Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Sparrow // Le Moineau

Hi guys! A little while ago Rio suggested we go for coffee to catch up and chill a bit. I asked if we could go brunch instead ... so we did! We finally went to Sparrow! They have kind of a weird schedule because of their dual personality (day bird and night owl) and on some of the days they're supposed to be open they are sometimes closed ... this time they weren't.

When we got in we saw the place was full. The waitress asked if we'd rather be seated at the bar or on the couch by the window ... we totally went for the couch. Our table was basically what looked like your great-great-grandfather suitcase. While looking at the menu we asked for coffee.


Rio went for the Turkish breakfast : feta, olives, tomatoes, cucumber, soft boiled egg, fig and sour cherry jam, extra merguez.


His plate was quite healthy. Actually the whole brunch menu is pretty healthy. It was a good arrangement of sweet and salty, the colors were beautiful, and the food tasted fresh.

In my case I had the house-smoke trout : spinach and green onion pancake, soft boiled egg, beet salad.


The pancake was the fluffiest thing I had ever had. The spinach was minced very very thin so it was distributed evenly in the pancake rather than just being in lumps. The beet salad tasted fresh (unlike the canned stuff) and the trout was succulent. It was melting right into my mouth. It was also served with a spoon of sour cream.

We had a great time. Rio told me about his trip in Costa Rica (and how he learned how to love coffee even more) and he, obviously, brought me a souvenir. The waitress was fast on the coffee refill. The ambiance was pretty laid back, everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves, it was a bit loud but not too much.

If there is something you absolutely need to see though it's the bathroom. The decoration is so nice and beautiful and cozy and hipster ... totally something I would want to recreate, with wooden effects and old accessories. But that's just my personal appreciation.

We really appreciated our experience. Brunch doesn't have to be too fancy or too heavy, and Sparrow is a great example of healthy simple yet creative brunch. The price was a bit high (with the tip I must have spent around 25$) but considering the fact that everything is homemade, fresh, and that it's located in the Mile-End, it's actually fine.

So I really recommend Sparrow, but I suggest you check their opening hours before. Also, they become a bar at night, so that'd be great to get to discover that other side of the place.

For more information on Sparrow : http://www.sparrow-lemoineau.com/

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Brussels; The Atomium

Hi guys! If there is something I usually don't have time to do when I travel but really want to is go to museums. Why? Mostly because the people I travel with are not interested (hey let's go grab a beer on a terrace and stay there all day) or not organized enough (come on man why would we wake up at 8am?). Since this time I was traveling alone I decided to treat myself out by visiting the Atomium, especially constructed for Expo 58. Today it's a museum and some of the conserved installations of the area have been converted to other uses.

So I took a tram all the way there because it was pretty much the easiest way. On the way there I discovered a more suburban Brussels, passed by some factories, and saw a park so huge I thought I was going through the countryside.

World's Fairs are all about "Go big or go home". Now that most cities are fully urbanized we have to get more and more creative and find ways to insert wow-factor architecture into the existing fabric. Back in the days though, taking down whole neighborhoods was easy (who cares about the poor), we could construct lands (think about Expo 67 in Montreal, the whole area are artificial isles) or just go to some place slightly remote and find ways to bring people there with a train, a tram, or the subway. And this is what they did in Brussels, going to the border of Flanders to develop a whole land and dedicate it to one of the most pompous events that can occur in the history of a country.

So I got off the tram and started walking I don't know where. I was following the signs. When I thought I had reached the entrance of the Expo 58 area, I realized the whole thing smelled like the glorious years : I was greeted by parking lots.




Wonderful right? Nothing says warm human hug like seas of empty parking lots. No awesome gate with the Belgian coat of arms. No welcome sign. No nice green pedestrian way with flowers and baby deer walking around. No. Just freaking parking lots. Like "Welcome back to the 50s".

Oh look! I can see it from here! At least I know I'm not lost.


As I was walking towards the Atomium I must have looked pretty weird ... like who's that girl WALKING alone through parking lots? Couldn't she grab a freaking car? Well no, this is 2014. People walk now.

At least I discovered some of the Expo 58 buildings. Like this amazing piece, located right across the Atomium (if you're facing this, the Atomium is behind you). This is the Palais des Expositions, and the basins and landscape layout in front is called Place de Belgique.


And then this thing. So huge. So shinny. So mesmerizing. I felt like a kid again. Just so you know, the Atomium was designed on an unit cell of an iron crystal. True story. Why? Because at that time the Belgians wanted to point out the benefits of the pacific use of nuclear energy (medical scanner, production of electricity, etc.).




