Happy Birthday, Belga Café: DC Chef Bart Vandaele on 8 Years, Top Chef + B Too

With a father who was a chef, Bart Vandaele literally grew up in the kitchen and chose his profession at the tender age of 12!

This past summer, while preparing for a series of eight-year anniversary festivities for Belga Café, Washington D.C.’s first Belgian restaurant, planning the opening of a second restaurant, B Too, and acting as national brand ambassador for Stella Artois, Hoegaarden, and Leffe, Chef Bart Vandaele quietly slipped away for several weeks to compete on Top Chef Seattle, which premieres November 7, 2012, on Bravo.

Why take on this challenge in the midst of one of the busiest times in his life? Vandaele reflects, “It comes at the best and the worst time in my life. Everything in life goes like this. It cannot be better — and worse — at the same time.” Why television and why now? “It’s the next level, the next step, an honor. Plus, I am the first Belgian chef to be on!” He was able to pull off his disappearing act during this hectic time only with the help of those around him. “You prepare and hope that every team member that has been with you does their job. And they did! I have good people around me. My chef and sous chef have been with me for seven and a half years. I have cleaning and prep staff that have been with me from day one.”

Returning from filming, Vandaele hasn’t missed a beat. In fact, he may have added one. Even though he and his staff celebrate each of Belga Café‘s milestones, this year’s festivities are particularly, well, festive. “It’s a big year for me, so why not celebrate? I’m very proud of it!” A pioneer of sorts, not just in serving Belgian cuisine, but also in opening his flagship restaurant in the Barracks Row neighborhood eight years ago, Vandaele says of Belga Café‘s 8th Street location, “I was, in a way, the godfather of that street. In the beginning, everyone thought we were crazy, but it was all I could afford at the time. Now, there are many new restaurants coming to my street. And, so we are always evolving, always upgrading.”

As the neighborhood has changed, so has diners’ appreciation for quality beer. Almost a decade ago, beer played a distant second fiddle to wine at most restaurants. Not at Belga Café, which has always boasted a lengthy and unique beer list, however. “We are the first ones to embrace that, but I think beer is more accessible and has more flavor facets than wine. Wine is very fragile. With beer, there’s a little bit less mistakes you can make and, at the same time, you have more possibilities. You can cook a dish with a sweet beer and then pair it with a sour beer.”

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Dining Poll: Who Pays When You Visit a Restaurant With Your Parents?

Dining out is often a family affair. It’s better than getting together for a home-cooked meal in many ways, from the fact that most chefs are better cooks than you are to the benefit of completely avoiding dirty dishes. But when you’re dining out with your parents, who usually picks up the check? Do the parentals push your hand away and scoop up the check? Or do you prefer to step up and treat your folks? Weigh in on today’s dining poll!


Dining with the Stars: Demi Moore Visits Ken & Cook; Honey Boo at Villa Blanca; John Mayer + Katy Perry Celebrate at ABC Kitchen; Bradley Cooper at El Paseo

Isnt’ that what we all want, Honey Boo Boo?

Recent celebrity sightings at OpenTable restaurants…

* Former 49er Ronnie Lott tackled a meal at 1300 on Fillmore in San Francisco. [tablehopper]

* Much-improved tweeter John Mayer celebrated his 35th birthday with with new squeeze Katy Perry at ABC Kitchen in New York City. [NY Post]

* R&B artist Ne-Yo got closer with other bold-faced names at Acme in New York’s NoHo neighborhood. [NY Post]

 * Alicia Keys was in tune with husband Swiss Beatz at Catch in NYC’s Meatpacking District. [NY Post]

Will Smith and songstress daughter Willow also ate, but did not whip their hair, at New York’s Catch. [NY Post]

* Twilighter Ashley Greene sank her teeth into lunch at Catch in Santa Monica. [People]

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On Our Plate: Free Mobile-Friendly Sites for Restaurants; Win Dinner at Bravo’s Top Chef Kitchen; 2013 Michelin New York Stars; Silicon Valley Restaurant Week

Silicon Valley Restaurant Week has arrived! Dine for less through 10/24.

Happenings on and around OpenTable…

* We’re giving away a trip to NYC and dinner for two on October 30, 2012, at Bravo’s Top Chef Kitchen. Enter with a tweet to eat at New York City’s hottest restaurant!

* Speaking of giving away, we’re giving away mobile websites to our restaurant customers. Learn more.

* You can also win dinner for you and 9 friends plus a swanky overnight hotel stay, courtesy of PureWow, OpenTable + SniqueAway. Enter for a chance to win!

* The Michelin Stars for 2013 are out in New York. Learn which of the Big Apple’s restaurants have earned this big honor!

* Trending on OpenTable restaurant reviews? Butternut squash!

* Did you send the Tweet of the Week? Click thru to find out.

* The fifth Chicago’s In Good Taste is hereHelp find a cure for breast cancer by dining out through October 31.

* San Francisco’s Street Smart 4 Kids has returnedDine out and donate to help the city’s at-risk and homeless youth.

* Seattle Restaurant Week is in full swingBook now for $15 lunches and $28 dinners October 14-18 and 21-25.

 * Silicon Valley Restaurant Week starts today! Reserve to enjoy special three-course, prix-fixe dinners, October 17-24.

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