An Evening in "Belgium"
by Kelli Goel, Dame de la Chaîne
The Bailliage of Greater Washington, DC, spent the evening of September 13, 2022, enjoying the Chaîne’s camaraderie of the table while feasting upon mussels, Belgian beers, and much more as they celebrated an “evening in Belgium” at Mannequin Pis restaurant in Olney, Maryland.
Since opening in 1999, Mannequin Pis has earned much praise and numerous awards for serving delicious, authentic Belgian cuisine along with an extensive choice of Belgian beer and French wines chosen from the portfolio of Robert Kacher Selections. Owners Edgar Flores, Rosa Martell, and Chef Denis Quintero ensure that the restaurant’s true European ambiance is relaxing and fun and that the cuisine is authentic and exquisite.
Mannekin Pis is Dutch for “Little Peeing Man” and is the famous landmark fountain sculpture in central Brussels, Belgium. The statue, the earliest version of which dates to 1452, is of a little boy urinating into the fountain’s basin, and originally served the practical purpose of distributing drinking water. A bronze version was commissioned in 1619. As a focal point and symbol of the city, throughout history it has been stolen and damaged numerous times. After its 1965 theft and recovery (with serious damage) a year later the statue was restored and is now safely displayed in the Brussels City Museum. A replica stands in its niche on the Rue du Chêne in Brussels, near Brussels’ Grand Place.
The evening began with Bailli Judy Mazza welcoming everyone and introducing bailliage officers who were present for the evening’s event. Vice Conseiller Gastronomique Pat Carroll, who has been frequenting this restaurant for at least 20 years, familiarized the group about the evening’s menu and shared that the original owner’s mother had painted all of the pictures hung on the walls.
Members and guests took the first course to greet one another and get to know their dinner mates for the evening. The gastronomic adventure began with three delectable appetizers: The smoked salmon crostini consisted of smoked salmon, parmesan crousade, and horseradish crème fraiche; the wild mushroom crostini was a delectable ragout of wild mushrooms on a grilled garlic butter bread; and the sausage plate showcased three varieties of sausages – wild boar, pheasant, merguez – the latter nicely spiced and flavored with harissa, cumin, sumac, fennel, and garlic.
La Chouffe blonde beer highlighted these starter delicacies. La Chouffe is a Belgian pale strong ale style beer brewed by Brasserie d’Achouffe in the village of Achouffe near the border with Luxembourg. The brewery was founded in 1982 by two brothers-in-law who turned their brewing hobby into a international success. This lightly fruity beer is notable for its coriander aromas. The bottle is decorated with a gnome which legend has is responsible for whispering the recipe into the brewer’s ear.
Next was Mannequin Pis’ specialty, mussels. Each guest had their choice from among sixteen different preparations ranging from the classic Moules Marinière with garlic, butter, celery, onion, herbs, and white wine all the way up to Snob, which featured lobster bisque and brandy along with celery, butter, onion, herbs, and, garlic. Other inventive choices included mussels served with lavender, malt vinegar, or pineapple. With so many different flavors to entice palates, it was fun for diners to choose a couple of different varieties and share them around their table. Bread sopped up the delicious sauces that were too delicious to leave unfinished in the individual mussel pots.
Guests who chose not to indulge mussels could savor the Carbonnade Flamande, the quintessential Flemish beef and beer stew, or pan seared Sea Bass presented with balsamic shallot lemon sauce and served on stoemp (the popular Belgian dish of mashed potatoes mixed with vegetables and bacon), fried gamba, and braised Belgian endives. Accompanying the dishes were two of the restaurant’s popular side offerings, pomme frites and Brussels sprouts with bacon.
Whether enjoying the mussels, carbonnade, or sea bass, Delirium Tremens beer from the Huyghe brewery near Ghent accompanied the second course beautifully. The brewery dates from 1654 and today the fourth generation of the Huyghe family continue the beer-making tradition This medium-bodied Belgian pale ale with a pink elephant as its logo, exhibits fruity flavors of apples, pears, and apricots with a hint of banana.
Members and guests were also treated to a Belgian triple beer, Maredous. The term “triple” indicates the strength of the beer. While the exact origin of the term is unknown, it’s thought that historically the weakest beers (3% abv) were stored in casks marked with a single X; medium beers (6% abv) marked with XX; and the strongest (9-10% abv) marked with XXX – hence the “triple”. Maredous Abbey, in Wallonia in southern Belgium, was founded in 1872 and remains an active Benedictine monastery. Its triple beer is golden colored and is slightly spicy with a bit of yeast-derived sweetness and notes of dried fruit. Guests thoroughly enjoyed discovering this distinctive beer between courses.
No meal is complete without dessert and Mannequin Pis did not take this task lightly. Diners were offered the choices of the Pot Au Chocolate or Crème Brûlée – both rich and decadent finales to the meal. The luxurious desserts paired superbly with Lindeman’s Framboise beer. Lindemans has been brewing Lambic beer since 1822 and introduced its Framboise in 1980. Lambic beers are brewed with spontaneous fermentation and this framboise is a Lambic in which 30% raspberry juice macerates. The result is a beer with a beautiful deep pink color and slightly pink foam that implores one to taste it. With ample fruit and only 2.5% alcohol, this extraordinary beer does not taste like beer as one typically thinks of it. The powerful raspberry aromas and slightly sour finish characteristic of lambic beers made it a wonderful complement and counterpoint to the sweet final course of the evening
The group warmly applauded Edgar Flores and Chef Denis Quintero along with the servers and kitchen staff at the conclusion of the delightful meal. Bailli Judy Mazza presented a Chaîne plate for Mannequin Pis to the chef, commenting “We like to offer this token when we go to a restaurant that has extraordinary food and everyone has been enjoying this so much.” She added, “People who have lived in Belgium and in Brussels have all said how wonderful this is.”
Judy concluded by inviting questions from the diners. When one asked Edgar, “How can you produce all the different flavors to the mussels, so we can all chose what we want?” his response was simple: “That’s a house secret!” The entire restaurant erupted into laughter, making it was a perfect way to end a fantastic evening.