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Dining in Belgium
Dining in Belgium ranges from modest bistros to elegant Michelin three-star restaurants. Our best meal was at one, De Karmeliet (Langestraat 19, Brugge; tel. 050/33-82-59). Located in an 18th century house in this medieval canal city, the chef serves dazzling plates, as delicious as they are decorative. In the glass-ceilinged entrance area, we were served mussels in aspic, salmon tartare, and rabbit pate with fresh grapefruit and champagne cocktails. In the high-ceilinged dining room, a codfish carpaccio was rimmed with fried leek shavings, and a supreme of pheasant was accompanied by endive, wild mushrooms, and a mashed potato round encased in a sliver of celery root.
Dessert featured poached pears and prunes in a red wine sauce paired with ice cream made with Armagnac brandy. A tray of petit fours encompassed miniature babas, cherries in fondant, chocolate-covered orange peel, and scallop-shaped cinnamon cakes. The luncheon tab per person with wine was just over $100.
Another excellent meal, a farmhouse lunch, was savored at wood plank tables outside of Damme. Chef Marc Nyssen runs De Stampe, 12 Zuiddijk, 88340 Damme, Belgium. Tel: 050/5001997. His is a working family-owned farm, since 1906. He has 80 head of cattle and has developed three guest rooms in the stucco farmhouse that dates from 1680. The dining room used to be a stable. He serves groups during the week and for Sunday dinner by reservation only. He uses all local products and bakes his own bread and tarts in a wood-fired oven.
At two trestle tables, candelabra illuminated our buffet of three local cheeses, platters of pate, a crusty meat loaf, tart cherries in a sauce, and a wonderful shredded carrot, onion, and mushroom open tart. Loaves of crusty whole-grain bread and field greens with olive oil were passed. Blond and dark beer and Cote du Rhone wine were poured. While we dined, Marc picked the apples from the orchard that swiftly baked into an open-face streusel-topped tart. A pear tart also accompanied the spread.
Our two hotel dinners, featuring such famous Belgian dishes as waterzooi of chicken and eel in sorrel sauce, were a disappointment. By contrast, the hotel's breakfast buffets were spectacular, more sumptuous than anyone could savor with dozens of choices in smoked fish, hot and cold meats, egg dishes, fruits, juices, a cereal bar, and hot breads and rolls.