shredded chicken and mushrooms in lemony cream sauce). There’s an extensive and expensive wine list, but the house wines by the carafe are excellent. 30 Galerie de la Reine. Tel. 512-3731.
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