There really is nothing like a cool December evening. I love looking up and seeing stars, dark sky, and tops of buildings lit just blocks away. Last saturday, after an afternoon at Memorial Hall listening to orchestral music and an early evening of shopping for holiday gifts, Steve and I were looking for a cozy spot to enjoy dinner. I'm not sure if the stars aligned or if it's really just that easy, but we walked right in to Taste of Belgium on their second night of dinner service and enjoyed warm hospitality, delicious food, and the buzz of the city.
I'm not someone whose name appears on special invite-only lists nor do I often (or ever!) attend grand openings, hob-nobbing with the social elite. I'm looking for good laughs, honest answers, and casual dining experiences. Don't get it twisted -- I love getting dressed up, enjoying the latest that Cincinnati has to offer and meeting new people -- but I'd much prefer a spot at the bar talking to the bartender. That was my first experience at Taste of Belgium, and it couldn't have been better.
When we first pulled up to the bar shortly after 7 pm, we were greeted by our bartender and server extrodanairre, Shane. Shane described the restaurants' beer on tap -- belgium selections ranging from Chimay (what I ordered) to the very own Taste of Belgium brew (Steve enjoyed this). I truly cannot say enough nice things about the service. There was no panicked sense that, "THIS IS THE SECOND NIGHT OF DINNER SERVICE." Everyone was laid back but attentive -- a mark of a great dining experience.
After enjoying a beer, we opted for dinner. What I appreciated about the menu was that it was concise and to the point. It's clear this restaurant only provides dishes that they will do well, and therefore isn't drowning in unnecessary offerings to appease those who may not like cafe-style european food. It's well executed and therefore impossible to pick because everything sounds delicious! Unless you are me and you immediately know that you want Mussels frites and you are desperately hoping for your partner to order Steak frites so that you can try a bit or two! Fortunately for me, that's exactly what happened!
Before our entrees, we split the liegeoise salad. Wow-o-Wow. If you are looking for a side dish/salad to bring to a holiday meal -- consider making this! With the soft potatoes, crisp green beans, mild shallots, a bit of bite from vinegar and BACON - what could be bad? I've since looked up numerous recipes to re-create this delight and I cannot wait to try it again!
The mussels come four ways, but I wanted to try the provencal style (tomatoes, garlic, herbs) because these are the flavors I readily cook with and love. They come ready to eat in a pot and eat I did. 2 lbs worth of mussels! The only change I'd make to this dish is to serve it with a bit of delicious bread to soak up all the yummy goodness at the bottom of the pot. So. much. flavor.
(I apologize for this picture but iPhones have their limitations at times)
The frites were a thing of beauty. And who doesn't like saying frites. FRITES. Something about that word is more uplifting then saying fries. The frites were crispy and on the shoe-string side served with a slightly tangy aioli sauce. I could eat that all day long in tub fulls!
Steve's steak was pretty much made by the savory garlic butter slipping down the sides of the meat. Again, well executed and easy. There is no pretense or stuffiness here -- just steak.
Finally, at the suggestion of another bartender, we tried the Belgian chocolate mousse because how can you say no to Belgian chocolate?? Ok, maybe you have that will power but I don't. The mousse was somehow light and dense simultaneously and served on a crispy web-like cookie. Sweet way to end a delicous meal....
Only, we took home a bag of liege waffles!! EEK! Did I mention their desserts to-go? We've already been back for a cream puff pastry and have future plans to order macarons. Also, a few of you lucky family members will be receiving Taste of Belgium gift cards this year! The waffles and desserts make for delicious host/hostess gifts...if they last that long!
The owner, Jean-François, has successfully taken a Findlay Market niche of waffles and crepes and turned it into a casual restaurant warm with hospitality and memorable food. I can't wait to visit again!