07 January 2007

Earth Shake: Restaurant met wereldkeuken

One of my favorite things to do is eat out. And since Z shares my love of dining out, the two of us have been going to restaurants more than we normally might. (The fact that I have a kitchen the size of a cupboard certainly plays into this.) Z is a complete vegetarian, and so most of our gourmet experiences have necessarily included ethnic cuisine. So far, over the course of his three-week visit, we have eaten:
  • Pizza in Antwerp and Leuven
  • Thai food in Brussels

  • African cuisine in Leuven

  • Mediterranean cuisine in Aachen, Germany

  • Thai food in Bruges

  • Curry in London

Nearly every dining experience has been a "hit." As I've said before, eating out in Europe (and especially in Belgium) is always a treat: the atmosphere is cozy, the service often slow but always pressure-free, and the food delicious and well-presented. A typical meal might include an aperitif, a first course, a 1/2 litre of house wine (generally a French red, white, or rose), an entree, dessert, and coffee. It is an all-night affair.

Last Friday evening Z and I shared a truly special dining experience at one of Leuven's newest restaurants, Earth Shake. A friend had recommended the place, saying "the service is friendly and the portions are large" both of which are sometimes hard to come by in Belgium. As it's name implies, Earth Shake specializes in world cuisine with an emphasis on Spanish tapas and Eastern stir-fries. The menu had a wide range of vegetarian items, including dishes that included tofu and even "quorn." The place looked pleasantly packed with happy diners, too, and we were lucky to snag the last table-for-two.

The meal was exceptional. We began with some house wine, an Australian (not French!) shiraz from Riddle Creek wineries. It was a wonderfully spicy wine, finer by far than any other house I had ever tasted. (I have since tried to find Riddle Creek on the web but can't seem to track it down . . .) Since we were meeting friends later in the evening, we skipped the first course and went straight for the main meal. Our entrees were flavorful and abundant as promised. Z had a spicy noodle stir fry with vegetables, and I had a ratatouille-stuffed zucchini with patatas bravas. The food was so overwhelmingly wonderful that we almost couldn't hold together two sentences of our conversation without interjecting mmmmmm's and aaaaahhhh's. Without a second thought we phoned our friends to let them we would be late and ordered two desserts and coffee. Fried bananas in chocolate sauce and rum-poached pears with a cinnamon sauce in vanilla ice cream . . . mmmmmm. I don't mean to exaggerate, but we couldn't remember the last time we had enjoyed such a wonderful meal. It was so good, in fact, that we have decided to return tonight for our last evening before Z returns to the states.

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