So you get into the museum (after paying your entrance ticket, in the small building on the left) and guess who greets you? Spirou! A photographer takes your picture with one of your favorite childhood heroes (I don't know for you, but I grew up reading the Spirou and Fantasio comic books). I don't have a picture because there was a group of like 20 or so kids coming in (and other reasons explained later in the post) so I didn't want to bother the photographer and ask him to snap a pic of Spirou and me with my own camera. I should have though.

Before seeing the actual exhibition, you get into an elevator that brings you up a few floors so you can see the remains of Expo 58 and, if you're good enough, recognize some of Brussels's buildings. Actually you don't have to be good since there are plans all over the place telling you what you're looking at.


See the Palais des Expositions? Beautiful from ground view, it looks sort of pitiful next to the buildings surrounding it. Not that it looks small. But it looks like they don't belong together.


The elipse shaped building on the left is the King Beaudoin Stadium. And what looks like little houses is actually part of an amusement park, the Mini-Europe. I believe it's the restaurant and boutique area.


This weird looking thing is the Mini-Europe. An amusement park that offers everything for everyone. It's not La Ronde, obviously, and it's made on a much smaller scale, but it's got fun for the whole family.


And here begins the 360 tour.




Can you spot the business district?



Just a reflection of one of my favorite shirts.


What is this ... I can't even ... Oh, it's the Trade Mart. Nevermind.


When you're done gazing upon Brussels and the Expo 58 landscape you start traveling from a sphere to another through tubes to discover the exhibitions. The permanent exhibition is all about the glorious 50s and, more importantly, the Expo 58. Not only do you go through the process of the design and the construction of the Atomium, you also get to see models of some of the buildings of the Expo, which for most of them are not around anymore. The temporary exhibition then was Mobilia : 100 Years of Design from Belgian Architects. As a fervent fan of design it was just perfect for me. For that group of 20 obnoxious hyperactive kids it was a pretty terrible idea.

Oh, and at the end, when I took the elevator down, I got my heart broken. Remember the picture I took with Spirou? Some lady was there, waiting for me at the souvenir shop, showing me two copies of the picture and a terrible key chain with the picture in a small piece of plastic ... I think the whole set was like 10€. I said no because I didn't want to spend 10€ on that kind of crap. I think they should send us a copy of the picture by email or ask us, while we go out, what we want and the number of copies, print them in front of us, and we pay for it. It totally broke my heart when she threw the stuffs away in the garbage because 1. I don't have a picture of me with Spirou and 2. as a freak of sustainability seeing things like that makes me mad. Such a waste. But anyways. My advice: ask the damn photographer to snap a picture of you and Spirou with your personal camera.

Outside was another temporary exhibition : Artview#2. It's basically a piece of contemporary art designed to invite people to interact with it.


Since I'm not a selfie person, this is a terrible attempt of me trying to take an artsy selfie.


After visiting the museum I started walking towards the Chinese pavilion and  the Japanese tower, part of the Museums of the Far East, one of many realizations of dear King Leopold.


Oh hai there Poseidon. Let me take a break because my burning knees can't take it anymore.


Oh god, so close!


I must have been the luckiest tourist in Brussels : everything was under renovation!



At least there is some sort of park outside for the children! But I was the only one around, walking between the buildings and in the garden ... I looked suspicious as fuck.





DAT GLARE. It's in situations like this I realize that despite the advanced equipment I own, I most of the time don't have the actual proper equipment for certain days and certain kinds of picture.



And so that's it for today guys! Once again I've totally bombed you with way too many pictures. As I said in previous posts, there is just way too much to see in Brussels. I think you should take a look at the Atomium's website (http://www.atomium.be/) and look at the pictures in the different sections. Especially the ones that show the escalators in the tubes when we go from a sphere to another ... it's totally cool!

Until next time!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Decca 77

Hey guys! A while ago a bunch of friends and I went out during Mtl à Table, that food happening during which many restaurants offer a special full-course menu for 19$, 29$, or 39$. Daniel suggested we go to Decca 77 and made the reservation.

For 29$ we could choose between two entrées, two mains, and two desserts. Virtually creating eight different combinations.

When I got in my first thought was "Good thing I'm wearing my office clothes". The place is quite chic, even a bit pretentious. Just for fun, Hong brought his monocle because he was told to dress to impress ... needless to say it fit perfectly. Daniel was just wearing a t-shirt. I personally didn't care because I love my friends the way they are, but he didn't fit with the decor.

