LET’S REWIND TO NOVEMBER 1, 2007, SHALL WE? As mine and my wife’s wedding date was rapidly approaching, I discovered that two friends of ours (Mike and Debbie) had blessed us with a fully paid stay for our honeymoon at the RIVIERA BEACH and SPA RESORT in Capistrano Beach, California for one full week. Once I found this out, I immediately started a web search for Brazilian Churrascarias to dine at (we found Agora Churrascaria in Irvine, ate there twice) and Belgian restaurants / cafes / bistros, most of all. The reason why these two cuisines were so significant for us to dine at on our honeymoon, was because my wife had lived in Brazil for two years and enjoyed the cuisine there, and I enjoy Belgian cuisine.
After doing a search for Belgian restaurants – I found BRUSSELS BISTRO in nearby Laguna Beach. When I visited their website, I was very excited to find that many people had written glowing reviews on it at various foodie websites, and I could not wait to see it in person. I immediately sent an email to Brussels Bistro to let them know of my story, and that my wife and I were going to be newlyweds, and Brussels Bistro was going to be one of our main dining spots while on our honeymoon.
I received a quick response from one of the owners (at the time- more about this later) and he mentioned that he would welcome us personally, and would ensure that my wife and I received VIP treatment while dining there. Both my soon to be wife and I truly looked forward to this experience. I married my beautiful bride on November 10, 2007 (same date as the founding of the Marine Corps- SEMPER FI!) We spent our first few days at a beautiful hotel in Pleasanton, CA called THE ROSE in their honeymoon suite. Our second night (November 11) as a married couple was enjoyed at one of the excellent restaurants on “Restaurant Row” on Main Street in Pleasanton. I remember enjoying Moule en Frite with a St. Bernardus Abt 12…
We flew out of Oakland airport the next day (November 12) to make our journey to our honeymoon suite in Capistrano Beach. Arriving at John Wayne Airport in Orange County, the weather was clear and mild. Traffic on the 405 to I-5 was busy and steady, and we soon arrived at our new (temporary) home for the next 7 days. We decided to keep it very local for our first night at our honeymoon suite. The next day, (November 13) we took in a boat ride on one of Captain Dave’s Dolphin and Whale Watching Safari trips out of Dana Point Harbor. Whale watching being one of my wife’s passions, we had to make it a must see. The day was overcast and a bit cold. Unfortunately, no whales were to be seen, but we did see huge pods of Bottlenose and Pacific White-sided dolphins, and some seals lounging lazily (as they do) on a floating buoy. (Personally, I think the seals are all hung over from drinking too much the night before.) We had lunch at Harbor Grill at Dana Point Harbor… I remember enjoying a Chimay Red with lunch. Later that night, we would head to Irvine to dine at Agora Churrrascaria. Agora was authentic and very good, but in the back of my mind I was chomping at the bit to visit Brussels Bistro the next day…
On the morning of the 14th, we were gently awakened with the sounds of ocean whitewater waves breaking on the shore at the beach just across the road (Pacific Coast Hwy 1). The day was full of blue skies and clear, the temps were mild- not too cold. We decided to spend the day lounging on the sands at the beach which was less than 50 yards from the deck of our honeymoon suite. All the time in the back of my mind, I was eagerly anticipating our upcoming dining experience in Laguna Beach.
OUR FIRST VISIT TO BRUSSELS BISTRO- NOVEMBER 14, 2007
We took the picturesque, beautifully scenic 9.3 mile drive north to Laguna Beach from Capistrano Beach. The sights are full of million-dollar beachside homes, enviable for those like me who live inland, away from the California coast. As you enter the city limits of Laguna Beach, the main street, (S. Coast Hwy) is lined with luxurious hotels, spas, restaurants, shops overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Brussels Bistro is located on 222 Forest Avenue, just off of S. Coast Hwy and across from Main Beach Park. The business neighborhood is full of upscale art galleries, fine retail shops, and of course quaint, delicate bistros. Seeing the sign “BRUSSELS BISTRO” out front at our destination made my heart leap in anticipation!
It was quickly apparent to us that Laguna Beach was (and is to this day) a very happening place at night. This was evidenced by the lack of parking available on the street. We did happen to see a car vacating out of a parking spot very near our destination, as if GOD Himself made the spot available for the special night for my new bride and I. The reason why I was so excited to visit Brussels Bistro was because I had been telling my wife of the sophistication and delicacy of Belgian cuisine!
Brussels Bistro is located downstairs just off the street. The entrance is very European; you feel as if you just walked into a bistro in Brussels. The feel and atmosphere was very authentic. Many people from Belgium had written online reviews that it felt like a café from home. Having never been to Belgium (yet!) my wife and I were given a taste of what “Belgium” must feel like.
The atmosphere was colorful and vibrant, but not too loud. The red brick-lined walls of Brussels Bistro are decorated with Belgian Beer signage, and other memorabilia that is relevant to Belgium. Soft jazz music was playing in the background over the sound system, which instantly told my wife and I that this was going to be a great dining experience. It wasn’t too full of patrons when we arrived, which also made for a great first impression on my wife, since she was taking this opportunity to relax and enjoy. (As the night went on, it did become a bit more crowded with Belgian Beer enthusiasts.)
