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cHocoLAte KISSeS
By Matthew Wexler

Touring

T B

i had only one mission on my recent visit to France’s northerly neighBor, Belgium: eat and drink. (i guess that’s tWo, But aFter several local Beers i quickly lost count.)
his year, the country is celebrating its culinary heritage, naming it the “Year of Gastronomy,” so I packed my bags with loose-fitting clothes and went on a hunt for the best beer, chocolate and other signature dishes they have to offer. Not an easy task, mind you. There are more than 2,000 chocolate shops throughout Belgium, 450 varieties of beer, and countless cafés, mouleries and bistros. My anchor destination was Brussels, a cosmopolitan city with great culinary and beer-making traditions in the heart of Belgium. None exhibit this quite as uniquely as Cantillon Brewery, a Belgian favorite since 1900. The family-run brewery produces lambic, a type of beer that is indigenous to the region. Lambic relies on spontaneous fermentation. No yeast or sugar is added, just careful brewing techniques and a whole lot of help from Mother Nature. The result is a selection of beers that are both pungent and crisp. From the pure lambic to gueze (a combination of various aged beers) and kriek (which has the addition of sour cherry), Cantillon is honoring a century-old tradition in the heart of Brussels. With my interest piqued, I headed over to the Delirium Café to get a glimpse of the bigger beer picture. Just a stone’s throw from the Grand Place, the café is tucked into an 18th-century basement and is a Belgian classic. The establishment’s beer list is 260 pages and offers both Belgian and international favorites. I opted for a Bush de noël, a hearty seasonal brew with 12% alcohol. After such an experiment it was time for some food… well, chocolate. I am bipartisan when it comes to chocolate. This is a good thing in one of the statement. From the first course of pot de légumes du moment (a delightful bowl of miniature locally grown vegetables craftily dusted with vegetable charcoal and tapioca caviar) to a gold brick of foie gras, and a final triumph of venison loin with tubor root and black trumpet mushrooms, Meirlaen’s cuisine seamlessly married food and art. Completely satiated, I begrudgingly returned to Brussels to catch a plane back home. In a moment of gastronomic panic, I realized I had missed another Belgian classic—frites. Worrying that I might exceed the weight limit on the flight home (not from my luggage but rather from my own indulgences), I made a vow to return to “Europe’s Capital” for another culinary adventure.
ADDreSSeS cantillon.be deliriumcafe.be pierreledent.be chocolatsgerbaud.be musee-magritte-museum.be licwerneu.be
© OPT.be – J.Berquez

world’s most chocolate-centric cities. My only parameter was to avoid products I could get stateside. The first stop on my chocolate tour was Pierre Ledent. The chocolate salon’s white-gloved staff handles the confections like jewels, and for a moment I thought I was ring shopping at Tiffany. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Laurent Gerbaud. Disregarding the classic “Belgian” style, Gerbaud has created a chocolate line that relies on the purest of ingredients, sourcing high grade chocolate from South America and Africa while also incorporating exotic fruits and spices like yuzu and Calabrian bergamot. Gerbaud was in the shop during my visit and offered a guided tasting of his collection, which proved to be as artistic and unexpected as the nearby Magritte Museum. While most of my “real” meals in Brussels were at delightful cafés and bistros, I took a day trip to the small town of Huy to dine at Li Cwerneu, featuring Belgian’s only female Michelin-star chef, Arabelle Meirlaen. To say that this four-hour meal was life changing would be an under-

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