Chocolates at Pierre Marcolini.

I’m feeling very depressed today, friends, so I’ve decided to cheer myself up by writing about chocolate.

Mainly, I love it.  I don’t, however, love it in the sense that look down upon mass-marketed chocolate and only allow artisinal types to pass my lips.  I’m happy with a bar of Dove dark chocolate — a square of which is melting on my tongue right now, in case you were wondering, and I know you were.

That said, when I was in Belgium, I knew there was no way I was leaving the country without having some of the chocolate the country is famous for.  Pierre Marcolini, Avenue LouiseWhich is why Darlington*, Keith and I sat outside of Pierre Marcolini on Avenue Louise for well over an hour, eating chocolate.

Before we got down to the eating, we first had to get through the picking.  The chocolatier makes the vastest array of pralines, truffles, macarons and biscuits that I’ve ever seen; we decided to make our own mix of flavors, rather than buying a pre-assorted box (though I have to tell you that the packaging on these little containers is slick, sleek and a bit sexy — just like the chocolates themselves).

Darlington Brussels, 4Though Keith also snapped up a slender strip of vanilla-bean marshmallows, the three of us mainly made our choices from the praline and Palets Fins collection, which was not easy.  We each tried three or four different chocolates, and I scribbled notes on our reactions.  Here’s some of what I was able to interpret out of my excited chickenscratch:

  • Keith on Quatre Épices:  “This one is really good.  I would buy a package of these.”**
  • Darlington, on the Pavé de Tours:  “Mm, it’s like a reverse wafer cookie.”
  • Nayiri on the cassis:  “You pierce it, and your mouth gets flooded with this really fierce blackcurrant.”

As we smacked our lips at each other and considered the flavors spreading across our tongues, we saw a young Belgian man amble out of the store, carelessly popping square after square of chocolate into his mouth.  I took notes of our thoughts on that too:

N: I love how that guy just bought a bag of fancy chocolate and is just scarfing them down.

D: Why would you do that?

K: Yes, why isn’t he writing notes about them, taking pictures of them in the bag, out of the bag, of the empty bag and the inside of the bag?

Though I was initially aghast, I realized that I would do the same thing, if I were accustomed to such awesome chocolate and living in Belgium.  But I never thought I’d say this: I’m glad I don’t.  Otherwise a sunny afternoon spent sitting on a bench with two lovely people and a bag of chocolate wouldn’t feel remotely as special..

* Darlington took some of these photos.
** This is a big deal, as Keith isn’t into chocolate at all, generally speaking.
This is a list of companies who produce chocolate, not chocolates. That is, they process cocoa beans into a product versus melting chocolate for use as coating or molding into truffles, pralines, or other chocolate confectionaries.

One Week In Belgium.

Keith and I were originally planning to go on this vacation in the fall.  We both like to travel off-peak for better deals — not to mention for better chances of dealing with smaller crowds of tourists.  Just as we were about to book our tickets for November, Keith realized that such a trip was impossible; he’s TAing a class (beginning tonight, actually) that runs through December… which is how we ended up in Europe in August, surrounded by other visitors.

Here are the Belgian highlights:

Grand Place, BrusselsTuesday
Checked into the Hotel Metropole, Belgium’s only hotel from the nineteenth century that is still operational.  Braved the crowds and wandered around the Grand Place before sitting down to an early dinner at Chez Léon.  Ordered moules á L’escargot with frites and the house beer (€22.20).  Ate outside; it was very warm, and besides, we don’t get to dine al fresco often in Boston.  I think it has to do with permits, which is a shame.  Wandered around a bit more and, after visiting the Manneken Pis, ended up drinking beers outside at A La Mort Sabite.  I had a Lambic Blanche, which was dangerously good.  A girl could get in trouble easily drinking those.

Darlington Brussels, 3Wednesday
Darlington‘s living in London now; she took the Eurostar in to hang out with us for the day**. Ate breakfast in the hotel, then headed out for a gossipy walk.  Sites visited included the Place du Grand-Sablon, Parc de Bruxelles, the newly-opened Musée Magritte Museum*, the waffle vendor outside the museum, Pierre Marcolini on Avenue Louise, A La Bécasse and all the nice little neighborhoods in between.  At Pierre Marcolini, we bought an obscene amount chocolates and had a tasting on a bench directly outside.  Similarly, at A La Bécasse we each ordered the “Lambic Dégustation” and sampled Timmerman’s Lambic Doux, Lambic Blanc, Kriek and Bourgogne des Flandres.  After a sad goodbye, Keith and I walked over to the Saint Catherine neighborhood for another mussels dinner at Le Pré Salé.

Pretty Antwerp StreetThursday
Hopped a train to Antwerp; met an incredibly friendly Dutch woman who gave us a tour of the Grote Markt before going on her way.  Ate an unremarkable (but economical!) pizza lunch at Da Giovanni.  Meandered  into Walter and Yohji Yamomoto.  Couldn’t find the Ann Demeulemeester store and MoMu was closed, so headed over to the river Scheldt, where we ate more waffles and watched couples make out.  The view’s romantic, so we couldn’t blame them.  Looked like it was going to rain sowe walked back towards the center, and just before the water started crashing down ducked into Quinten Matsijs and had a couple beers.  (Later, I found out it’s the oldest bar in Holland and Belgium.)   Dinner at Amadeus, back to Brussels for one last beer, then bed.

Pictureseque BrugesFriday
Caught a train to the incredibly picturesque city of Bruges, which is so pretty it’s almost ridiculous.  Also ridiculous were the sheer amount of people present, taking photographs of the canals, the city hall and Sint-Salvator Cathedral.  Checked out the Basilica of the Holy Blood, where I lit candles for my grandmother and grandfathers.  Ate sandwiches from Deldycke whilst sitting on the river Dijver, then dropped into ‘t Brugs Beertje, which stocks over three hundred Belgian beers.  I tried two different flavors of Lambic; Keith ordered a ‘t Smisje Dubbel after a mostaardbier by the same brewery.  Dinner at the mundane Poules Moules before we traveled back to Brussels.  Nightcap at Le Corbeau.

Ghent SkylineSaturday
Mid-morning train to Ghent.  Got the bus to the center, walked over to see The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb at Saint-Bavo’s Cathedral.  Lit some more candles.  Climbed way too many narrow winding stairs at Gravensteen, a castle from the Middle Ages that sits practically in the center of Ghent.  Incredible views, though interrupted by cranes.  Drinks at De Dulle Griet, which means Mad Meg and is a very famous painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder.  Utterly delicious dinner at Brasserie ‘t Klokhuys, where I ate a Flemish beef stew and frites (€12.70) until I was stuffed.  Beers at Het Waterhuis aan de Bierkant, where we met a retiring-in-one-week naval man who insisted Keith have a Rochefort 10.

Another vantage point of the Grand Place, BrusselsSunday
Last day, sort of, in Belgium — our plane tickets were round-trip out of Brussels Airport.  Brunch at Café Mokafe in one of the covered galleries in the city.  People-watch while chewed crusty baguette sandwich, then Keith-watched as he ate a waffle while we walked to Delirium Café for a beer.  Directly across the entrance is the Jeanneke Pis, which made me wonder what is up with this city and peeing children.  Strolled around aimlessly until stopping for a break at Chaff on the Place du Jeu de Balle.  Fell madly in love with the cleverest street dog ever, then stopped by Lola for dinner before packing up at the hotel.

* I know it is redundant.
** Darlington took some of these photos.
The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb