Carpe Diem (Brussels, Belgium)

Our last full day in Brussels was one of wandering and exploring. Sophie went off to see some old sites from when she lived there. Dan went to check out The Royal Museum for Central Africa, mostly a museum about Belgium’s sordid colonial past. And Carol and I decided to do a bit of a walking tour, checking out the botanical garden, the old 19th century homes around Square Ambiorix, and then checking out the Parc du Cinquantenaire and L’arc de Triomphe, the last of these being a rather large and impressive park originally built in 1880 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Belgium. At the Arch, we rendezvoused with Dan and Sophie, and decided to find a pleasant place to eat, eventually settling on Carpe Diem, a brasserie just east of the Arch on Avenue de Tervueren (they’ve got a street named after the dog? Cool!).

It’s getting almost to be a running joke at this point, but like a lot of the previous reviews, Carpe Diem is your basic Belgian brasserie, with a menu focusing primarily on traditional Belgian dishes (I must make a note to myself here to try some more ethnic food the next time I’m in Brussels…). But they really do have a good selection of traditional Belgian dishes, including Lapin à la Gueuze (Rabbit in a Gueuze beer sauce), Carbonades Flamandes (Flemish stew), Chicons au Gratin (basically potatoes au gratin), Vol-au-vent, and Stoemp de Saison (basically an elaborate mashed potatoes), as well as a good selection of Belgian beers and side dishes.

Carol opted to go for one we’re not likely to find at home: the Lapin à la Gueuze. Basically a roasted rabbit served up in a rich sauce made from Gueuze, the rich and tart refermented lambick beer that’s one of the more unique Belgian brews, this was a tender and flavorful rabbit. The sauce, however, was a little rich and sweet for my tastes; I’d really like to try this someplace else and see what another restaurant’s version is like, since for me the verdict is still out on this one. But it was a pleasant enough dish.

Dan, meanwhile, opted for the Filet américain (the steak tartare), which was a good example of the usual Belgian-style tartare, make with a really flavorful beef. Back when I reviewed Kwint, I talked a bit about the ritual of mixing up a tartare to one’s tastes, and Carpe Diem did well with that: the base tartare itself was ground and mixed to order, but only minimally spiced, so that the diner can follow the ritual of mixing in a little more Worcester sauce, mustard, and pepper into it to taste. The result was rather pleasant.

Myself, I opted for the Carbonnade à la Flamande (Flemish Stew), and was rather pleased by the resulting dish: a rich and flavorful beef stew whose primary ingredient was, well, beef, with a fair bit of onion, and otherwise the vegetables were a minor player. The beef, however, was rich and tender, of the sort that really highlighted that this was a “stew” and not roasted beef or a soup. The sauce was made from an abbey brown beer, seasoned with thyme, bay and mustard, and was quite flavorful as well (indeed, I would have loved this sauce on Carol’s Lapin à la Gueuze instead of the Gueuze sauce it came with). Add in a plate of frites on the side, and this was a pleasant lunch.

Overall, Carpe Diem was a pleasant brasserie, with friendly service and a menu that did a good job showcasing Belgian cuisine. That, combined with its location (just off the tourist beat, so it was quiet), made it one of the more pleasant dining stops we had.

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