She’s worth it

I love my wife enormously!! She has already been my rock already for almost 17 years and will keep being it for many years to come. Although she says I don’t need to take her to special  restaurants or places in general (read: “use the money for a bigger gift(s)”)… I do it anyway 🙂 Reason 1 because I like it myself going to great restaurants, reason 2 she just  deserves it!  I admit that I also do it because she sees me going to special restaurants on many occasions  with other people and I don’t want to have her think I don’t like to do this with her … For her birthday this year I absolutely wanted to take her to Chalet de la Forêt. “AGAIN” I hear you say?? Last time I was here the chocolate dessert I had was soooo amazing that it was something my chocolate addicted wife just HAD TO HAVE!! Luckily they still served the dessert.

Chocolate dessert

Another reason I like going to Chalet is because of my dear friend Cesar Roman. He always finds ways to surprise me during a meal. A great example about how Cesar is from a few years ago when he was still working at ‘Comme Chez Soi’ , he knew I was a big sherry fan, so he paired my whole meal with sherry’s …An amazing meal that I will always remember! This time for my wife’s birthday it wasn’t any different!  Not that I had doubts that this time the quality or standards would be less than the other times. I was however curious how the experience would be now I wasn’t there with a winemaker or for an event. Curious to see in what way Cesar will be surprising me this time. Wine wise that is. When I was there with winemakers they obviously serve that winemakers’ wine.  I was also very interested to know why Cesar chose to serve certain wines with certain dishes or maybe the other way around maybe the chef made some dishes to go with a particular wine, now he had the liberty of choosing whatever he wants.

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As expected and just like the other times our afternoon at Chalet was perfect !! They have an eye for detail and try to make your time at their restaurant an unforgettable experience every single time you visit them. Chalet de la Forêt stands for high quality products prepared in a  ‘not too sophisticated’ way, but yet special. What I mean with that is that is still an understandable dish and you still know what you have a front of you.

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You can say  without exaggeration that you get spoiled at Chalet de la Forêt! When you enter you take place in one of the comfortable armchairs or couches and before we even decided what we would eating  we were already served an assortment of appetizers. It speaks for itself that we were served an appropriate drink to go with those appetizers and that’s where Cesar came into the game 🙂  We are no difficult people, my wife likes bubbles and for me the type of wine doesn’t matter that much as long as it is good…For my wife Cesar had chose a zero dosage Champagne from the Drappier vineyard.  Zero dosage basically means there is no sugar added to the champagne or better to the wine before the bubbles are formed in the bottle. The fact that they don’t add sugar makes it a very unique product where the nature (even more then with ‘regular’ champagnes) is the main actor or better the quality of your grape the most important factor as you don’t “camouflage” it by adding sugar.  For Cesar this seemed like the perfect and  subtle way to start our afternoon. For me on the other hand Cesar had foreseen  a glass of the first wine made by our mutual friend William Wouters named  Roleta Russa (Russian roulette) :-). William actually made this wine as he wanted to find out what it would be like to make a wine without the help of his wine making wife (Filipa Pato). Compliments to my dear friend and mentor, if this was only a test I’m looking forward when he is out of his test phase 🙂

Roleta Russa

Sitting in the armchairs and enjoying all the delicious bites only gave us the taste for more it felt a big like sitting in a theater where you are getting warmed up for the big show that is about to start  with a fireworks in the end 🙂

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When they asked us to move to our table, we expected to immediately start eating the dishes we ordered, but No sir, after cleaning our hands with warm towels (that always reminds of my dad doing funny things when they used to give warm towels at the end of a meal at a Chinese restaurant. Worst part of it all it that I could see me doing that with my kids when they get a bit older #weareourparents ) more appetizers followed. In my  case even with a very special pairing, namely with a very old Rotterdam juniper 🙂 distilled in an old school craftsmanship way  (so not using modern techniques or machinery  to make it). I didn’t drink my whole glass… as we were just getting started and it was a pretty strong juniper.


For the menu itself I started with a suggested dish, hop shoots with home-smoked salmon and a perfectly poached egg. One of those dishes that you don’t care it is impolite to clean your plate with a piece of bread. I like hope shoots, too bad they are only around and available 3 weeks a year…to good things about them, is that when you see them on the menu you know spring is there and you can already smell the summer sun getting closer 🙂


My wife opted for the first course from the menu itself, the Limousin beef Tataki with tomato aromas capers and old Balsamic vinegar  (I could see a slightly jealous look on her face once I got my plate 😉 ) Again here we were in Cesar’s  hands to find us the perfect pairing. For my wife again some bubbles (she just can’t get enough of it) and for me whatever he had to offer;-)


For my wife he brought a glass of La Closerie les Beguines extra Brut champagne which is a different one then the one she had with the appetizers. This champagne was also served in a regular white wineglass instead of a champagne glass to bring out more the wine behind the bubbles and gives you the chance to explore the complexity of the champagne. I know to some people it might seem funny that top sommeliers like Cesar take a lot of time to find the perfect glass to serve a particular  wine or drink… but I dare you to try yourself serving the same wine in a few different glasses. You’ll be astonished the world of difference in flavors depending on the glass you’ll be exploring!!  The reason for Cesar choosing  a different champagne, is  because with the Limousin tartar you need something slightly stronger, the zero dosage wouldn’t be at its proper place here.

