To Belgium and Back

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Brussels Bistro brings a taste of the European lifestyle to the heart of Laguna Beach.

One of Brussels Bistro’s most popular dishes is mussels—including this yellow curry variety—and fries.
One of Brussels Bistro’s most popular dishes is mussels—including this yellow curry variety—and fries.

By Alli Tong | Photos by Jody Tiongco

 

Upon entering Brussels Bistro located on Forest Avenue, diners walk down a set of stairs to an entrance below street level and are immediately greeted by a little boy peeing into a fountain basin—a statue of a little boy, that is. The Manneken Pis sculpture, which means Little Man Pee, is a famous 17th-century bronze landmark in Brussels that’s riddled with legends. Hilariously, one tells the tale of a boy who saved the city from a destructive fire with his mighty bladder. This is just an example of the experience that patrons of Brussels Bistro will have—fun, casual and distinctly Belgian. “I try to give people the same feeling as Belgium,” says co-owner and Executive Chef Thomas Crijns, who moved to Laguna Beach from Belgium 10 years ago to start the eatery.

In fact, diners can indulge in one of the country’s most distinctive dishes: “moules-frites” (mussels and fries). Bartender-server Mondher El Ouaer says diners from around the world—including about 40 percent from Europe—come to the brasserie-style restaurant for the mussels. “The mussels are from Vancouver, … [but] they taste like European mussels,” he says. The shellfish, flown in fresh daily, can be served eight ways with complementary ingredients ranging from white wine and garlic to grain mustard, cream, bacon and cognac. For a true taste of Belgium, Mondher recommends the cream and garlic or yellow curry mussels.

To wash it all down, guests can sip on more than 30 types of Belgian beer, including the Leffe Blonde, Chimay Blanche, Maredsous 8 and the Chouffe Houblon. Opt for the tasting flight and try all four—it’s really the only way to pay homage to the centuries-old beer-brewing traditions of the country.

Another traditional treat is the “Salade Liègeoise,” a standard dish from Liège, Belgium, made with warm string beans, bacon, potatoes, onions and white wine vinegar sauce. The tang from the white wine vinegar cuts through the heaviness of the bacon and potatoes, giving freshness to the hearty dish.

“Salade Liègeoise” (in back), made with warm string beans, bacon, potatoes, onions and white wine vinegar sauce, and white asparagus with hard-boiled eggs (an off-the-menu item)
“Salade Liègeoise” (in back), made with warm string beans, bacon, potatoes, onions and white wine vinegar sauce, and white asparagus with hard-boiled eggs (an off-the-menu item)

End on a sweet note with the “gateau moelleux au chocolat,” a Belgian chocolate lava cake with creme anglaise. And after dinner, if customers aren’t quite ready to step back into Southern California culture, they can come back around 10:30 p.m. (Friday and Saturday nights, at least) when the restaurant turns into a Euro dance club with music played by a disc jockey.

Belgian chocolate lava cake with creme anglaise
Belgian chocolate lava cake with creme anglaise

Beer, chocolate and tasty fare—is there anything this country doesn’t do well? It’s safe to say that a meal at Brussels Bistro may have diners never wanting to eat any other cuisine again or, at the very least, leave them with wanderlust. LBM

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