Saturday, November 29, 2014

Nordic Tasting Event at B Too

Halibut, courtesy of Chef Bart Vandaele (Photo: Urd Milbury, Royal Norwegian Embassy)

Out with the Fowl, In with the Fish
by Susan Barocas (Contributing Editor)

Now that turkey has had its day, I’m hungry for something different, something versatile, something like… fish. But not just any fish. I’m talking about some of the best fish to be had - Nordic inspired and brilliantly prepared by Executive Chef Bart Vandaele at B Too on DC’s food-filled 14th Street.

Earlier this year, Chef Bart was named to the annual Chef’s Culinary Board of the Norwegian Seafood Council (the first such Board, launched last year, included Equinox’s Todd Gray.) The Council brings leading chefs to Norway to visit pristine fjords and fisheries, with opportunities to work with and taste some of the many varieties of fish. The focus is on flavors, freshness and sustainability.

Cod with leeks, mussel and scallop (Photo: Urd Milbury, Royal Norwegian Embassy)

Recently, I had the pleasure of trying four Nordic-inspired fish courses prepared by Chef Bart. Salmon, marinated overnight between sheets of kelp, was cut into precise, perfectly textured cubes with the slightly salty taste of the ocean. Served with blackberry jelly, yogurt, oyster sauce, sea-beans and caviar, the look and flavors of the plate were a work of art.

Grilled Norwegian mackerel with crispy charred skin was complimented by radish, finger lime and cucumber & dill sauce. Mackerel exports from Norway might be increasing, but that hasn’t convinced the American husband of my tablemate, Urd Milbury from the Norwegian Embassy to eat it. She laughed as she told me her husband finds mackerel too fishy. Her response? “What should it taste like, steak?” Spoken like a true fish lover.

Salmon with kelp, blackberry jelly and caviar

Smoked Holland leeks, black salt and a shellfish jus complimented the pan-seared cod... tender and nearly sweet in flavor, presented with a beautiful mussel and a seared scallop alongside.

Chef Bart clearly enjoyed “carving up” the whole halibut prepared in the restaurant’s JOSPER oven. A combination of traditional oven and charbroiled cooking, the JOSPER brings out the deep flavors and textures of food. Our whole halibut was grilled and smoked on hay, spending just seven minutes in the very hot JOSPER oven and resulting in incredibly moist, tender bites. The hay-infused sauce reinforced the subtle, earthy yet sophisticated flavor. Interestingly, the halibut was served with a red wine because it is, as Chef said, “a very powerful dish.”

There are only some five JOSPER ovens in restaurants across the US. At B Too, potatoes, vegetables, mussels, lobster and a bone-in rib eye steak for two are among the foods spending quality time in the special oven with outstanding results.

Chef Bart has brought two Belgian restaurants to DC - B Too, which is dedicated to reinterpreting classic dishes, and Belga Café on Barracks Row on Capitol Hill, which re-creates the atmosphere and flavors of a Belgian cafe.

At B Too, the menu changes four times a year in keeping with the restaurant’s dedication to the freshest, seasonal ingredients. Check out the winter menu that’s just being introduced after Thanksgiving. And by the way, the staff at B Too is one of the nicest I’ve encountered in a restaurant, adding to a memorable meal.

So enough with the focus on fowl already. Either make way to your local fish monger and insist on taking home a fresh catch from Norway; or head to B Too for a meal to be grateful for, especially the fish.