La Closerie les Beguines

For with my dish Cesar wanted me not to try 1, but 2 wines that according to him worked very well with the dish. 2 great wines I must say. The First one was a rather ‘classic’ wine, a 2011 Bourgogne Village (chardonnay) from the Leroy vineyard ( is considered as one of the best red Burgundy winemakers). In Burgundy the “Village” wines might be considered as the ‘simple’ wines, but it is at this level where a winemaker can actually show his  talent as this is mostly the entry level by lots of people… if one likes the simpler wines, the step towards the more complex big brothers is easier made.  The second wine was maybe the biggest surprise, a 2014 white Rioja wine which is a Malvasia grape blend? I honestly didn’t know Rioja made such good white wines.. which also the reason why Cesar served it 🙂 Even though the 2014 Rioja Blanco is relatively young it already has the complexity of a good Bourgogne or Rhône wine.  I think that this comes because of the fact the grapes are grown on 80 year old vines, the high location of the vines and the the wine ages for 12months on new French oak. A very impressive wine, no wonder it has been chosen as best Spanish white wine! This also shows that the Rioja Region can make more then only  good red wines. Wines like this ask for a moment of silence if you ask me (which is something very hard for me to do)




For with our main course, the duck, our dear friend had foreseen a 2003 Barbera d’alba from the  Elio Grasso. A winemaker that strives for harmonious and balanced wines, something I totally agree with when you taste this wine. I’m very impressed however with the long finish this wine has with beautiful notes of cassis and licorice… so if you’re a dark red fruit lover I’m sure you’ll like this wine just like me. If I must give a comment, for a Barbera it is softer then other Barbera’s I’ve tasted, but nevertheless a celebration together with the duck.

Elio Grasso

Le moment suprême, the chocolate dessert (that we got after a asparagus based pre-dessert).! I think my wife is still dreaming about this dessert! A mixture of warm and cold chocolate of different texture with if I’m correct some caramel undertones that makes every bit a pleasure and a moment in heaven. Last night my wife even asked me if they don’t do take out of this dessert 😉 (it might sound like a joke, but she doesn’t joke about chocolate 🙂 ) . With this Cesar served a French ‘Noix du pays d’OC’, a bio-dynamic distilled drink based on wine that is made with the noblest part of the fruit. You get the sensation of a higher alcoholic drink, but the affinity of a low alcohol liquor that only has a 17% alcohol percentage. A nose filled with nuts like almonds, pecan nuts with a little freshness of bergamot and I remember the scent of a brioche (bread).  The taste from the Noix reminded me a lot like a sherry finishing with a pleasant caramel like aftertaste.

Asparagus pre dessert

Chocolate dessert  Noix du Pays d'oc

A birthday wouldn’t be a birthday without a candle… I think Cesar found about my wife’s birthday via FB as I didn’t tell him or anybody at the restaurant… but I could clearly see my wife was very happy with the fact they did something 🙂

My wife

To end out meal a cup of Arabica coffee blend from Antigua & Guatemala beans and how else, a table full of sweets, cakes, chocolates, etc…

Full and very satisfied we return home and can’t wait for our next Chalet experience and Cesar’s surprises!!

Sommelier themed lunch: Italy vs. USA

To yearly tradition I was present at the Zonin sommelier themed lunch. This lunch is basically the Zonin wine estate bringing together Top sommeliers for a blind wine tasting to talk about the wines served during a lunch in a great restaurant. An event they do in lots of countries all over the world.  I can hear you think that this seems like a way to promote Zonin wines, which in some way is correct, but in last editions they also served non-Zonin wines. What I maybe should have also mentioned is that all sommeliers  write down their thoughts on every wine, give it a score and as it is a blind tasting guess which wine it is and its vintage. Afterwards they collect all the answers and see how they would be able to improve their wines. So you could see it as a Marketing strategy, but I rather see it as a case study to improve your products! That some wines getting served are being liked and turn up on the sommeliers wine list is a plus and a compliment to the winemakers or better a sign that they made very good end product.

