Friday, August 16, 2013

Restaurant Review: Brussels Bistro

When I hear the word bistro, two types of restaurants come to mind. The first being an owner run establishment selling comfort food mainly French influenced. The second is a variation on the first but using newer French plating, local foods and slightly trendy (BierMarkt take a bow).  Brussels Bistro is the first kind of these restaurants.

Roger Wils, the chef/owner, used to own the Belgian restaurant on the Danforth. He had a loyal following. It closed leaving very little in the way of Belgian food. In the past few years, he started showing up at one of the local farmers' market with piles of pastry and meat pies from his Saucier label. Maybe he got tired of the questions about when he was going to open a new restaurant or maybe he got the itch to get back into the kitchen because that is where he can be found.

My first introduction to Belgian food was through the beer. Around twenty years ago, I found myself sitting at a cafe in Brussels,with my first plate of mussels and a witbier followed by a brun and then a lambic. The beer matched what I was eating ending with a chocolate dessert and sour. On returning back to Canada, too many restaurants opted for wine without regards to the breadth of experience that a good beer pairing can offer.

The Brussels menu does not want for wine. There is a small curated list of beers that include Chimay, Liefman's (including Goudenband) and I believe Krombacher. Normally, I take notes just after leaving or look for the menus of the restaurant. This menu of classics is made for beer and wine pairings but strangely, the website is missing their beer. My point is that I may be misremembering the lager but it was definitely a German one.

My companion and I shared appetizers of a salad with goat cheese and a charcuterie platter. The prices were what to be expected but the portion sizes are really generous. We followed up these starters with a bowl of mussels in white wine and poulet chasseur. The chicken was served with stoemp (mash) and brussels sprouts. These dishes were solid. This type of cooking is not solely about technique and pretty plates.  It is comfort food done to please the eater. Make no mistake, it feels as if the chef is cooking for himself. Appetizer portions are generous and we could have just had two appetizers and mussels which would leave scant room for a dessert.

There were only two desserts available, so they better be good. The kicker was the chocolate mousse. Dark Belgian chocolate that you could feel melting in your mouth. The technique was a little off in that small chunks of unmelted chocolate were dotted here and there. It was the best part of the menu.

The frites has suffered the same fate where the flavour was rich but the crispness was not quite crisp enough. Part of this has to be the first week of getting the timing just right, part of it has to be what will become the charm of this place.  It feels like the place that I went to in the 90's in Belgium minus the outdoor sidewalk and strong summer sunshine.

I hope that this restaurant continues to have the type of year that it has had in its first weeks. There is a need in Toronto for strong beer forward restaurants. I would like to see the introduction of a few more choice beers such as a saison and maybe the recognition on the list of some Belgian styles from Canada that are becoming quite well known in the rest of the world. The addition of Denison's Weissbier to pair with mussels or Ephemere Cassis for dessert would be an example of the kind of nod that I am speaking. But this restaurant must maintain a balance between old world best of hits from Belgian and mix in some of the newer approaches to food that is underlined by the *shudder* foodie culture.

The mussels were cooked the same way I received them for my first taste. Not rubbery, full of flavour, bread and beer. Sense memory is strong and we will be going back. Thanks.
Brussels Bistro on Urbanspoon

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