B Too, Bart Vandaele’s second restaurant, was designed to create a brief escape to Belgium amid the bustling Washington, DC, streets. From the handmade, one-of-a-kind porcelain plates, cow-themed design accents, whimsical artwork, cowhide and leather coverings and mix of natural, earthy materials such as wood and brick, the overall effect is warm and welcoming.
Working with Demian\Wilbur\Architects of Washington, DC and Belgian interior design consultant Natascha Folens, B Too occupies a historic building that was totally refurbished. Wood from the property was salvaged to create the flooring, tabletops, shelving and bars on the upper and lower floors of the nearly 5,000-square-foot, 175-seat restaurant.
“I wanted it to look the way I would do the interior of my home—warm and cozy, with a good feel,” says Vandaele, whose first restaurant, Belga Café, introduced the city to Belgian cuisine a decade ago. I didn’t go too modern or too eclectic because I didn’t want it to be outdated in five years, I want it to last.”
Besides using pots and pans made in Belgium, Vandaele commissioned plates from Belgian ceramicist Tinne Debruijne. The handmade porcelain dishes are used primarily in a private dining room on the lower level.
It’s hard to miss a storage space situated between the upper and lower floors with displays of B Too’s large selection of beers (about 150 by the bottle) and wines (about 100, including a number of Belgian labels).
While the focal point of B Too is an open kitchen with a Spanish-designed Josper oven used for charcoal grilling, the restaurant also comes equipped with a waffle bar.
Waffles, mussels, fries and other typical Belgian comfort foods get a modern update at B Too. “We’ve turned up a notch to show what Belgium style is about, but with a more contemporary style,” Vandaele says. Waffles, for example, are filled with ingredients such as mussels and pesto or blood sausage with caramelized apple.
“Over the years, I’ve pushed hard for the recognition of Belgian cuisine and beer, which are now becoming popular across the U.S. I’ve received a lot of compliments from Belgians visiting D.C. who say they can’t find this level of food back home,” he says.
One less-visible aspect of the design that received special emphasis is acoustics. “People are more and more sensitive to it,” Vandaele says. “We insulated the ceilings upstairs and downstairs with panels, so if you sit at one table, even if you yell, four tables away the guests won’t hear. It helps a lot, especially if you have an open kitchen. We also added more fabric panels on the walls.”
The overall effect is relaxed, befitting the youthful atmosphere on 14th Street. “I wanted to keep it casual and high-end at the same time,” Vandaele says. “The casual part is more in the interior and the service, while the high end is the food, the presentation and the plating.”