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A Portrait of the Food Critic as a Young Man

You dont have to be English to appreciate Brussels Bistro, but it helps

I grew up thinking that everybody ate this way. I looked upon fat people with awe. They were like sword swallowers. How could they make it through so much pie? Insulated from restaurants and bereft of friends, I believed I was a picky eater, discovering the truth only gradually, even now. Life for me is like life for a cancer survivor: each day a gift, they say. I wake up wondering, "What food have I always hated that today will reveal itself as delicious?"

This week, it was crepes at Brussels Bistro in Laguna Beach. I started with a beer, because the Belgians know even more about brewing than they do about African colonization. Their best beers are those produced in monasteries. They're as thick as Aunt Jemima, dark and sweet, diabetes in a bottle, and the Bistro offers a fabulous selection. My wife would have gone for the extensive wine list, but she was already three martinis into a long evening.

The restaurant is in a well-lit basement on Forest Avenue, once the home of David Wilhelm's Southwestern café, Kachina. It looks like a European café small tables in primary colors packed close together, a jazz singer who seems to speak each line as if she's asking a question, a bar and well-dressed servers. The food is astonishing, a revelation, artistry. I had the crepes with Gruyére, ham and scallions. My wife ordered a stew with chuck so tender it reminded me again why we humans, some of us, eat meat. The Belgians are big on fries, so please order the pommes frites; when I say they'll remind you of burger joints near the beach, you'll understand that I mean that as high praise.

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Brussels Bistro

222 Forest Ave.
Laguna Beach, CA 92651

Category: Music Venues

Region: Laguna Beach

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Brussels Bistro is the kind of place where you can linger, talk with the people at the next table, and then find yourself already gorged ordering dessert. We picked the sugar tart, a thin apple pie floating on a creamy sauce of indeterminate origin someplace sweet, clever and wonderful, maybe the witch's house in "Hansel and Gretel" and a chocolate soufflé that took 15 minutes to prepare. We waited gladly, chatting up the German architect next to us. He remarked over his pot of mussels that Brussels Bistro is topflight, even by the rigorous standards of European dining. I told him he had no idea, that you must perhaps experience a little bit of hell in order to truly appreciate heaven.?

BRUSSELS BISTRO, 222 FOREST AVE., LAGUNA BEACH, (949) 376-7955; WWW.BRUSSELSBISTRO.COM. CLOSED MON. CALL FOR HOURS. DINNER FOR TWO, $30-$50, EXCLUDING DRINKS.

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