In De Wulf

There’s no such thing as trying to eat. One eats or one doesn’t. And half-hearted promises are as loathsome as air kisses and limp handshakes. So when I told a guy named Kobe that I would come to a town called Dranouter, I meant it. Now I’m In De Wulf.

This place is in de middle of nowhere, so we’ll stay the night in the guest rooms upstairs. But this afternoon, ambassadors from France, Spain, China and the US convene in the lounge — a UN of restaurant junkies. Friends old and new have just eaten lunch, while my buddy Jose and I await dinner. 3,600 miles from my house, I am at home.

Tea time turns to tee time, and we are back by the fireplace. I feel like a Lay-Z-Boy in this lounge chair, where my poor posture is rewarded with a wealth of snacks and a flute of champagne. Some are crispy, some are pickled, many are both. Call me plebeian, but the pork rinds (topped with gossamer lardo slivers) and nachos (well, beet chips with yogurt) please me most.

We move through the kitchen to our table to find a plate of rocks. Among them hide crispy shells of burned bread, stuffed with a pungent local cheese called Maroilles. Snails from the French-Belgian border town of Comines have traveled 25 minutes here to meet a garlicky aioli, possibly longer if they’ve walked. With crispy shrimp heads we do a line of vinegar powder.

Up to this point in the meal, our fingers have been our only forks.

The water is only 40km from Dranouter. So it’s no surprise when mackerel, seppia and oysters wash up on our plates like successive waves on the shore. The latter, wedded with whey and sauerkraut, show how just three ingredients can reveal a thousand nuances. Briny, tangy, tart, crispy, creamy, and rich — it is all of the above. But I’ve squandered it, greedily, in one bite.

Ingredients at In De Wulf repeatedly take the stage one by one, and each has time to speak. Roasted leeks get dressed in the mirror, with fermented leek juice and an oil made verdant with their tops. A stagiaire comes by with a couple of sunchokes that the poor bastard has been basting with butter for 5 hours. The inside is like custard; the outside, candy.

Kobe turns up table-side and breaks open a dinosaur egg-sized orb of salt to reveal a knobby celery root baked inside. It’s served in a warm, silky foam of the same, and a slab of celeriac “cheese” on the side whose production sounds so labor-intensive that I zone out during the tutorial.

A masterful wine pairing has me feeling rather toasted toasty. It’s mostly vin naturel: oxidative funk when it is called for, elegance and brightness when it’s not. Far from the “drinking vinegars” of which a chef friend of mine disparagingly tried to warn me earlier this week. Vive la différence of opinion.

Kobe Desramaults and I crossed paths twice in 2011, first in Belgium and later in New York. For two years I have thought about these flavors. Now, of tonight’s proteins and pastries I could opine at length. But doing so would undermine what I believe to Kobe’s greatest skills: those of an editor.

Tonight’s was a meal with no commas. Staccato sixteenth notes that form a song. One that is personal. Persistent. Powerful. Its verses are clear. But its melody changes as soon as you’ve memorized it. It is one that makes you listen. Kobe is one to watch.

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5 Responses to In De Wulf

  1. aaron says:

    menu 16 december 2012

    Crispy onion
    Pork cracker
    Swiss chard
    Fermented carrot, yarrow
    Kohlrabi, ground ivy
    Beetroot, yoghurt
    Burned bread, maroilles
    Snails of Comines
    Shrimp heads, vinegar powder
    Grey shrimp, fermented rhubarb
    Mackerel, nasturtium, green radish
    Black radish, North Sea seppia, buttermilk, chickweed
    Ostend oyster, whey sauce, sauerkraut
    Roasted leek, fermented leek juice
    Scallop of Dunkerque, algae of Audresselles
    North Sea crab
    Seabass, mustard, broccoli
    Celeriac cooked in salt crust
    Hare, smoked beet, red onion, blood pudding, verbena
    Hay-aged wild duck
    Jerusalem artichoke
    Butte des Dunes, rosehip
    Malt, Pannepotbeer, quince
    Yogurt, seabuckthorn, carrot
    Speculoos, hay
    Apple, rosemary

  2. aaron says:

    wine menu 16 december 2012

    R. Laurent NV Non Dosé champagne
    Noëlla Morantin 2011 Chez Charles
    E. Thiebaud 2010 Guille-Bouton
    Christian Venier 2010 Cheverny
    La Fontude 2010 Jour de Fête
    J. Meyer 2010 Grittermatte
    Angiolino Mauro 2010 Sassaia
    Cuvée de Ranke
    Clos Fantine 2010 Faugères
    Bodega y Viñedos Ponce 2010 P.F.
    A Binner 2008 Hinterberg
    Julien Frémont Cidre Argile
    Alice Beaufort Le Petit Beaufort
    Vieux Grenache

  3. Nancy says:

    My favorite restaurant! We’ve been there three times and are due to return this summer. Kobe’s cooking has evolved so brilliantly over the years — every time it’s even more fabulous.

  4. Rick says:

    Been there twice, both times a fantastic experience. Marvellous wine/food pairings too, and love the environment too.

  5. Grumeau says:

    Thanks for the good adress, we had never heard about it ! I’m dying to taste the fermented leek juice, sounds really interesting.

    xx Le Grumeau

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