Eurotrip 2015

Veritasty is back from hiatus!

We've had undoubtedly a busy couple of months, which started shortly after our last post from Pig Island...

:cue flashback montage:

We went on a cruise to Bermuda with my family (surprisingly good food!), traveled to Europe with our good friends, and Alex went to London and Florida for work.  Sadly, the two of us have barely had a nice stretch of time together to explore and eat around New York, nor have we had the chance to give our little blog any love lately, but hopefully we'll get a little more time now that it's close to the holidays and a little more chill at both our jobs.

In the meantime, we did have an incredible trip to Europe and ate some deliciously memorable meals, so let me tell you about them!

Alex and I went to Paris, Brussels, and Amsterdam with my best friend Jackie and our good friend Harry.  I couldn't have picked better travel buddies, and our whole trip was nothing short of amazing.  I also learned that we have to ply Harry every couple of hours or so with food, coffee, and beer.

We had a brief layover in Iceland (too short to actually go out and explore, unfortunately) and arrived in Paris in the mid-afternoon.  We were all hangry [han∙gry (han-gree) adj - a state of anger caused by lack of food; hunger causing a negative change in emotional state] so we desperately stumbled around the hotel for something to eat.  A charming waiter standing outside a cute restaurant called Tea Follies seduced us with the promise of some vaguely intelligible foods in a heavy French accent.  I wasn't expecting a random stumbled-upon restaurant to be fantastic, but what luck, the food was delicious!  I had a veal chop with a mushroom sauce and a side of mashed potatoes and salad.  The veal was so tender and tasty.  The highlight of the meal, though were the cep mushrooms.  Let me tell you, these ceps (according to a quick Google search, apparently the equivalent of porcini mushrooms) were life-changing: so meaty, so emblematic of a mushroom with its rich and earthy mushroom-y taste.  I would have given anything to eat just a tray of these ceps.  Still with the mushrooms on my mind, I moved on to a mini tarte tatin (traditionally a large upside-down tart where the fruit of choice is cut and arranged beautifully, but in this case more of an apple bread pudding) with a side of yummy vanilla ice cream.  Finally, we were sated and ready to walk on!
I said "oui"! 😍

After wandering a long way from Tea Follies to the Champs Elysees, we arrived at the famous Laduree.  I've grumbled before about not getting to go to Laduree the two other times I was in Paris, but third time was the charm!  The hallowed Laduree was really dark, super rococo-styled, and crowded AF.  Alex and I picked 6 macarons or so, which I'm sure were delicious and made me swoon and whatnot...but I'm going to be honest with you when I say I don't even remember what they tasted like.


Because this (-->) happened shortly afterward!

Naturally, that blew my Laduree experience out of the water.  I'm told that afterwards, we had a late dinner at a tiny Italian hole-in-the-wall.  I think I ate a meat plate covered in shaved Parmesan, possibly part of a pizza and some pasta as well.

The next day, after having mediocre crepes and lots of ice cream from Pozzetto and Berthillon, we had dinner at L'Avant Comptoir, a hugely popular yet tiny bistro south of the Seine.  You know a place has to be good when people not only line up in the freezing cold for a meal (Western Europe was sadly cold and mostly rainy the week we went) but also agree to sit outside under meager heat lamps.  Luckily, we were warmed from the chill by huge escargots, beef stew, and lamb shanks.  The lamb shank and couscous were cooked in a fruity sauce complete with golden raisins and apricots; the meat was really tender and flavorful.

The following night, we dined at another highly rated restaurant called Le Petit Canard, which serves (guess what?) duck! We all had marvelous duck dishes in various forms (stew, sliced duck breast, duck a l'orange) and a creme brulee so good that I was practically licking all the ramekins.

Finally, on our last morning in Paris, we had breakfast at Cafe Marlette nearby our hotel.  The waitress was an adorable French version of Blake Lively, and we had some good cafe au lait and great chocolate cake there.

Then, onto the next stop!  A quick Thalys train ride through the French countryside brought us to Brussels, Belgium.  Belgium was even colder than Paris and miserably cloudy/drizzly.  However, I found the center of Brussels very charming and full of beautiful architecture.  We were so lucky to stay at the Hotel Mozart, literally around the corner from the town square, the Grote Markt, and really close to a lot of great restaurants and bars.  The Grote Markt (okay, "Grand Place" in English, but it's more fun to say Grote Markt) in particular was my favorite: a town square surrounded by tall Gothic spires and gilded Baroque facades.  One might say the architecture is too busy, but I just found it stunning, especially at night. 

