Brussels, home to many charming and beautiful attractions, with ornate buildings and many trendy bars and restaurants. It was here where I had my first accidental encounter with “Steak Americain.”
I was having lunch with a hostel mate, Jose from Peru, at a posh restaurant in Central Brussels. We picked this place because it looked busy and popular thought it must be right. I was sitting there looking at the menu when at the corner of my eye, I noticed, a very appetizing plate somebody had ordered. It’s a big flank steak grilled to perfection with roasted veggies on the side; it whetted my appetite.
I glanced at the non-English menu trying to make out what I can and saw “Steak Americain.” Jackpot! That’s gotta be it, sounds yummy! Jose nods at me in agreement, and we’re both excited at the thought of biting on that juicy and savory steak. The waiter came along; we asked if the “Steak Americain” was good. He smiles with an enthusiastic nod and says, “It’s our specialty, and it’s the best in Brussels!” Well, all right then, that settles that. Two, please! Between conversations and glasses of wine, our orders came. And it looked nothing like the big flank steak I saw at the other table grilled to perfection.
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Raw is good, right?
What we had here were two fistfuls of raw ground beef with a midget pickle on top and heap of potatoes on the side. Jose looked at me with this strange big-eyed and flabbergasted look on his face; I looked at him the same, then we looked at the waiter as if to say: What the hell did we order? This is the “Steak Americain?” I reiterated the statement to the waiter to which he replied, “Yes, yes, the best in Brussels, our specialty. Bon appétit.” He then wanders off to tend to other patrons.
Jose was examining the mounds of ground meat, poking at it with his fork as if expecting a response in return. I joined him in unison and at one point thought I heard a faint “Mooooo” echoing from the murdered cow and fading into the busy clatter of the far distant street. All right, no sense in fighting it, we’re in beautiful Brussels beautiful ambiance, beautiful view, let’s eat!
I took a big chunk of the pink stuff with my fork and shoved it in my mouth, and it tasted…well, as you’d expect, what raw ground hamburger patty would taste like…bland, with a strange strident aroma of an exposed wound, and a finish with hints of awful…At first bite, it hits you like a hurricane makes you want to upchuck. It’s robust in its chewiness with a taste and texture just like the way it looks in the picture, you can imagine. And for a split second, I even considered throwing the other fistful in some woman’s purse. The thought crossed my mind only because I was chewing some disgusting monstrosity and the look from Jose’s face mirrored my deliberation.
An adventurous palate
I’ve eaten fried grasshoppers, bamboo larvae, duck heads, grilled squirrels, etc., but nothing prepared me for this incorrigible blandness. Couldn’t they have added something to make it not have the fleshy chewy texture? C’mon, how about a quail egg like I’ve seen other steak tartare? Why is this not the “Steak Americain” flank medium-well savory goodness I expected it to be?
These thoughts were rushing through my brain as I forced yet another bite of the dish. I cleared everything else around it; the potatoes were gone, pickles were gone, heck I even ate the leaf garnish that was only there for decoration. Having cleared half a fistful, I was ready to give up, and Jose had already raised the white flag, cowering to whatever corner of the table he can hide over. But not me, I would not let this raw behemoth beat me, I wanted to conquer it. I grabbed a bottle of Worcestershire steak sauce and doused the living daylights out of it. The sauce hurt and only made it more unbearable and unappetizing.
I heard a burst of laughter that came from a Dutch sitting next to our table. He had been watching all these events unfold. He got up, walks towards our table, still giggling and laughing, smiles and looks at me and says: “That’s the best meat in Belgium. It’s our specialty!”