Quiche pretty much always starts the same way: cream or milk, eggs, maybe cheese or some other filling, and a crust. But somehow, in the hands of Monika Simon, the classic dense custard is transformed—it becomes taller, lighter, the top is a beautiful burnished color…it seems European. Or more specifically, Belgian.
Simon, a self-taught cook, grew up overseas, with an American mother and a Belgian father. When she and her husband, Alexandre Simon, a Belgian native whose family was in the restaurant business, moved to the North Shore a few years back, they dreamed of opening a restaurant that reflects the way Belgians like to eat at home—fresh and light, with a strong emphasis on the highest-quality ingredients.
At their new restaurant, Tartine Kitchen & Eatery in Beverly, the menu is full of familiar ingredients given a decidedly Continental twist. Take the tartine, the Belgian open-faced sandwich for which the restaurant is named. The dish starts with sourdough bread from A&J King Artisan Bakers in Salem, sliced almost impossibly thin, which is then lightly toasted and topped with a variety of options—everything from ham and cheese to tiny Belgian North Sea grey shrimp.
For each dish, every ingredient has been carefully and thoughtfully chosen; the couple tasted a lot of smoked salmon before settling on the light, fresh, not too salty version topping their Tartine Saumon Fume—a nicely balanced combination of fine herb spread, garlic, and dill, served with a generous side salad. That smoked salmon also plays a starring role in one of the restaurant’s aforementioned quiches; the delicate fish mingles nicely with subtle leeks, baked in an egg mixture that is tall and light and addictive.
The space is as bright and airy as the food; almost every surface is the same restful shade of ivory, and large transom windows let in the sunlight. Residents familiar with the former Ariston Pizza space will hardly believe the transformation.
As part of the comfortable, casual vibe, patrons place their orders at the counter and then take a seat. Whether they order a full meal or just a cup of coffee, a server will bring it to the table.
Coffee is a main attraction. Alexandre leaned on some relationships from his family’s restaurant business in Belgium to get Illy, the storied Italian brand, into Tartine—the company has a waiting list for its carefully chosen and roasted beans. To treat those beans right, the couple invested in a Nuova Simonelli espresso machine, the gold standard of brewing. Alexandre is passionate about coffee and getting it just right, and will gladly chat with connoisseurs about how something as subtle as tamping down the ground espresso affects the finished product.
Alexandre’s connections also came in handy for stocking the restaurant’s selection of Belgian beer. His father knew the Duvel family, the famed Belgian brewers, so of course Duvel, with its reasonably small stateside distribution, will be on the list at Tartine, as well as a selection of other local and Belgian brews and wines by the glass.
While Tartine does not have a fryer and won’t be offering that most classic of Belgian dishes, moules-frites, the country’s other best-known foods will be well represented, especially when it comes to desserts. Tartine’s Gaufres de Liège—waffles made of dough imported from Belgium and cooked to order on an imported waffle iron—are not just for breakfast, but are intended to be consumed the way they are in Belgium, like a cookie or other afternoon snack. Flavorful, slightly fruity Belgian Callebaut chocolate features in the light, delicious Mousse au Chocolat Belge, and the Tiramisu Speculoos, in a twist on the Italian classic, features a popular Belgian spice cookie crumble in place of the traditional ladyfingers. Gluten-restricted chocoholics will love the flourless chocolate cake, enlightened with almond flour.
The restaurant will be open all day, from morning coffee through evening wine and cheese, but rest assured, any time is the perfect time for Belgian chocolate. Every coffee drink will be served with a few delectable squares of imported goodness. Savor them on their own, or do as they do across the pond, and drop the chocolate into your coffee for a savory delicious European-style treat.
Monika and Alexandre Simon
Tartine Saumon Fume
Saumon Fume/Poireaux Quiche
Gaufres de Liège (Belgian Waffles)
Mousse au Chocolat Belge
Flourless Chocolate Cake
Tartine Kitchen & Eatery
192 Cabot St., Beverly