Until he reviewed the history of the dish, Bart Vandaele used to think chicken and waffles was merely an American soul-food riff on the Belgian tradition of pairing squares of crispy batter with all manner of meats and sweets. So you'll have to excuse the Belga Cafe chef if he doesn't exactly see the waffle dishes planned for his forthcoming B Too as creative riffs on the C&W craze.
"I'm not jumping on the bandwagon," says Vandaele, not the least bit defensive. "I've been doing what I've been doing for a long time."
And yet when B Too opens its doors later this month, the 14th Street NW restaurant will feature a waffle bar with such creations as a boudin noir waffle and a waffle with mussels, celery and a green herb sauce. "I thought it would be the ultimate Belgian dish," Vandaele says of the latter combination.
B Too, as Vandaele points out, will not be a carbon copy of Belga Cafe, his reliable Capitol Hill outpost for Belgian beer and cooking. He's calling the Logan Circle spot a "contemporary Belgian restaurant," which means a number of different things to the contestant on the recent season of "Top Chef."
The most obvious modern touch is B Too's menu, which is divided into sections such as Out of the Fridge (salads, terrines), Into the Oven (dishes prepared in the Josper oven, a charcoal-fueled machine that Vandaele compares to a Big Green Egg), the Best of Belgium (read: mussels and more mussels), B Too for 2 (entrees such as whole pheasant and braised rabbit, large enough to share) and Curbside Cuisine (small bites, from frites to a duck confit "bitterballen," which can be brought at a walk-up window).
But the "contemporary" descriptor also has its roots in historic Belgian cuisine, Vandaele says. The chef has been poring over old magazines and cookbooks from his late father, who was a chef back in Belgium before he passed away about nine years ago. Vandaele and B Too chef de cuisine, Thijs Clinckemaillie, have reworked some of the vintage recipes, such as frog legs in a rich cream sauce.
B Too's reinterpretation calls for deboned frog legs lightly fried in panko with tarragon jelly and a light tomato sauce. "There's almost no cream involved," Vandaele notes.
Vandaele is also drawing inspiration from Michelin-starred chef Piet Huysentruyt, with whom the D.C. chef worked some two decades ago in Belgium. Huysentruyt, known for his unusual flavor combinations, will exert his influence on B Too's dessert menu, among other aspects. Vandaele plans to serve a panna cotta of coffee and chicory paired with an endive mousse, not to mention macerated strawberries with a porcini mousse.
Belgian beer, of course, will play a significant role in the bi-level B Too. The bottled options will surpass 150 labels, while 12 beers will be available on draft, rotating seasonally. Vandaele is also working with Brewery Van Honsebrouck, the makers of Kasteel, to develop his own unfiltered pilsner. "It's still in progress," the chef says.
B Too, 1324 14th St. NW, 202-627-2800. Opening later this month.