222 Forest Ave.
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
I blinked and it is late in May already. It seems like a few days ago we were just getting over the holidays. It also seems like forever that Katie and I had a true date night. I knew this had to be remedied right away. Laguna was the site of one of our first date nights over nine years ago, and it always holds a special place for us. Of course, there's always plenty of restaurants that we have yet to try in this seaside paradise, and one of those would be the spot we chose for this evenings festivities, Brussels Bistro.
We had only eaten Belgian food once before, and that was at the now departed Globe in Garden Grove five years ago. We had really enjoyed that experience and had wanted to go back, but they shuttered that restaurant in 2015. Belgian food is not so prevalent in Orange County. A quick Yelp search shows only one Belgian restaurant, and Brussels Bistro is it. There's a Belgian style gastropub in Whittier, a food truck in LA which seems to be all about waffle sandwiches and fries, just like our homegrown Bruxie.
Unlike Bruxie, Brussels Bistro is a full-service restaurant that has more than waffles and fries on its menu. There are mussels in different sauces, three kinds of croquettes, plenty in the way of Belgian entrees, and other meat, fish, and pasta options. I was surprised to learn that this restaurant has been around for 14 years now, and the owners opened it to share an authentic Belgian experience with all of their guests, and share a little of what makes the cuisine from this Benelux country so delicious.
Brussels Bistro is situated on the always busy Forest Avenue in Downtown Laguna. It's closer to PCH and located right underneath Signature Art Gallery. Stepping downstairs into the restaurant, I was immediately struck by how much this place reminded me of Muldoon's over at Fashion Island. The restaurant is a bit cramped, with tables very close together, waiters and other service personnel turning sideways to get by patrons, very uncomfortable chairs that resulted in a cramp in my leg, and noise levels that can not quieted due to the very low ceilings. Even with the uncomfortable surroundings, I was very very excited to try the food that I spied on nearby tables.
Out first for us right after ordering was a sliced Sourdough bread, with plenty of softened butter packets. The bread had a very sturdy crust and a soft and pillowy inside. It went well with the butter, but I could not wait to dip it into the broth that my forthcoming mussels came with.
Our appetizers and my mussels would have to wait though, as there was a snafu and our entrees came out well before our starters. Katie selected this Creamy Chicken and Mushroom Stew over Puff Pastry ($24) as her meal on this evening. This was a little too heavy for Katie. She liked it, but it overwhelmed a bit in the richness department. There was not only a puff pastry topping this, but it was also underneath as well. It kind of reminded me of a biscuit and gravy dish that you get at breakfast time. The chicken was moist and tender there were plenty of mushrooms, and the sauce coated everything nicely. Definitely not a meal for light eaters. The Belgian Frites came with her meal and were pretty solid as far as frites go. They were a little smaller than a steak fry, and nicely fried without being greasy. They were brought to an even greater level with the sauce selection here. The winners for me were the truffle, the garlic, and the slightly spicy andalouse.
I came to Brussels Bistro not knowing what I was going to be having on this evening, and I finally went with this Boeuf Bourguignon ($25). Good choice by me. This came in two parts. One was a plate of fettuccine noodles, lardons, a couple of carrots, pearl onions, and mushrooms, the second part came in a pot with more carrots and pearl onions, and the beef in a nice and comforting stew. With no guidance as to how to eat this. I just poured the contents of the bowl over the noodles and mixed it all up. This was comfort food to the max. I could feel it warming me from the inside out. The beef was tender like a short rib, but a little more solid than the fall apart tenderness of short rib. The lardons lent a nice smokey bite, and I loved the use of pearl onions in this. I only ate half of this since I had mussels coming as my appetizer, but it was even better the next day for lunch.
I'm not a big mussel connoisseur, but I knew that this was a specialty at Brussels Bistro, so I had to give them a try. Here they have 7 versions to try, and what makes them different is the broth that they come in, which tints the flavor of the mussel. I went with what our server said was most popular, a small pot of the Mariniere, which is a broth made with white wine and garlic. The mussels come from Penn Cove Shellfish in Washington state and are shipped by air three times a week, so these are some of the freshest mussels around. They tasted like it too. Not fishy tasting, no grit inside of them, and some of the biggest mussels I have eaten. There were maybe 15 or so in this small pot, and the garlic was definitely present in the broth. I even got Katie to try one, and although she did not have another one, she was not as opposed to the mussels as she once was. Baby steps.
No date night would be complete without dessert, and on this evening we finished with a bang by getting this Chocolate Crepe ($9). Belgian chocolate, two scoops of vanilla ice cream inside the crepe, and whipped cream made this dessert a winner. The ice cream did melt pretty fast because it was blanketed by the warmed crepe. The crepe was light, but a tad rubbery, but the very good chocolate and ice cream more than made up for that.
Brussels Bistro was an excellent choice for a date night spot. Yes, it was crowded and noisy, but it was nice trying something new and unique to OC. If there's anything that I've learned from the two times that I've experienced Belgian food, its that the meals are very warming and comforting, and there's always the opportunity to have Belgian chocolate at the end of the meal. A big plus. Even though we got our appetizers after our entrees, service on this evening was very strong, and our server Francois answered all of our questions and made sure we were taken care of throughout our stay. Glad we took some time out from this fast-moving year to take a night out for ourselves.
Out of five saxophones, (because this woodwind instrument was invented in Belgium in 1846, and without this instrument, there would have been no Kenny G. Thanks a lot Belgium), five being best to zero being worst, Brussels Bistro gets 3.5 saxophones.
For more information about Brussels Bistro, head to their website here: https://www.brusselsbistro.com/