Familiar places – Restaurant Arte, Antwerp

When I came to Europe, I didn’t always like going to the same place twice – restaurants, hotels nor cities. I used to say that Europe is so vast and beautiful and I should be able to visit every place, eat at the best restaurants and stay at the nicest chateaus. But that has changed, the Asian tourist in me had disappeared and I am beginning to value more and more the experiences that are worth repeating. And besides, I am a creature of habit, I do like doing things on a regular basis, for example playing the same song for one straight week. I think it drives my colleagues mad.

Anyway, one of the restaurants I’ve been frequenting in Antwerp lately is Arte. It used to be my alternative for Restaurant Raven, which has now turned into a brasserie. I don’t know what Chef Gert Jan was thinking. I travel to Antwerp regularly, to the ports of Antwerp to be exact and after every inspection, I look forward to eating in a new restaurant. But after a while and especially when you are tired and exhausted from all the work, you just want to walk in to somewhere familiar, where you don’t have to guess which food is delicious or which wine to pair with it.

Arte has always been a safe choice for me. The food is excellent, the Sardinian wine is delicious and the waiters are charming and accomodating. They have beautiful photographs on the wall and I’ve always enjoyed looking at them while waiting for my food. And of course eavesdropping on other diners in nearby tables. The place is small and compact, you can hardly squeeze yourself in between tables and on a Monday night when there aren’t many restaurants open, the vibe gets cozy (or gezellig as we say in Dutch). I always order osso bucco with a generous serving of spaghetti on the side and lots of parmesan cheese. I pair it with a half bottle of 6 Mura Vermentino di Sardegna. I think the wine was what pulled me in to this restaurant. I’ve developed this love for Sardinian wines when I visited the island last year but unfortunately, there is only a handful Italian restaurants that serves them in Belgium. In Holland, forget about getting them at all.

On my last visit there were a couple on the other table who were quite loquaciouos, to say it nicely. The man was speaking (or trying to) Italian but I could tell from his funny accent that he is not Italian. The woman was always answering in rough Dutch. At one point, when they became drunker than they already were, they started speaking in Dutch and they live in Rotterdam as well, of all places. We talked about how expensive and difficult it is to dine out in the Netherlands but after a while, I got tired of his loud voice. They shifted their attention to the Flemish group on the other table and got a one round of wine for free. Meanwhile on the table on my right, the young girl was finally enjoying her pizza and grandfather’s story after being disinterested at first. Although they are speaking in French, I could understand a few words related to the food and Italy. The old man of about 75 years old speaks fluent Italian and French and when he saw how I enjoyed the tiny bars of chocolates that came with the espresso, he gave me his. A very sweet gesture from a stranger.

These are the kind of experiences I am beginning to treasure – vibrant conversations with strangers, random act of kindess and enjoying good food and rare wines. And usually you experience them on places that are familiar like Arte.