Friday, July 26, 2013

Slaughtering the Fat Ox.

Seems like I was working on some kind of list here. I had it scribbled down on a long skinny piece of paper ripped from a reporter's notebook. It was hanging right. there. Now it's gone. I reckon some toddler snatched it down and put it somewhere, a waystation en route to the trash, long gone.

I don't remember the rest of the list. But I do remember this: the Fat Ox.

The Vette Os is a steak restaurant in Veurne, West Flanders. Give me a moment to put my visit there in context.

I was two-and-a-half weeks into a fairly intense Belgian beer café research tour. That means, however fun it was: Lots of beer and lots of coffee and lots of snacks. You can't drink beer in all those places, especially if driving to the four corners. And you can't eat full-on meals in all those places, even if you wanted to. So you end up nibbling. And drinking lighter beers. And coffee. And water.

This was the day of the coastal swing. I took the train from Brussels to Knokke-Heist and then, stopping several places along the way, took the coastal tram all the way down to De Panne. Northeast coast to southwest coast. Lots of vacation, lots of sandy-people-watching, and good cheap fun. (Look for an article about the Belgian coast in an upcoming issue of Draft.)

From De Panne in the evening I jogged in on the train just a bit to reach Veurne. Despite having lived in Belgium for a while, this was my first visit to Veurne, last summer. Every bit as quaint and cobbled as they say. And there was a party on. Hence the photo above. A local fest, and oddly for Veurne and this part of the country, it had nothing to do with penitence. They love penitence down there. They feel really sorry about some old stuff that was not really their fault, and then they party. It works.

I checked in at a B&B-ish hotel called the Old House. Smallish rooms, but they took an old administrative building and somehow made it feel like a stately manor. It was nice. And its bistro, with a top-rate breakfast,* stocked St. Bernardus ales and other goodies. It was just a block or two off the main square.

There were a few cafés on and off the Grote Markt I needed to check out. I wasn't especially excited about eating in any of them. So I asked the B&B owner where to eat. And he sent me to the Vette Os. I'm glad I listened.

Candlelit and cozy, it was full of couples and families and groups of friends. I gathered that I was lucky to get a little table to myself. I don't think they even had beer, probably a token pils if I had asked for one. Meanwhile they also ran a wine shop next door, specializing in bottles from unusual places. I drank a bottle of something with my Irish ribeye. Not a glass, but a bottle, because whatever it was I wanted wasn't available by the glass. I don't remember what it was. I don't remember if I finished it. I didn't take notes. I wasn't working.

I do remember that the ribeye was the best, most flavorful cut of meat I've had in Belgium. Thank you, Ireland. No need for a rich sauce to ladle over it (although I wouldn't have turned it away). There were no mediocre beers I felt the need to try. No little bowls of nuts or crackers or gouda. No espresso watered down to coffee-cup-size. Just a great meal, good wine, and good company (myself).

That was a highlight.

And while I am slightly buzzed and thinking about this, let me say: What a wonderful job I have. It is so wonderful that I am taking a second job, just so I can afford to keep doing it.

It's important to remember those moments as I embark on a different sort of trip tomorrow. The highlights will be different. My better half and our two kids are coming.

My four-year-old son says he wants to come on a brewery tour. He wants to take pictures for me. I am very much inclined to let him. I promise to post the results here. Unless he throws them away.

* In much of Western Europe, "top-rate breakfast" means to an American not just bread and jam and cold ham, but also an egg or two made to order. Bacon is nice, if you can get it.