UPDATE: De Karmeliet, sadly, is now closed after the owners decided it was time to scale back.
De Karmeliet (the Carmelite) has held three Michelin stars since 1996, longer than either of its Belgian competitors Hof Van Cleve (2005) and Hertog Jan (2011). Set in historic downtown Bruges, De Karmeliet lacks some of the gorgeous views of either its three-star compatriots, but sports a grand and gorgeous facade and dining rooms in high European style.
PRICE PAID: $160 PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)
FINAL SCORE: 7.5/10
Geert van Hecke established the original De Karmeliet in Bruges with his wife Mireille in 1983, and they've been refining their style ever since. They won their first star in 1985, their second in '89, and finally the third in 1996. Geert himself has had some pretty world-class training at places like La Villa Loraine in Brussels (3-star at the time), and was taught by Alain Chapel alongside other current big-wigs like Alain Ducasse and Michel Roux.
The interior spaces are open and airy, and have big, strong lighting statements in warm tones. The modern chandelier is a nice offset to the drawing-room style of the rest of the interior. In the main dining room, gorgeous original oil paintings adorn the walls, and tables are politely set apart. Interestingly, only a handful were occupied on a Saturday lunch, and the place was empty when I arrived at 12:30PM.
An awesome basket of chips, made from local starches with shaved gouda cheese, to kick things off. A delicious salty welcome snack. 9/10.
The first course was a lovely medley of small bites- going from left to right, spiced almonds, then a cake of black olives with tapenade of anchovy and cherry tomatoes. Perfect texture playoff between the crunchy almonds and the cake. 9/10.
Next, a curry-based dippin' sauce with fried balls of seafood- mussels, vegetables, you name it. A really interesting dish, not terribly healthy, but delicious all the same. 9/10- this was the high point of the meal for me.
Meanwhile in the third bowl, a delicious crunchy chip that reveals a collection of tiny shrimps and greens. The shrimps are just okay in texture and flavor; they're well-cooked but they've been in the fridge a day too long. 7/10.
Anybody who follows my travels knows that I'm a huge sucker for good bread and butter. This place did not set any world records for me.
The next course was at least beautifully presented- roasted French scallops with a black truffle vinaigrette. The truffle is from the famous French market in Richerenches, I am told. In the middle is a remoulade of celeriac (a vegetable that looks a bit like an alien), and mousse of chestnut with almonds, speaking to the previous course. 7/10- well cooked and just fine, but Nothing Terribly Special.
Langoustines with mushroom, goose liver, and eggplant chunks. The pairing with liver is too rich, but the eggplant is perfect. 8/10
The last main course was baked pheasant inside green cabbage with roasted red apple in the middle. Mushrooms, cream of butternut, carmelized red apple flavors, and Brussel sprouts. Cream of celeriac as well, to pair up with the ideas from two courses ago.
On the side, fin de champagne sauce. Beneath the surface, the bones from the legs of the pheasant with goose liver. Delicious. 8/10.
A shaved apple, presented with light caramel sauce, a handful of delicately-placed greens, and candied fruits. Delightful and refreshing, 8/10.
Chocolate from Guatemala, zest of orange, ice cream of orange, vanilla of Tahiti. A handful of tasty, small desserts followed.
Passion fruit-flavored mushrooms, a chocolate-dusted orange peel, and cups of hot chocolate. 7/10 overall.
A few final bites on the way out- nothing 0utstanding, but a pleasant finish to the meal. 8/10.