One of the things about a life not lived by the clock is that meal time isn’t always “meal time”, if you understand. Nor is it always the meal one expects to have at that time of the day, whatever the time of day may be.
For example, today we decided to have breakfast out, but after a very late rise, and what with showering and playing with the grey cat and reading a little bit, it was after 2pm before we went out for breakfast. And as we’re getting in the car, we’re still debating in which direction to go once we got out of the driveway. We went in the direction of the bank, a gas station and an accessories store, which is how we wound up in Elmwood Village, and at the Blue Monk, 727 Elmwood Avenue, Buffalo.
If I had known I was going to have such a great food experience, I would have been sure to have my camera with me. I know, I know. I should always have it with me, but I’ve been having problems with the battery re-charging and sometimes I just forget to do things (see earlier post on being middle-aged). So you’re just going to have to close your eyes (well, that’ll be a trick while you’re reading, won’t it??) and imagine how fun the restaurant was, and scrumptious to look at was my meal.
This restaurant was Jeff’s choice – because it has a reputation for having a great beer selection. And, boy, did it! Honestly, I’m not sure exactly how many beers they have available, but it looked like about 30 on tap (most of them European, but not all) and about 40 more in bottles. The wine cellar, while much smaller, was excellent, so both of us had superior beverages to enjoy. And then came time to peruse the menu. At which point I started smiling and could not stop.
The food is very Belgian-oriented, which makes sense because according to our perfectly friendly and very knowledgeable waiter, Meredith, the owner has been to Belgium a zillion times. I enjoyed a rather extended, family-oriented stay in Belgium for a very brief period a very long time ago, and loved the experience, not least because of the food. I ate “moules” – mussels, pretty much the national dish of Belgium – a lot, and never the same way twice. To this day, if I’m hungry for something that is both light and filling, and with just a hint of garlic or other lovely spicey-herbiness, I will go for mussels first.
While The Blue Monk currently has six different preparations for mussels on their menu – and they all read so delicious! – I chose to have one of the daily specials, Seafood Waterzooi. This is sort of a soupy-stew made with potatoes, carrots, onions and tomatoes in a broth and to which some milk or cream is added. Then the seafood is added to finish cooking and it’s served. When I was in Belgium, Maman made Waterzooi with pork (which was meltingly tender to eat) and which broth she thickened with a bit of potato flour at the end so it was less soupy. And I also enjoyed Waterzooi with chicken at one of the tiny country restaurants to which my friends and family took me. This version I have to say was one of the best chicken dishes I ever ate although I think I preferred Maman’s way of thickening the broth just a bit.
The broth for my beautifully delicious seafood Waterzooi was not thickened at all, which I think is a good thing. Like cioppino or bouillabaise, the broth in a seafood stew is integral to the meal, not just something the “good stuff” cooks in. And this broth was obviously homemade from all the bits and pieces of shellfish and fish no one wants to think about – so good, I would happily go back and just drink a cup of the broth with a crusty roll and be happy for the day.
This “breakfast” of mine, however, is going to leave me happy all week thinking about it, re-tasting every morsel every time I get hungry (a most unlikely thing, as I think I’m still full from 12 hours ago!). The casserole in which the Waterzooi came was filled to the rim in an artful presentation of grilled shrimp, grilled scallops, mussels, clams, calamari rings, baby squid, and a piece of lightly spiced and grilled salmon.
Full disclosure – I am not a clam fan. One or two in a lobster boil dinner, dipped in lemon butter and swallowed quickly are fine, but the big clams you get in Buffalo (I know. Buffalo is huge for clams with absolutely no reason, but they love ’em, and they love ’em big) are not my cup of tea. Jeff took those on for me. And I shared shrimp with him because he’s cute and he picked out this great restaurant. But the all the seafood was perfectly cooked – do you have any idea how easy it is to overcook shrimp and scallop? It’s really, really easy and so sad when it happens – and it was all so flavourful each on its own. Combining a bit of salmon with a wedge of scallop and a spoon of broth… Oh, my dear. Mere words would take me over the top in explaining how delicious this Waterzooi was. So here would also be a good place to close your eyes and think of the best thing you’ve ever tasted… and that was this.
Jeff had a Duck Confit Reuben (he shared a bite with me) and we both think it was delicious, but might have benefitted from having the cabbage & duck mixed up a bit before being put into the sandwich. With the sandwich came duck frites – handcut potatoes fried in duck fat. Sounds decadent, doesn’t it? Mostly, it’s just a great way to put a bit of flavour and crispiness on frites. And, just as frites are in Belgium, it was served with a dipping side of mayonnaise not ketchup. But it’s not just mayonnaise – it’s homemade and, in Jeff’s choice, mixed with roasted garlic and capers (although there are several other choices, including some fun ketchups).
Since we’ve been hanging around here, we’ve tried a lot of different restaurants and so far, all of them have been good to really good. And our neighbourhood Chinese place (Taste Good – try the sesame chicken!) has been a takeaway source for dinner about four times. But this one, The Blue Monk, is the first one I’m plotting to go back to. Maybe for the Duck Poutine… Or one of mussel dishes… Or maybe those Chocolate Stout braised lamb ribs…
Maybe I need to plot more than one return visit…