In de middle of nowhere

In de middle of nowhere

The best places to eat seem to be the restaurants that are just starting to gain attention. The hyped and the celebrated might sit on their laurels a bit, but a place like In de Wulf, with a young talented chef and one michelin star, has everything to prove and it shows. This was my favorite meal of our trip. The food itself compared with both Hof Van Cleve (I actually preferred it here to Hof Van Cleve) and Oud Sluis, but the atmosphere won me over. This is a food retreat. The restaurant is in a revamped farmhouse which also houses 10 guest rooms – it’sdifficult to find, tucked away in the rolling hills of southern Belgium (very close to the border of France) and there is nothing to do here but lounge around the grounds, take walks or bike rides through the countryside, and eat excellent food. What more could you want? Maybe, maybe, a TV in the room (there are none). But there is free wireless for the technology-dependent.  Our reservation was at 7 so we descended the staircase at the appropriate time and were greeted by the concierge who invited us to have a seat in the lounge  for a drink- a lovely room with a view into the kitchen, low wood tables and comfy chairs and sofas.  A waiter came by shortly after and took our drink orders, suggesting their special aperitif, their version of a Picon,which was outstanding. Then, to our surprise, a waitress began bringing out assorted amuse bouches. It was a great experience to be lounging on couches with our drinks and snacking on these tasty bites. A smart way to build excitement for the meal while creating a relaxed environment. Here is what we got:

whole whelks, whelk mayonnaise

Never had a whelk before our trip but they are popular in the Benelux. Clam like, but thicker. And this was no Hellman’s mayo, not greasy at all and about as refreshing as any kind of mayonnaise can be.

picon

This was their version of a picon, a classic French aperitif that is usually made with wine. This version was a mixture of gin, vodka, manderine napoleon, and lemon and lime juice, over crushed ice with a mint foam. It is now my favorite drink. I’ve tried to have several bartenders in Boston recreate it but no luck so far. I will keep trying. And trying. Until I die of liver failure.

pork two ways
pork two ways

On the left we have a pig’s trotter cracker with mimolette and on the right a pork rind crisp with honeyvinegar. There was so much piggy flavor even in the thin veneer of trotter on the cracker.

marinated sardine, green apple, North Sea crab, sorrel

The Belgians know what to do with fish, and the chef here is no different. Throw some peculiar incarnation of green apple on it and call it a night. Very good.

marinated mackerel, herb pastille

The sorbet-like pastille was a nice contrast with the chewy fish and the crispy chip. At this point we were escorted into the main dining room for the last amuse bouche…

vegetables, herbs and flowers, Keiemtaler cheese

This dish can’t be pulled off unless everything on the plate is the highest quality. Luckily they plucked all this from their garden and the cheese was from a local valley. Light, airy, crusty bread with butter and salted rendered pork fat.

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razor clam, cucumber, seaweed

I love razor clams. They have the texture of squid, very chewy but a much stronger fishy flavor. Many of the dishes at In de Wulf were nothing more than perfectly cooked fresh fish with light and interesting vegetable accompaniments.

egg yolk, chorizo chip, in pork broth
peas, rucola, egg yolk, and broth of lard

This dish was almost perfect. The only problem was the gooey yolk mixing with the broth. The resulting texture was a bit off-putting but it didn’t matter cause it tasted so damn good.

North Sea crab, courgette "Zwartemolen", tagetes

Another great example of an incredibly fresh fish dish with smart complimentary flavors.

Ray, cauliflower, hazelnut butter, capers of elderberry, jus of ray

The fish and the accompaniments began to get richer as the courses passed.

lobster and mashed potatoes
Eastern sheldt lobster, buttermilk mashed potatoes

Hands down the best dish of our vacation. This is the kind of cooking that more fine dining restaurants should start doing. Focus all the energy and creativity and technique into creating dishes with fewer dimensions, each of which blows your effin’ mind. My socks were on fire this was so good.

Eastern sheldt eel, green celery, jus of eel and honeymead

The procession of increasingly rich fish dishes continued with the fatty, oily, eel. This was probably our least favorite dish of the night, but only because we were already kind of eeled out from the Netherlands. The celery cut the fat nicely, though.

sweetbreads
sweetbreads, pickled vegetables

Lamb was originally on the menu but the waiter informed us that the chef was not happy with the quality of the meat delivered that day. Fair enough. We were happy to eat sweetbreads which were perfectly cooked and went well with the pickled vegetables. The only problem here was that pickled vegetables will seriously affect the taste of your wine. To the point where it might be a bad idea to include them in a dish.

pigeon
Pigeon from Steenvorde, red beet, jus of cherries

The Belgian pigeon party continued at In de Wulf – hopefully they’re not getting these suckers off the churches in Brussels. Perfectly cooked and seasoned. This marked the end of the main courses and we (surprise surprise) opted for the cheese before dessert. The cheeses came with an assortment of delightful fruit relishes and jams.

cheese accompaniments
cheese accompaniments

And then began the desserts. Thankfully, all these desserts were of the fruity and refreshing sort. Nothing heavy.

Raspberry, fresh cheese, star anise, chervil, kriek beer

Oddly phallic.

rice pudding, marigold, honey

This picture sucks but there was steam from liquid nitrogen pouring off this dish. It was an interesting take on rice pudding, almost had the consistency of a crumbled rice cake.

Sorrel, lemon balm, mint, green strawberry

The meal ended with some tasty chocolate bites, and then we headed back up to our cozy room to indulge our food comas. I fully expect In de Wulf to start getting more and more attention over the next couple of years and strongly recommend a trip before that happens. If not, the chef will start writing books, only sporadically visit the kitchen and begin marketing a line of frozen lobster and potato dinners. Hurry.