Bruxelles Je T'aime
Rue de Boucher
Outside the back door of the Hotel Arelquin is the famous tourist-trap, restaurant-row called Rue de Boucher. It is a pedestrian only cobblestone street that has only restaurants, and there seems to be 100 restaurants on this street. Each place has a hawker standing outside, he is in a suit or white dining staff coat. His job is to charm the women walking down Rue de Boucher, and convince the women and their party to dine at their restaurant. The hawking seems to begin in mid-afternoon to all hours of the night (to midnight at least). Each restaurant has yellow or white giant placards with red writing on it (many in English, thus tipping off anyone that this is a tourist area). The placards have a few reasonably priced a la carte items on them, for example soup 2 euros, or small salad 5 euros. The placards are definitely a "come on" and the reality is that most meals are around 50 euros (yikes!). But then again, this is a touristy area, so what would a touristy area be without the "come on" placards?
Rue de Boucher is a shortcut to Grand Place, a shopping arcade, and to the subway, so we ended up walking through this restaurant row multiple times. We only ate once on this street because it is not really our style to give into touristy restaurants because they usually are expensive, not a good value for the money, and many times the food isn't good.
This time, we were only in country for less than 15 hours, we were quite tired and jet-lagged, and I just could not muster the mental energy to figure out an innovative and great place to eat for dinner, nor muster the physical energy to travel far from the hotel room. Also, we just had to give into the fact we were tourists, and sometimes tourist traps need to be on the to-do list.
Exhausted, we walked out the back door of the Hotel Arlequin, and we were hit by the noise of the hawkers hawking their restaurants. It was dizzy-ing. Shaking our heads no, we walked around the few blocks trying to make a decision. I was tired and hungry, and we just had to go for one. We went to Bruxelles Je T'aime, the Rue de Boucher restaurant that was directly outside the door of the Hotel Arlequin. The placards for this restaurant had a few menu items listed, and they were all less than 15 euros. When the waiter brought the real menu, there were a few starter items below 15 euros, but the rest of the menu items, which were a la carte, were all quite expensive ranging to 90 euros (about $150 for a dinner plate with March 2008 money conversion).
At least we got the tourist trap dining off the plate early, and on day one, and we spent a small fortune. I totally dove into the touristy choice and got oysters and mussels for my dinner, while Matt got a beef stew served with steak fries. I do not get to eat oysters or mussels in Nashville because Tennessee is landlocked, and there really isn't anywhere to go to get raw oysters or mussels prepared well. I have to go coastal to get really good seafood, and that would be at least 400 mile (650 km) away from where I live. My starter of oysters were good. We watched "our hawker" make the plate for me, and it was a lovely plate. I ate the oysters with just a little lemon juice and enjoyed the slight mineral and fresh of the oysters. The mussels, I got as recommended in a leek, shallot and cream sauce. When the serving came out, it was in a huge bucket and overflowing. The bucket was the size of a medium sized Les Creuset Dutch oven. Those of you who have Les Creuset know how much food you can cook in a medium sized Dutch oven, and that was my dish. The volume could have easily fed 4 - 6 people comfortably, or me until I felt like I finished Thanksgiving. It may have been expensive for the bucket of mussels, but the flavor and texture of the mussels were perfect. The mussels were just freshly steamed, but not over done. My meal was good, and impossible to get in Nashville. The entire dining experience of the hawker and the people watching on Rue de Boucher is impossible to get in Nashville too. I am glad that we gave into the tourist experience for one day.
The question I have is that all the meals we had in Brussels were huge. People keep saying that USA restaurant plates are huge (which they are), and that Europeans plates are so much smaller, like tasting plates or tapas plates (in tapas restaurants near me, the plates are big, not just 2 or 3 bits). Every single plate in both Brussels and 2 provinces in France were just as huge, or even more food than the USA. Can someone explain this to me? For the mussels dinner, do people generally order only one dish and share in restaurants in Brussels, or do they expect people to eat all that food all the time?