What are the most iconic Belgian foods? Well, we experienced them all! Chocolate! Frites! Wafels! Mussels! Beer! Brussels is certainly a great city if you want to eat and snack well. Our first walkabout brought us to the silly Mannekin Pis statue and the slew of chocolatiers up and down the blocks. Belgian chocolate is unbelievably cheap compared to bonbons sold at fancy chocolate shops in New York.  In fact, even the supermarkets sell delectable chocolates (my coworkers demolished the Cote d'Or chocolates I brought back). We also sampled the most divine Belgian wafels for as little as €1 for the plain liege wafels, or something like €3 for a wafel piled high with sliced fruit, whipped cream, and Nutella.

It's hard to describe how euphoric the four of us were while eating these sugary snacks without getting R-rated.  Word of warning, though, is that a Belgian wafel with the works could kill your waistline and tummy (lactose intolerant folks should steer clear) and give you the biggest sugar crash of your life.

We also popped in and out of so many stores selling bottles upon bottles of Belgian beer.  I was really pleased that some of my favorite styles of beer (fruity, lighter ales) are prevalent in Belgium.  Suffice it to say that in Brussels (and Amsterdam too), we frequently had "beer o'clock" during the day.  Every day.  So much beer.  You should see my collection of coasters!

One of my favorite meals of the entire trip was dinner at Aux Paves De Bruxelles on our last night in Brussels.  When you first walk into this restaurant, you're met with a huge wood burning oven with loads of meat grilling inside.  The chef preps food right there by the oven, and there are some prime seats for an up close and personal Food Network-level show. I salivated while waiting for our food, and for good reason: everything was so good.  I had a traditional white wine/cream sauce mussels and fries, Alex had barbecue ribs, Jackie had a burger, and Harry had lamb chops and scalloped potatoes. The food was super flavorful, cooked and served with what I can only describe as bravado.  If I ever came back to Brussels, Aux Paves De Bruxelles would be a must-visit.

Another short hop on the Thalys away was Amsterdam, the last stop on our unbelievable journey.  Our first dinner in Amsterdam was at a pub where I first experienced bitterballen, what I'd describe as a deep fried beefy mashed potato ball, a.k.a. the best drunk food (or food for any of Amsterdam's known vices) in the world.

Another of the most memorable meals of the entire trip was at Kartika, an Indonesian restaurant near our hotel.  We splurged on the multi-course sampler dinner, which allowed us to try a little bit of a lot of dishes.  All in all, we had seafood soup; bean and shrimp chips; chicken, beef, and pork satay skewers; giant prawns; a few curry meat dishes; a couple of noodle/cold salad dishes; and a fried banana each for dessert.  I'd never had Indonesian food before, and this dinner was a perfect introduction.  First of all, the hospitality and friendliness of the staff made for a great dining experience.  Second, although I'd never had Indonesian cuisine, a lot of the dishes reminded me of Thai, Indian, Malaysian, and even Chinese cuisine, so that was a fun journey crossing over from gustatory to geographic.

The next day, we ventured away from central Amsterdam to experience the more residential parts in the outer canals. One of my favorite experiences from walking around was seeing the Albert Cuypmarkt and the Dappermarkt, both outdoor markets similar to the Union Square farmers' market, but serving some uniquely Dutch wares.  Both markets had beautiful flowers on display, at shockingly low prices.  If I lived in Amsterdam, you probably couldn't find an empty surface in my home since I'd decorate every space with flowers and blooms.  €2.99 for orchids?!  What a steal! We also ate some tornado potatoes and and Gouda cheese samples and stroopwafels (two thin cookie-like wafels with a layer of caramel in between, unlike the cakey liege wafels of Brussels).  

Finally, one of the highlights of my life: a lamb gyro at the end of the Dappermarkt.  I seriously had my doubts: how could a lamb gyro be that good?  I've had great gyros and chicken and rice back home (Halal Guys, amirite?).  This lamb gyro was life-changing.  It comes as a long thin burrito in tin foil, and the second you bite into it, you'll hear angels sing.  The gyro has the perfect balance of salty street meat (what's better than street meat?), spicy-yet-creamy sauce coating the tongue (perhaps a spicy mayo?), and pungent kick and crunch from raw onions.  In an ideal world, I would buy like ten of these and carry them around in my backpack and munch on them all day long.

So, that was our Eurotrip in a culinary nutshell.  We came, we saw, and we ate many delightful things.  I already can't wait to go back.