Taverne du Passage

Normally I avoid restaurants listed in guide books. The last place I want to be is a restaurant crowded with American tourists. This trip was different. The center of Brussels is incredibly touristy – in the way that French cities often have touristy neighborhoods. I guess I tend to forget that Berlin isn’t as touristy as it sometimes feels.

Given that I essentially only had one full day in Brussels (and that it was raining on and off and my feet were covered with blisters), I didn’t want to venture too far from my little room in the impressive Galerie de la Reine. Listed as an “author’s choice” in my Lonely Planet Belgium was a restaurant with “consistently keen service and faithful Belgian meals” where “stepping through the draped doorway is like zapping away a century.” After my mussel fail the night before (a disappointment not worth writing about – I’ll make mussels myself and then write it up), I was really looking forward to some good Belgian food. And the restaurant was right across from my room. Perfect.

Galerie du Roi, but you get the idea.

The restaurant has definitely seen better days, but it was charming nonetheless. There was one long table down the center, and several torn-vinyl booths lined the two walls on either side. The waiters (“all-male and middle aged” like Lonely Planet said) wore white uniforms with yellow-gold epaulettes.

The menu looked like it hadn’t changed much since the restaurant opened in 1928. Actually, that’s not quite true. It looked more like they revised the menu in the 60s or 70s and then left it. Which was fine with me. I really wanted carbonnade, which is advertised as “les carbonnades” in Brussels, but unfortunately it was not to be since it wasn’t even on the menu. I could have ordered brains, which the man at the table next to mine was enjoying.

Instead I started with a feuilleté with leeks and lardons. I was expecting a sort of layered tart with leeks and lardons, but I got what was essentially a vol au vent with no hole that was smothered in leeks and lardons in a cream sauce. Good, but not what I would have chosen for a first course. Especially since I had ordered waterzooi for my main course.

Waterzooi is a Flemish cream-based soup with chicken or fish, potatoes, leeks and carrots. Mine, the chicken version, came in a copper pot, i.e. it was way more than I needed to eat. I was wishing I hadn’t already eaten a huge first course. Or a first course at all for that matter. The broth/sauce was quite delicate and thin but still tasty. The leeks and carrots were cut into strips and the potatoes left whole. There were two big chunks of chicken breast on the bone and I didn’t even manage to finish the first one. It was good – definitely the best thing I ate in Belgium – but I can usually go for anything with leeks and cream. Finally a meal that lived up to my expectations.

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