The group at table

Cesar Roman discussions 2 discussions 3 discussions 4 discussions Me and Antoine

This year’s sommelier themed lunch took place at Le Chalet de la forêt in the green part of Brussels. Last time I was here I enjoyed my meal, but wasn’t blown away, this time however I did get blow away. Not sure what the ‘problem’ was last time, but I became a big fan after this lunch!! This year the lunch theme was to distinguish the Italian from the American Zonin wines. They would serve wines from both countries, made from the same grape, and it was up to us to say which one was from one of their Italian estates and which one from their Virginia estate. I must admit we got surprised in a positive way a couple of times. To support what I said earlier, they don’t even sell their Virginia wines outside the US and UK :-). Anyhow it was a fun afternoon amongst friends as I know most of the sommeliers present and of course Lorenzo Zonin, whose daughter has 10 days difference with mine 🙂 (10 day older if I’m right)

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I do know that I’m not a top sommelier or a sommelier like the other people at the table, but I like good food, good wine and I love talking about it 🙂 AND I have learned a lot over the last few years from the others at the table.

hapjes 2 hapjes

All of this said, after some great finger food it was time to start our lunch with a Gamberoni tartar with cold consommé and Oscietra caviar. A pleasure for the taste buds because of the little spiciness from the tartar and freshness from fish and citrus. I started my lunches in worse ways 🙂 . FYI I did take pictures of my own, but I chose to  use some from the photographer Pascal Hermans as nothing beats pictures of a real photographer!! I’m sure you’ll which ones are mine and which ones aren’t 🙂

1st course

wine 1

As for the wines being served with this dish I was 98% sure when tasting which one it was, Vermentino, as I thought remembering it from visiting some of the Zonin estates last year. Funny enough I was right about the wines, but the one I thought was Italian was from Virginia and vice versa.  I was confused by the typical ‘vementino’ scent and thought this could only come from Italy, as the other one was more floral, fresh/fruity.  I personally enjoyed or better I wouldn’t mind having a few bottles  from the Vermentino from the Rocca di Montemasi  estate for this summer.

wine with 1st course

If only the blind tasting would continue this way, I would definitely recognize more easily  🙂 But they made it harder 🙂 instead of 2 we got 4 glasses of wines from 2 different blends… oooooh boy 😦 These 4 wines that were the pairing with a signature Chalet dish: Noirmoutier sole “forêt” with parsnip, champagne butter and truffle. A piece of art in a plate that you don’t want to destroy 🙂 but glad I did it as it was njammy.


As for the wines, like mentioned they made it harder by putting 4 glasses instead of 2. Admitted that they helped us a bit letting us know that there was Viognier and Chardonnay. Up to us to decide which ones and also from which country and their vintage 🙂

4 glasses of wine

I didn’t found out which wines were viognier and which chardonnay, but that’s where it stopped for me 🙂


Up to the reds, here again 4 glasses 🙂 Tips here were that there were 2 ‘Bordeaux’ like blends, 1 Sangiovese and 1 Nebbiolo. The Nebbiolo I distinguished pretty fast due to it specific more orange color.. The same for the Sangiovese due to its specific nose (don’t know how to explain it), but also because it is one of my favorite red wines from the Zonin estates aka the Il Solatio . This gave me a little push in the back to find out which ones were the ‘Bordeaux’ like blends.  When they revealed the wines, I must say I was surpised to find out the Nebbiolo was a ‘Barolo’ from Virginia!! I would have sworn it was a blend from Italy. I’m also sure I wasn’t the only one!!

Red wines

I almost forgot, these wines were served with the half wild duck (not sure which half 🙂 🙂 ) with fruited fennel and gravy (no, not your average meat gravy). I remember once a famous Michelin Star chef telling me what the perfect dish was: ‘when somebody finishes its plate and wants an other one exactly like it, that’s the perfect this’. This duck, was one of those dishes that if I could have, I would have 🙂 The meat melted like butter and the gravy had a some of that American BBQ taste in it that we all love (I think it’s called calories ;-)). No seriously, mind blowing dish!!


The cherry or frosting on the cake was the dessert that was specially given as they found out Lorenzo was a chocoholic 🙂 and it was of the same level as the previous dish with the big difference being that a second dish of this would kill you 🙂 🙂 and you’d be condemned on having a nap in the restaurant 😉


And as if the chocolate wasn’t yet a step close enough to heaven, they paired with it what is for me that best vin santo I have ever tasted, the vin santo from Castello d’albolla!! They served just like the other wines that we didn’t know what it was, but you could guess that one out of a thousand.

Cesar and the Vin Santo heaven me in heaven

It was again, like previous times a wonderful lunch!! I’ve learned and enjoyed at the same time. Special thanks to Lorenzo Zonin and the Chalet de la Forêt team (with their to Sommelier Cesar Roman) for making this all happen.

In case you would have more question about Zonin wines, please contact Hasselt Millesime as they can tell you everything about it!!