We were soon greeted by the man I had been in email communication with, Alain Pauwels. Mr. Pauwels was very cordial and accommodating and saved a very special and cozy table for us. As we sat down, he asked if there was anything he could get us. I was in the mood for a Hoegaarden Wit right off the bat, and my wife opted for a glass of St. Channel Chardonnay. The smell of fresh mussels cooking was in the air, and you could hear the chef and his cooks talking in French in the kitchen. This was everything I had hoped for. My wife was pleased, which made me a very happy husband.
Soon after, we were greeted by a dark-haired, clean cut and gregarious waiter named Frank dressed in the classic white shirt, black trousers and white apron ensemble. He assured us that he would take care of us and that our dining experience would be World class. That was a great start. He was very knowledgeable in the offerings from the establishment. He was attentive, friendly, and very professional. His kindness scored big points with us!
We started off the evening with Planche de fromages (Selection of European cheeses) as our appetizer. I remember the cheeses being very delicate and creamy.
As the time to order our main meal arrived, I knew exactly what I wanted, but my wife wanted Frank’s suggestions that would go with her glass of Chardonnay. With the different suggestions Frank made, she chose the Vol au vent de poulet et champignons et son cornet de frites (Creamy chicken and mushrooms in puff pastry, and Belgian frites). My wife remembers that the chicken was extremely tender and succulent. The puff pastry was light, airy, and yet buttery.
I had the Casserole de moules Marinière (Pot of mussels selections cooked in celery, onions and butter served with Belgian frites) paired with a Rochefort 8. The beautiful aroma from the perfectly cooked mussels was intoxicating. The liquor (the broth from the cooked mussels in the pot) was briny, and rich- great for dipping crusty peasant bread into. Both of our servings of Belgian frites were twice fried to perfection.
While enjoying our food, my wife made the precious comment, “So this is what Belgian Cuisine à la bière is all about, eh? I’m very impressed!” I fell in love with her (more than even before) at that moment!
As the evening went on, a wonderful jazz duo took the stage. They played an excellent version of “The Girl form Ipanema” (the picture below was taken at that very moment.) Our night was only getting better and better…
Throughout our entire time enjoying our main dish, our server Frank checked back with us regularly. He did so at a perfect frequency; he wasn’t annoying. His timing and sensitivity was greatly appreciated by us. All the while, I was soaking in the wonderful (and very Belgian) atmosphere. I was very satisfied, joyful, and relaxed; I was almost in a state of ecstasy.
As our dining experience leaned towards dessert, Frank checked in with us, in perfect time. He asked what we wanted, took our order, and then he went away quickly to place the order with the kitchen. We discovered that Frank notified Alain about our dessert choice, and Alain himself presented us with a delicious Gâteau moelleux au chocolat Belge (Belgian Chocolate Lava Cake with Crème Anglaise) which he said was “On the house for the newlyweds”. Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture of that… My wife enjoyed the cake with a Brussels Martini (Chocolatini) while I enjoyed it with a Lindeman’s Framboise. It was pure chocolate decadence and indulgence. Belgians are known for their chocolates, and this dessert was rich and creamy.
As we were preparing to end our fantastic experience at Brussels Bistro, Mr. Pauwels asked if we enjoyed ourselves. We remarked that “It was one of the most enjoyable experiences we ever had.” Everyone was so friendly, accommodating, full of charming European hospitality. I asked Alain if I could take a picture of him and his head chef, Thomas Crijns, to remember our experience at Brussels Bistro:
My wife and I will ALWAYS remember our VIP dining experience at Brussels Bistro that night. We enjoyed it so much, we dined there again a few days later. Unfortunately, we have not been back since 2007. However, the next time we are in the Orange County area, we plan to visit with the same anticipation and excitement. Bien fait, Bruxelles Bistro! Nous avons adoré !!
(NOTE: Mr. Pauwels has since transitioned out from ownership of Brussels bistro (as we were recently told). Brussels Bistro is now in the very capable hands of its head chef, Thomas Crijns.)
OUR REVIEW OF BRUSSELS BISTRO- LAGUNA BEACH, CA
$7.00 – $31.00
6/10 – At the time, it was ok, but has expanded greatly since 2007. It’s now a 8/10.
For the quality of the food as a comparison to the pricing, we are giving it a 10/10. We felt it was of excellent value.
The first night at Brussels Bistro for my wife and I was simply awesome. With a true Belgian “Bon Vivant” attitude, Brussels Bistro is a must visit when you are in the Laguna Beach or Orange County, California area. They always have specials on their appetizers, and entrees that Chef Thomas Crijns offers on a weekly basis. Believe me, your eyes, ears, and taste buds will thank you for it.
FYI- Brussels Bistro is also a nightclub hot spot on Friday and Saturday nights (DJ Night Club) at 10:30 PM serving up European Electro music paired with excellent Belgian beers. (Bottles & Draught)