Sunday, June 28, 2015

Mussels at Chez Leon

As we mentioned, we were planning to spend a few hours in Old Brussels to have a late dinner. We decided on Chez Leon, a well known restaurant along the touristy famous Rue de Bouchers.

LCD readers familiar with Little Italy in New York City will understand the scene along Rue de Bouchers - a street full of restaurants all next to one another, with the exact same menus. Employees shouting and flagging down hapless tourists to eat at their establishments. Plastic laminated menus with pictures and multiple languages.

Nevertheless, this tourist area does have 2 well regarded restaurants that supposedly locals frequent - Aux Armes de Bruxelles and Chez Leon. Aux Armes de Bruxelles is one of the oldest restaurants in the city and the go-to place for Belgian classics like moules frites and carbonade flamande (a sweet and sour beer and beef stew), but was also a fancier restaurant that might not be great for 3 year olds.

However, Chez Leon was also highly recommended by many websites. Plus, it was much more of a casual setting and even had a FREE Children's menu. No, you read that correctly. Free!

Any child under 12 years old can get a meal with any paying adult. My choices were baked chicken, spaghetti bolognese or mussels.

So that made it a pretty compelling choice for our family. We walked from the Central Station. Bypassing the tourists walking around and the restaurant waiters saying hello to my father in Chinese, we found our way to Rue de Bouchers. Thank you Google Maps!

We arrived around 9:30PM on Saturday night, so while all the outdoor tables along the street were busy, there were plenty of seats available inside and upstairs. We were seated immediately and handed a big menu with pictures. They had so many different types of mussel dishes, it was really hard to pick just one. We could have been adventurous and tried something unusual, but since we'd only have 1 meal in Belgium, we didn't know if we should risk it.

My father also heard about the Leon Special (€15 for the fries, the mussels and a "house" beer). While that sounded like a great deal, we were skeptical about the quality of the "Moules Leon" and went with the standard White Wine sauce to better taste the mussels.

Apparently, mussels were not in season when we were visiting. However, it didn't mean that our mussels were frozen. It just meant that the mussels served were from another (less popular) region.

According to the NY Times:

"The mussels that the Belgians consume by the ton every day during their September to April mussel season aren't Belgian at all. They are the small, greenish-black mollusks from the waters off the Netherlands, mussels the Belgians insist be ''moules Zelandaises controlees et garanties,'' and they come in by truck and boxcar every day to be cooked and eaten with frites. 

From May through August Belgians generally eat mussels that are shipped from Denmark and Spain, inferior mussels they say, but when there is a national obsession, it must be served."

So while we weren't getting "the best" mussels, we were still happy to be sitting in Belgium on a wonderful summer night.

My mother ordered a Spaghetti Leon (€16) that is basically a seafood spaghetti with a cream sauce.

My father basically recreated the Leon Special a la carte, but with white wine mussels (€26), fries (€4) and a large Leon Beer (€8). To be honest, the fries and beer weren't much to write home about, but the mussels were very tasty, even if they weren't the popular ones from the Netherlands.

I was pretty hungry myself, so my parents ordered me the free spaghetti bolognese. I was able to try my parents' shellfish, but I stuck with the noodles for now. As you can see, I wasn't too happy about having photos of me on the internet eating carbs.

Just not something a girl wants out there.

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