The ultimate tram experience

Two weeks ago I finally got to try the Brussels Tram experience, something I already wanted to do since their first ride 🙂  but for some reason or the other I never made it happen. So I was very happy when the Raimat  asked if my wife and I wanted to join them.  The Brussels tram experience is basically an ‘old’ tram they remodeled into a trendy restaurant setting and that takes you through Brussels in a 2h ride while enjoying a refined meal with accompanied drinks.  For food it were dishes created by Lionel Rigolet (Comme chez Soi**) that we were served.

I must be completely honest that the dishes weren’t  100% like you would have them at Comme chez soi itself, but when you see the size of the kitchen in the tram  and take all the shaking and bouncing in consideration (as the tram is moving) you can only have respect for the chef preparing the dishes as I wouldn’t be able to do better 🙂 !  On the menu that night:  as appetizers an Eel and sorrel soup, garlic foam, veal cannelloni with foie gras and  scallops with ras el-hanout, biscuit and a light parmesan cream. Continued by Cod with spices, small crunchy vegetables, grey North Sea shrimp, light horseradish cream;  Pressed beef stew. As mean course we were served  Free range cock supreme, shellfish jus with crayfish and tarragon. And as desert a  chocolate crémeux made with Belcolade 71% cocoa Ecuadorian chocolate, exotic caramel, passion fruit, mascarpone and eau de Villée liqueur .

But the reason we were there were of course the wines from the Raimat winery. It was in 1914 that Manuel Raventós , son of  Josep Raventós  owner of  the Codorniu wineries (the first cava producers in Spain founded in the year 1515), bought 3500 ha of land in Raimat, Lleida (2 hour drive from Barcelona).  Nothing special you might think, but back in those days many people thought Manuel was gone crazy as it was a piece of desert and nobody thought he would succeed in his plan to grow vines. Now over 100 years later, millions of bottles of wine and many milestones (both for them as in Spanish wine making)  later like being the first to have a concrete building in Spain or  launching of the first to produce Albariño outside Galicia or being the first winery to classify their wine according to intensity did surprise me… and these are only 3 of the many milestones they’ve had!! He showed them 🙂 🙂 !!

I know that many amongst you, just like me, find it difficult when you are in a supermarket to find the perfect wine (especially if you weren’t able to taste it first)… in the end most people are no wine experts and in the end just go for something they have heard talking about and/or a label that looks nice. It is for this reason that Raimat started investigating how to make this process clearer and easier for regular consumers.  What they do it classify the wines according to their intensity going from 1 (very light) to 10 (very intense) and put these numbers on the bottles . The intensity of a wine depends first of all of the kind of grape, but also the wine making method that was used. It is the combination of Organoleptic  characteristics (like the freshness, color, taste and aroma), Body (Volume, depth) and Barrel (period in barrels). To help the consumers even more (if they have a smartphone that is) they added the intensity legend on every bottle as well as the body/tasting notes and for people who want to know even more they added a QR code, where when scanning it you will find all info on that particular wine.  So if you want to find out it was a good study they did go to the supermarket and find out for yourself (in Belgium Raimat can be found at the Delhaize supermarkets) . I already find it a clever solution 🙂

As a ‘test’ to see if what they say it true we were served 2 wines  with intensity 8  their  2016 Chardonnay aka Castell and a 2015 Tempranillo aka Pirinenc.

On the Castell bottle it was indicated that it was a full/intense bodied chardonnay that is very aromatic and tropical hints.  My personal finding was a  bright wine with intense aromas of a rich variety of fruits: peaches, grapefruit, lemons, limes, melons, and some flowery notes. In the mouth an overwhelming freshness, with an extended, pleasantly textured finish.  The acidity is smoothed out due to a part of the wine undergoes a malolactic fermentation and evens out the balance.  So I could definitely find myself in the description that is on the label. Of course what one tastes and smells can differ depending on what one knows from experience…

The same actually goes for the Pirinenc and the 12 months in oak barrels didn’t overdue it in the wine, but if I recall it well the winemaker told me that it wasn’t new oak they used… which would confirm that it wasn’t too present in the wine (what I prefer). Maybe they should indicate this on the bottle ‘old’ or ‘new’ oak, this way one knows how big the presence will be…

Both very nice wines. My wife and I even opened a bottle of Pirinenc  the day after so I think that proves home proves that I did really liked it 🙂 .  I will definitely try a few more of their wines to see the outcome or maybe just travel to Raimat (I could use some sun and warm weather 🙂 )

Now that I know what intensity 8 gives it will make it easier in the future when I see a bottle with a lower/higher intensity level to distinguish how ‘intense’ the wine(s) will be and I also think that’s the best approach if you are not a wine expert 🙂  .