Also ... the employees there sort of messed up. We were told to wait at the bar for a while because they forgot about Daniel's reservation. The funny part is he called three weeks in advance and reminded us about it quite often. When we got there the guy said there was no reservation under Daniel's name ... turns out it was written down on the wrong page. Oh woah. So while they were trying to figure things out we waited like a bunch of idiots (eight idiots) at the bar.

When they had finally cleared a few tables and arranged them we sat down. Our waitress explained us the items on the menu. She was nice and cute. There were some decorative squashes on the table. One of them was shaped like a swan and I got too excited playing with it and broke it ... Oops. Managed to switch it with one on another table as if nothing had happened.

I started taking my camera out when the bread came in (bread was nice but butter was cold) to test the light settings. Daniel asked "Are you really taking pictures of the bread?" To which I replied "I'm testing the light settings". A few minutes later he takes his own camera out and Victor asks "Are you too taking pictures of the bread?" To which he replied "I'm just testing the light settings!" Oh, the ridiculousness of being a foodie sometimes.

And so we ordered. For the entrées we had to choose between smoked salmon or pumpkin soup.


More precisely, the smoked salmon entrée came with shrimp fritters, chicharones and pepper mayonnaise. Those who had it said it was very good, perfect crunch and perfect seasoning. Too bad the cone wasn't edible.


The pumpkin soup was made with foie gras, bacon, and daylily oil. It was topped with crusty bread and mushroom. I found the seasoning was perfect (remember I can't stand it when I can taste the salt) but the foie gras was sort of missing. I mean you don't need much to make pumpkin taste like almost anything and so I was either expecting a stronger foie gras taste or actual bits of foie gras scattered on top of the soup. Remember I'm a foie gras addict. Other than that, the colors were beautiful and the texture was just rich enough without feeling heavy.

For the main we had to choose between caramelized halibut or a guinea fowl baluchon.


The fish dish was actually miso caramelized halibut, rutabaga mousse and thin oyster mushroom. It was also presented with fresh sliced vegetables. Everyone who had it seemed to really enjoy it, except for Daniel who thought his was a bit dry.


The poultry dish was a guinea fowl and chorizo baluchon, vegetables relish, and pureed potato (aligot style) with confit garlic. It was presented with some steamed young broccoli and whole pickled small white onions. I was afraid the dish was going to be too sweet because of the looks of the vegetables, but it wasn't. The baluchon was juicy and tender but I was a bit disappointed in the presentation. I would have preferred it whole rather than sliced. I wanted to see an actual baluchon. Instead, the dough had soaked up the sauce which, flavor wise, was a good thing, but presentation wise, made it look a bit sad. But just so you know I ate all my veggies and the seasoning was perfect.

For dessert we had to choose between the crousti-choco or the Fall board.


The crousti-choco was made with kirsch, confit cherries and coconut. It was presented with a sweep of chocolate, some vanilla ice cream, and gold flakes. Presentation wise it was beautiful. When I dived my spoon in it the cake gave just enough resistance from being so rich but just enough softness from being so moist. With the vanilla ice cream the combination was perfect. I was in heaven.


The Fall board was declined in 12 flavors. The waitress named them all but no one could remember what they were. It was mesmerizing and intriguing. All those colors, textures and shapes on a slate board. Though interesting to look at and delicious (from what I've been told) it was a bit awkward and startling to eat. Sort of like "Uhm, where do I start? What do I pair this with? It is okay to use my fingers?" You know, the important questions.

Overall our experience at Decca 77 was extremely pleasurable and obviously delicious. The service was just okay, not fast nor slow, though we did stuff ourselves with bread at the beginning because we hungry as fuck when we got in. Oh, and they served bread twice, which was nice. The waitress was very nice, professional, and polite. The light and noise settings were sort of low, which is good for a romantic supper or just a quiet quality time with friends. I know the pictures are pretty clear, but that's because I have managed to find the perfect settings on my camera. Seriously if you had seen the kind of light I had to work with, you would understand how proud I am of those pictures. But anyways.

So do I recommend Decca 77? Yes I do. They have a bunch of foodie events and specials you should look out for. I highly suggest you go like their Facebook page to stay up to date (they also have contests from time to time).

And so that's it for today! Until next time!

