Starting out as a Belgian beer specialty bar in 1988, Bois Cereste preceded the interest in craft beer that began around 1995. By then, Bois Cereste (owner Masaharu Yamada insists on the "r" spelling) had expanded into the adjoining space, where a Belgian restaurant was created under the sure hand of Swiss-trained chef Kazuhito Tsuchiya.
Yamada himself was no stranger to Europe, having worked in Brussels for four years as a jazz pianist. He returned to Japan with a strong interest in Belgian ales which are considered by craft beer enthusiasts to be the world's best. It is no exaggeration to say that more styles of beer are brewed in that Kyushu-sized country than in the rest of the world combined, and Bois Cereste boasts Japan's largest assortment of Belgian beers at 140 kinds and counting. So unlike the mass-produced, fizzy yellow beer that most people are familiar with, Belgian beers should be savored slowly, rewarding the drinker with remarkably complex flavors and textures. After the first sip, many newcomers invariably ask, "Is this beer?"
Just as tasty and surprising is the cuisine of Belgium, and Bois Cereste serves it up nicely, albeit in portions more appropriate to Tokyo. Waterzooi is a creamy stew of chicken on the bone, carrots, potatoes, and mushrooms. The mussels steamed in Lambic-style beer are light, yet richly flavored with the beer's tart yeasty flavors and a pleasant touch of bitterness from aged hops. Endive salad is based around Belgium's most famous vegetable (which is specially imported for this dish), while the warm, crispy hand-made Gauffre (savory waffle) with your choice of salmon or proscuitto is an unpretentious appetizer served with very thin slices of daikon.
Whatever you do, don't forget the frites. So-called "French Fries" were actually invented in Belgium, and the traditional method of cooking calls for frying the potatoes at a lower temperature for a few moments, then again at a higher temperature to achieve their ultimate crispiness. The Belgians eat them with mayonnaise, and at Bois Cereste you should too.
Have Yamada-san be your beer sommelier, and ask him for recommendations to go with your food. While some Belgian beers are only about 5% alcohol, the same as conventional mass-produced beer, be warned that most are stronger averaging between 7% and 9% with a few pushing 12%. Sip slowly, please. A few of my favorites are the fragrant, refreshing Hoegaarden White served on tap, the rich Westmalle Tripel, the tangy and herbal Leffe Radieuse, and the heady Bush 12% which unfolds on the palate like a fine brandy or sherry.
Please note that there is an extra 500-yen charge for seating in the bar, where you will be better able to enjoy Yamada-san's piano playing later in the evening.
by Bryan Harrell
This book will introduce you to more than twenty of Japan's favorite specialty foods that are less well known abroad, along with a guide to the best places in Tokyo to try them and expert tips on what to order. From Bento.com.