Friday, November 19, 2010

Invincible Frites


I work my way northwest from the Central Station to Groenplaats then walk several blocks in search of Restuarant InVINcible to visit Kenny and try some of his food. This is old part of the city and the streets are small but easy to navigate.

Maybe this is indicative of Belgium as a whole but this city seems very cosmopolitan, meaning that people speak all sorts of languages here. Everywhere I go, I'm hearing languages that I'm not familiar with. Supposedly, Belgium is a French-speaking country, but I'm almost certain that I'm hearing and reading a lot of German as well.

Boulangerie Paul

Where one moment, I think it might be appropriate to say "Bounjour", I'm greeted with "Guten tag." Not to mention these other Danish dialects. It's kinda confusing and I'm not sure what to say anymore and revert to the relatively safe "Hello" or the more Continental "Hallo".

The city is confoundingly familiar (the boulangeries) while being unfamiliar (everything else).

Restaurant InVINcible: So close, yet so far.

Finally, I make it to the restaurant. It's about 6pm. The place is empty. I find Kenny. He looks at me quizzically. "Rouki sent me," I tell him. "Are you open?"

What I've not considered is that the Belgians are like the French, the restaurants don't open until 7pm. And what is currently an empty and deserted restaurant will fill with hungry diners in about an hour.

Sometimes I visit restaurants early in the hopes of dropping in, grabbing a quick meal and getting out before their first full seating hits the tables. That way I eat without a reservation, they get another turn (and more cash) and I get to try yet another known restaurant.

Kenny is the current Barista Champion of Belgium and I'm hoping that my name dropping would swing me a place to sit. Feed me for 30 minutes and I'll be out of your way. Maybe I should drop my name and tell him where I'm from? I decide against it. It's really not my style to name drop and push.

It's obvious that Kenny, while being friendly and polite, isn't interested in accommodating me this evening. The book is full and that's that. I respect can respect that and ask for alternative recommendations. He recommends another restaurant his friend owns. Sounds interesting but I really came to meet Kenny and see how a barista envisions a restaurant and since that's not going to happen, I don't care to eat fancy tonight. How about frites?

Inside Frituur No. 1

Kenny tells me the best frites in Antwerp are just around the corner at a place called "number one". Number One? Yes, Number One. Just turn left.

Belgian Frites. I've been wondering what the hoopla is all about as I've heard so many good things about frites here. Back in June, when Ana and I were transferring at Brussels Midi from the EuroStar to the Thalys, I thought about jaunting off to Maison Antoine for a round of frites, but as we had too many bags to lug across the city and I'm relatively sure Ana would be rather upset if I left her at the train station with our bags while I went off to Antoine, I ended up never having tried Belgian Frites. Until now.

Belgian Frites with Mayonnaise. Massive.

Proper Belgian Frites are double fried, tossed with salt, scooped into a paper tub or tube and then topped with the sauce of your choice.

To be honest, I'm not a fries and sauce kind of guy. Give it to me perfectly fried and delicately seasoned with salt and I'm very, very happy. Frituur No. 1 is serious about their frites. The girls work it in huge deep vat fryers. The oil boils angrily and I'm excited. She asks about my choice of sauce. I tell her mayonnaise since it's traditional here. She prepares my order and hands me the tub.

It's insane. The frites are piled high and this thing is massive. It's obviously too much for one person. My doctor said I should lower my Triglycerides - this is not the proper path. I'm aghast. But I was once a Boy Scout and I'm going to giving that old scout try!

I could go no more.

Really, it's too much. One person should not consume one entire order. I can't do it. Maybe once upon a time, I could tear it up but no more. I'm an amateur. The mayo is seriously thick and rich and very unlike any mayo I've had before. Problem is: it's still mayo and I think that's gross. I'm not a mayo on my fries kind of guy. Give it to me plain.

So how was it? Were these the best frites in Antwerp? Maybe. Probably. They were very good. But were they amongst "the best" fries in the world?

The French, the Francophiles and the Belgians are probably going to hate me for this, but I'm starting to think that I just don't like their fries. Yes, they're double-fried but they're not crisp on the outside. They're close but I want a definitive snap. I wonder what temperatures they use for frying here but I've yet to have a frite in Europe that was better than what I can get back in the United States.

There. I've said it. Call me a heretic. But I still think the gold standard in American fries is Les Halles Park Avenue in New York City. I ate there in September and their fries reaffirmed my stance. Better than Le Severo in Paris. Yes, Better. Sorry.

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