The Dish: Belgian Chic

by WL Author

Bart Vandaele recreates his recent James Beard Foundation dinner at his restaurant BToo.

By Kelly A. Magyarics

Chef Bart Vandaele preps food for his recent James Beard House Dinner. Photo courtesy of Kelly Magyarics.

Chef Bart Vandaele preps food for his recent James Beard House Dinner. (Photo by Kelly Magyarics)

The James Beard House is one of those Holy Grail spots for foodies. Chefs at the top of their game from restaurants all over the country are invited to cook for diners and James Beard Foundation members who get an incredibly great deal: a multi-course dinner paired with wines and cocktails cooked by chefs whose cuisine they might not get the chance to experience otherwise. And it all takes place in a brownstone that has the distinction of being North America’s only historic culinary center. All guests at James Beard House dinners walk through the kitchen on their entrance and exit to glean a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the action, and take as many Instagram pics of the chefs prepping dishes as they want to.

The former home of the famed chef, author and television personality was preserved as it was when he lived there (Beard died in 1985) and through the support of his foundation, the property on West 12th Street in New York’s Greenwich Village offers ongoing dinners, special events and culinary education. Fun fact: Apparently, James Beard was an exhibitionist not afraid to take a shower directly across from a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows, and his shower head is still installed in the exposed brick wall.

North Sea Mussel Parfait is the first course of Chef Bart Vandaele's Belgian Chic dinner. Photo courtesy of Kelly Magyarics.

North Sea Mussel Parfait is the first course of Chef Bart Vandaele’s Belgian Chic dinner. (Photo by Kelly Magyarics)

A visit to the James Beard House has been on my bucket list for years. Last month, Bart Vandaele—the chef known for bringing Belgian cuisine to the District when he opened Belga Café in 2004—was invited by the James Beard Foundation to present his cuisine at a six-course dinner paired with Newton Vineyard‘s wines. I was fortunate enough to be there, so I can happily check it off my bucket list, though I can’t wait to return.

I spent some prep time in the kitchen with Vandaele, who explained to me what Belgian Chic cuisine is, and what it isn’t. Sure, the usual suspects like waffles, mussels and frites factor in, but that’s just a small piece of what Belgian chefs are putting out. The fresh, clean water and helpful algae species help to produce a bevy of high-quality fish and seafood; and the region’s lamb, beef and other meat is succulent and flavorful.

“The Nordic area is a top foodie area,” says Vandaele. “There is a connection to the dirt, and everything is locally sourced.”

Last fall, Vandaele joined the Norwegian Seafood Council’s Advisory Panel, and touts the region’s fish industry. The whole-roasted Sterling with halibut is sustainably farm-raised and slaughtered in a non-stressful way. It needs time to coax out its flavors and rich texture after it’s harvested, he admitted. For these dinners, he prepared it with leeks, salsify braised in Saison beer and a watercress sauce.

Whole-roasted Sterling halibut with leeks, Saison-braised salsify and watercress sauce. Photo courtesy of Kelly Magyarics.

Whole-roasted Sterling halibut with leeks, Saison-braised salsify and watercress sauce. (Photo by Kelly Magyarics)

At his second Washington restaurant, BToo, Vandaele has Newton Vineyard wines on the menu, and selected them to pair with his cuisine. Produced in the St. Helena region of Napa Valley, the wines are bottled unfiltered, which contributes freshness and a richer mouth feel to the finished product. I sat down before dinner and tasted through the wines with Newton’s new winemaker Rob Mann, who came to the winery from Cape Mentelle in Western Australia. Because of Australia’s location in the Southern Hemisphere, he worked two harvests the year he started with Newton.

Newton Wines from Napa were paired with Vandaele's cuisine. Photo courtesy of Kelly Magyarics.

Newton Wines from Napa were paired with Vandaele’s cuisine. (Photo by Kelly Magyarics)

Mann’s philosophy is to treat the wines simply and gently, adding “the best wine is the one you do the least to.” The 2012 Newton Unfiltered Chardonnay for the first course of mussels with celery, sea beans and spice crumble gets its body and elegance from aging for 12 to 14 months in French oak, but also boasts a great line of acidity from stirring the less, which keeps it fresh and vibrant.

Newton’s line of wines called The Puzzle is only made in great vintages. The first one was made around 1991,and its aging potential is typically around 20 years. The 2012, served at the Beard House with beef tenderloin with oxtail, puffed potatoes and Trappist ale sauce, has great structure and depth, yet a lushness to it; it also evolved in the glass as we sipped it.

Foie gras-stuffed tubes were squeezed onto broche as part of the appetizer course. Photo courtesy of Kelly Magyarics.

Foie gras-stuffed tubes were squeezed onto broche as part of the appetizer course. (Photo by Kelly Magyarics)

As the second course is being served, hay-smoked lobster with coffee-braised carrots and a “perfume” made from super peaty Ardbeg Scotch, Chef and his staff light hay-filled, cast-iron skillets, ramping up the dish’s aromatics and giving the room the scent of a campfire. Super fun, and chic, indeed.

Vandaele will be recreating this dinner on Wednesday, April 1, at BToo. Be sure to get there in time for the interactive hors d’oeuvres, like the salmon and blackberry yogurt push pops, and individual miniature tube of foie gras to squeeze onto buttery brioche.Tickets are $119 per person including dinner and wine pairings. The full menu is below:

Crab Leg Meunière with Brussels Sprout Stoemp
Foie Gras Cylinders with Goat Butter Brioche
Kelp-Marinated Norwegian Salmon with Blackberry–Yogurt Push Pops

North Sea Mussel Parfait with Green Celery,
Sea Beans, and Speculoos Spice Crumble

Hay-Smoked Lobster with Coffee-Braised Carrots,
Ardbeg Whiskey Perfume, and Black Garlic

Whole-Roasted Sterling White Halibut with Leeks,
Saison Beer–Braised Salsify, and Watercress Sauce

Beef Tenderloin with Oxtail, Puffed Potatoes, Smoked Mayonnaise, Grilled Onions, Pickled Mushrooms, and Trappist Rochefort 10 Ale Sauce

Meyer Lemon Pie Waffle with Cilantro Crystals and Yuzu Crème Brûlée

Hay-smoked lobster with coffee-braised carrots was a menu standout. Photo courtesy of Kelly Magyarics.

Hay-smoked lobster with coffee-braised carrots was a menu standout. (Photo by Kelly Magyarics)

Kelly Magyarics, DWS, is a wine, spirits and lifestyle writer in the Washington, D.C. area. She can be reached through her website,, or on Twitter or Instagram @kmagyarics.

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