For more information : http://www.decca77.com/

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Brussels; Mont des Arts, Place Royale, and Palais de Justice

Hi guys! This post will be heavy with pictures. After walking around the area of Grand Place I started going up the hill towards the Parc de Bruxelles. It was so hot and sunny outside that I couldn't help it but be attracted to that big patch of green.

I will not comment much because words are useless. This beautiful public place is called the Mont des Arts and is about one block west from the Bruxelles-Central train station.












When you cross the street I believe is the boulevard de l'Empereur (streets can change name at any point in Brussels so sometimes you're not sure which name to use) you find yourself in the Mont des Arts garden which gives access to the Royal Library of Belgium.












Keep going up (or south) and you're basically getting closer to a bunch of museums and the Place Royale. I wanted to go to the Instruments museum but it was closed that day. Apparently you can have access to the top floor and get a beautiful view on Brussels.



A view on the Saint-Jacques-sur-Coudenberg church.



The Instruments museum. Beautiful right?



Details of the church entrance.




A view from the church towards the Mont des Arts. You can see the Hôtel de Ville on Grand Place from there.




Unfortunately all the rock and concrete made it hard on me to stand the heat so I kept walking towards the park. On my way there I gazed upon the Palais du Roi (King's palace). Yeah, that's where King Philippe lives.








After almost getting ran over by cars and buses on this big ass street, I went into the park and sat there for a moment, enjoying the freshness of the green and looking at people taking a break just like me. I didn't take pictures of the park though. It was pretty normal. Just big and green with ponds and small random child-like statues.

Once my brain and my knees cooled down enough I started walking towards the Palais de Justice. On my way there I came across the church Notre-Dame du Sablon.




To be honest there are a lot of churches in Europe ... and a hell of a lot in Brussels (go take a look on Google Maps you'll see what I mean). After the second day they all started looking the same to me.

Right across the church is the Place du Petit Sablon, an adorable looking garden with statues all around. If you look closely at the pictures below you might see some of them hiding between the bushes.






People would simply sit down and chill, enjoy the fresh air provided by the green and the fountain. It's pretty boring actually but it just feels great. Behind the fence you can see the Palais d'Egmont.

And so I kept walking towards the Palais de Justice.




Unfortunately it has been under renovation for such a long time that people are just used to seeing it in that state. They probably don't even remember what it actually looks like.

And here's a mandatory war related landmark. Because we have to.






While looking at the monument some man started talking politics with me. I have nothing against talking politics, but it was European politics. Actually it sounded more like a rant against the EU and the little capital more than anything else. I kept telling him there was nothing I could say because I am not European but he wouldn't listen to me. He needed to rant.

I kinda needed to go down the hill but didn't want to do the whole detour. Lucky me there is an elevator on the north side of the Palais de Justice!






As I went down I started walking towards fries. I wanted some fries so bad. In Brussels they have friteries, little permanent stands that sell fries and sandwiches. That friterie was located by the church Notre-Dame de la Chapelle.




I had a cone of fries with sauce andalouse because my host had told me to go for that sauce. Apparently people bring back home pots of that sauce because it's so good. Actually yeah, it is good. The fries were not so awesome, but it felt good to just sit down, have a snack, and look at the pigeons pecking at bits of fries and bread.




Once my feet were rested enough I started wandering around again. I didn't have any plan. I didn't know what I wanted to see. I was just tired haha. Still I managed to come across some interesting findings, like this brand new building constructed next to an old tower which, according to the plans, will be conserved and integrated to the project.




Or that wall, because everyone knows Belgium is the motherland of comics (or I like to see it as the motherland of comics).






The sun started hiding itself and clouds started coming out. I came back to some street I had randomly come across because there were a bunch of restaurants and I needed to actually eat something (and sit somewhere so the rain doesn't get me). I don't remember the name of the place but I sat down and got myself a bottle of Gueuze because, among all the beers I was told to try, it was one of them.




As I looked at the menu I saw chicken Waterzooi. Being the foodie that I am I obviously had to try something traditional. Now I can't tell if the one I had was authentic, but at least I have an idea of what it's like.




Basically it's a stew with a cream and egg base. I think it's more of a Winter dish but you know what, I'm not from there, I do whatever pleases me. It was fine, but it's a recipe I would like to try on my own. In this preparation the vegetables didn't seem to be part of the stew : there were steamed apart and placed in the bowl with the chicken stew.

And so that's it for today! I'm sorry for the infinite amount of pictures, but I simply couldn't choose. I hope you guys enjoyed this tour of Brussels. Stay tuned for more!
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