May 27th, 1940 was a day of impossibly vivid colors at Dunkirk. The cool azure of the sky above contrasting grotesquely with the shock red blood of the soldiers who battled below it. King Leopold III, without the consult of his advisors, his people, or the prime minister of England who had recently come to his aid, surrendered to Hitler. Their king, chosen by god to lead them, threw in the towel in poorer form than the French. Imagine that. Nobody wants to look bad when compared to the French. Belgians have had a chip on their fucking shoulders the approximate size of Luxembourg (another country in Europe that has a bit of small dick syndrome) ever since. June 1st, 2011, the fluorescent lights of liquor stores and discount furniture shops buzzed down on the weather-mottled pavement of Chicago Avenue. The Chicago Gluttons were powerful hungry and, while lacking the blind, ignorant, hatred and historically chilling policy of extermination of an invading nazi horde, we have our own issues with food we are working through. And so, with supreme confidence in our ability to utterly dominate the hapless Belgish, we descended upon Leopold and summarily ordered two of everything on the menu. Now, it should be said that this is not a cutesy limited menu of small plates, but a full-fledged battery of starters, salads, sides and entrees. Two of each. Believe it. Enough jibber jabber…on to the carnage.
First wave was oysters. Oh, yes, invertebrates. What French-ish meal is complete without slimy, salty, bottom feeders swimming in nectar good enough to snort. This nectar just happened to be made from lambic. This fusion of beer and oysters was pretty much the beginning of a taste bud hard-on that lasted for much of the session. I could drink a pint of this mignonette through a straw. Oysters are for closers and they were gone in seconds. Let’s throw down some pretzels and mustard to soak up some of that beer we’ve been guzzling. Next.
Our appetites whetted, we proceeded to lay a nice foundation of vegetables knowing that we were going down the protein hole soon enough. Mixed greens and salad Liegoise. A salad filled with duck ovum and pig strips isn’t really salad anymore, right? Oh, and can I take a moment to call out the carbo nuggets that accompanied each of these “salads.” On one hand, there’s a piece of bread smeared with something akin to the cheese whiz that rich old white dudes with affected accents pass back and forth between limousine windows. On the other, pumpernickel croutons laced with China white heroin. Again, this ceased to be mere bread. This shit had transubstantiated.
Rolling through a couple totally serviceable, but not astonishing, servings of morel and carmelized onion tart and beef tartar (Raw beef, meet raw chicken. A little salmonella to go with your prion disease? Yes, please.), we moved on to pierogis.
Now, my gramma made pierogis, and I have to say, with complete objectivity, my gramma was better at making pierogis than the Belgians. All of them. This was the worst part of the meal for me. I didn’t understand why they included them on the menu. Why not some spaghetti and meatballs or chimichangas? What, no beef chow fun? NO FUCKING TANDOORI CHICKEN? I mean, they were fine, but this restaurant is snuggled up to Ukie Village where you literally trip over superior pierogis in the gutters. Just…just don’t. We’ve reached the part of the meal featuring three of my favorite dishes that also happened to be a deadly serious turning point for my gut.
Ah, yes…two rabbit terrines with rillet. This is a lot of fancy, froggy-sounding word fuckery that basically amounts to bunny loaf accompanied by pig’s loin in sour cherry fat jelly. I’m not kidding. I actually think I liked this dish more than most of my fellow gluttons. Perhaps it was my high-fallutin tastes in food that has essentially been rendered unrecognizable by its own mother through various unholy preparatory means. Perhaps I’ve always hated rabbits and, really, the loaf does seem the most deliciously ignoble treatment of them. I was loving life as I rounded the turn and BAM…ran straight into a hardened artery wall from the next dish.
Smout. It rhymes, appropriately with snout and gout. The only real description this is given on the Leopold menu is “pork butter.” The quotation marks are theirs, not mine. Pork butter? Fuck you, we’ll take two. This was essentially butter, mixed with pork fat, mixed with pig bits. You spread it on bread, or rub it directly on your hilariously expanding stomach. Or use it to seal a leaky water pipe. Whatever. This stuff was a voyage into the absurd. You know all those Youtube videos and hipster blogs where they go all Mountain Dew extreme on food by wrapping it in bacon and pouring Four Loko on it? Mere child’s play next to smout. Smout kills your heart with cold, cold, vengeance.
How do you follow up cankle spread and bunny loaf? Poutine. Now, I always thought poutine was french fries and gravy. Leopold scoffs at tradition and covers its frites with lamb sausage and cheese curds. Let me just paraphrase that again since we ordered two. Fried potatoes smothered in baby sheep gravy and cheese turds. My gods, this was really intense. It was meaty, it was cheesy, it was fried. It was the chili cheese fries satan would use to trick you into selling your soul (dummy). I would eat this off a hobo. A dead hobo. A dead, naked hobo. How about some mussels? How about a wheelbarrow full of mussels covered in “white wine, petite herbs, butter, onion aioli or wittekerke, bratwurst + onions, onion aioli?” Ok. Sure. Invertebrates are like cotton candy, they take up no space in your stomach, right? Great. Next. More french fries served with something called samurai sauce. At this point, if my fries are not covered in lamb gravy, I’m passing. Veal sweetbreads served on roasted morels and white asparagus? Two of those. Langoustines and roasted scallops? Two of those. Arctic char on littleneck clams and bacon (yes, bacon)? Two of those. I’m sweating at this point. Not a little, but a whole bucket of flop sweat like Michael Richards in full stand-up meltdown. The plates are piling up. The food is great, but I’m gassed and we’re not done. I force myself to go on to save face, but from this point on, I’m risking rupture.
How about some smoked rabbit legs with mustard spaetzle. I am assuming this is the remainder of the rabbit that I ate the hell out of earlier. It’s incredible, but I feel like I am dying. How about some more rich meat? How about two servings of this? With a couple sides of grilled asparagus? Great.
Finally, two orders of braised short ribs next to what Leopold refers to as stoemp, but I will call a pile of molded vegetables held together by a young girl’s first love and unicorn dreams. And butter. It’s really good, but all I can think about are the souls of all the rabbits killed to make this meal. This made me smile, which, frankly, is all I am willing to do with my mouth at this point because I am cashed like a one-hitter at a Rainbow Gathering. So here’s what it is. I give up. Gauntlet went down and I waved a French…er…white flag. Luckily, this is why we roll with a posse… You win this time, Leopold, but I’ll be back and I’ll have fasted. At any rate, Belgians everywhere can hold their berets (?) proudly high. For now.