Cheers

My visit to a culinary institute

Celebrating a birthday is always a good reason to go to a restaurant. When it is my birthday the restaurant can be a bit better than usually 🙂 🙂 There is no restaurant that speaks more to my imagination than the restaurant I treated myself to for my birthday, the one and only “Comme chez soi”. Comme chez soi, just like Le Cinq, La Tour D’argent, Bocuse’s auberge du Pont de Collonges, are restaurants that are part of culinary history! If it weren’t for these restaurants or the chefs of these restaurants, the gastronomical world today would be totally different… Some people may say that these restaurants didn’t meet up with their expectations when they visited, obviously this depends on what your expectations were before you went?? If you expected a Noma-like restaurant (aka a lab) you indeed wouldn’t have found it at these restaurants… For me it met my expectations 100% or maybe 99% as meeting Pierre Wynants would have made it 100% 😉 You immediately feel this restaurant has a soul when walking in… you could compare it with the ‘Mona Lisa’ it is so much more than just your average portrait of a woman… but that’s my opinion of course :-). If I would have continued chef school and the restaurant business for sure Comme chez soi would have been one of the places where I would have wanted to work  as to me still up to today it is one of the culinary highnesses in Belgium. (Admitted the way they work also reminded me a bit of chef school)

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Comme chez soi zaal 

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If you would ask 10 Belgians what “Comme chez soi” is or represents, they will all say it is absolute top of gastronomy… and everybody and I mean everybody knows “Comme chez soi” generation over generation. Just for those few who don’t know if yet let me tell you more about this piece of Belgian patrimony! The reason why Comme chez soi (or Chez Georges how it was called from 1926 – 1936) became an institute thanks to 1 man Pierre Wynants who took over the restaurant from his father in 1973 (he already worked there from 1961) already having 2 Michelin stars and getting awarded in 1979 with their 3rd Michelin star that they kept until 2006 . The Michelin guide took away 1 Michelin when Pierre retired in 2006 and his son in law Lionel Rigolet (and his wife aka daughter from Pierre Wynants) took over the restaurant. Pierre Wynants was also given the title Dr. Honoris Causa by the “Université François-Rabelais de Tours”… yet another proof of mr. Wynants/ Comme chez soi’s greatness.

Comme chez soi back in the days

Pierre Wynants

Some people say things changed when Lionel Rigolet (Pierre’s son in law) took over the restaurant from Pierre Wynants, but I’m not able to compare and I also believe it should not be done as Lionel is Lionel and Pierre was Pierre 🙂 and both have their own way of cooking and for me “Comme chez soi” will always stay the institute I imagined it would be (Although I must admit I would have loved meeting Pierre Wynants and I missed him by a hair as he just left a few minutes before I entered…).

Me, Lionel Rigolet and Laurance Wynants

Besides serving great food, Comme chez soi is also well known for its fabulous wine collection… people fly in from all over the world because of the beauties they have in their cellar. A Wine Walhalla!! (Believe you me 🙂 ) On their wine list they have 1600 different wines that results in 24000 bottles in the cellar (it used to be 50000). Entering in their cellar is like a candy store if you are into wines as they have wines in it that you can only find in a hand full of places… naturally the big names like Petrus, Latour, Margaux, but also from vineyards that as a non-connoisseur won’t say a thing, but for winelovers and sommeliers they are even more special than all the big names 🙂 Like  the wines from Henri Jayer from before his dead or their collection of Côte Rôtie or the Chartreuse something a lot of people prefer over a glass of cognac (is comparable to Elixir )… To find you way through all these wines Comme chez soi has had a special app created to easily find back the wines you want.

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An eye-catcher for me was the collection of Château d’ Yquem (one of the most famous vineyard for sweet white wine) from 1831 -> 1980 or better what is left from it after an historical tasting they did from these wines around 1980…

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BUT, I was here to eat 🙂 , we took the lunch menu… why? Well we were there for lunch. After a refined appetizer we were served the following menu

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Hake clear soup with star anise, sautéed black tiger shrimps with small onions and mint (FYI, they pass another time to fill your plate )

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Pork fillet with carbides, mixed vegetables with mustard seeds

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Macerated peaches with a reduction of old balsamic vinegar, pineapple sorbet with kirsch

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Not only a treat for the eyes, also for the taste buds, all prepared how it should and topped with some of the tastiest sauces you have ever tried. You might have already noticed that I’m a big Sherry fan? So to make my visit to Comme chez soi an even better one, Cèsar (Comme Chez soi’s sommelier) had paired sherry with my menu instead of ‘regular’ wines… something I appreciated and enjoyed a lot as Sherry is so refined and yet complex… I love it. FYI, this is something every can experience if you want (and ask Cèsar)

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I know it might sound to enthusiastic, but I’m a very enthusiastic person that wants to share how happy experiences like this make me :-)… My goal in life is see and make people smile and basically make them happy, but first of all keeping myself happy… living your life with a smile is so much nicer!!

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Anyhow this was definitely not my last visit to Comme chez soi as Lionel and his team have giving me the taste for more… with as aim to sit at their famous kitchen table where some amazing people have enjoyed a meal before with the best view (besides if my fiancée sits across of me) over the kitchen!

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Comme Chez soi

Website: http://www.commechezsoi.be

Address: Rouppeplein 23, 1000 Brussels – Belgium

Phone n°: +32 (0)2 / 512 29 21