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Belgian Eats Come to the Hill

Later this summer, Capitol Hill will become home to Washington’s only Belgian restaurant, and chef Bart Vandaele hopes his first venture will help draw diners from across the city to the neighborhood. [IMGCAP(1)]

Belga Café, which is slated to open near the end of summer at 514 Eighth St. SE, will serve classic Belgian cuisine with a twist, or what Vandaele describes as “Euro-fusion,” reflecting a lighter version of Belgian cooking. “You will never find any cream sauces on my menu,” he said.

Six varieties of mussels will be served in traditional Belgian mussel pots with sides of Belgian fries and homemade mayonnaise for dipping — “the way fries should be eaten,” Vandaele said.

And what better accompaniment to a heaping bowl of steaming mussels than a cold Belgian beer? Belga Café will offer about 35 Belgian and Belgian-style beers, including Chimay, Hoegaarden, Leffe, Delirium Tremens and Delirium Nocturnum.

Weekend brunch will center on chocolate and Belgian waffles with savory selections in addition to the sweet, and lunch will bring lighter fare including waffles with smoked salmon and pita sandwiches.

Born and raised in Belgium, Vandaele trained as a chef in his home country and moved to Washington seven and half years ago. He worked as a private chef for several ambassadors before deciding to try his hand in the restaurant business.

Vandaele, who lives on Capitol Hill and was encouraged to open a restaurant by neighbors, said it was simply good luck that secured his café a spot on the newly revamped stretch of Barracks Row. He said he envisions the restaurant as a welcoming place where good service and good food combine without a snobby attitude. “I want to give you the feeling that you’re invited to my place.”

Contributing to that vibe will be a 12-seat communal table that Vandaele hopes will encourage neighbors to mingle. Other restaurant features include an open kitchen, a 24-seat patio and a 10-seat bar.

Entrée prices are expected to hover around $20.

The Intern-tini? As part of a new cocktail list, Signatures (801 Pennsylvania Ave. NW) is paying homage to its Hill patrons with two new drinks.

The Hill Staffer mixes Maker’s Mark, Cointreau and lemonade and is garnished with a lemon drop. The Intern goes tropical with Malibu rum, pineapple juice and a splash of grenadine garnished with a pineapple wheel. But with a $10 price tag, the drink may not attract many of its namesakes.

So you don’t have to drink on an empty stomach, Signatures has also introduced a new “noshing” menu. The small plate craze shows no signs of slowing, and Signatures chef Morou Ouattara adds his distinct touch to the trend with the new snacking menu, which features 16 items, all priced at $10 or less.

Noshing dishes include Maryland blue crab poppers ($9.95 per half dozen), barbecued Kobe short ribs ($8.95), bison quesadillas with mango relish ($4.95) and fried spiced calamari with Tabasco mayo ($7.95).

The menu is available in the restaurant’s bar and lounge and on the patio.

Where’s That Waiter Going With My Beer? To celebrate July Fourth and France’s Bastille Day, Brasserie Les Halles (1201 Pennsylvania Ave. NW) will hold its annual Bastille Races on Friday.

The party starts at noon with can-can dancers, a disc jockey and lots of food. The main attraction is the waiter’s race, in which waitstaff from area restaurants speed walk down the street balancing a tray with a bottle of Kronenbourg 1664 beer and a filled glass on top. The race starts at 2 p.m.

Equally entertaining could be the chef’s race, which starts at 3 p.m. The chefs will make and eat a baguette sandwich while racing down one block.

A $10 entry donation is suggested, and proceeds benefit the Best Buddies program.

Holy Paella. José Andrés, chef of Jaleo, Zaytinya and Café Atlantico, and his talented team of chefs will cook a giant paella July 15 at the Penn Quarter FreshFarm Market in honor of the market’s one-year anniversary.

The paella, which the chefs will cook in an 8-foot custom-made pan, will feature seasonal produce from area farms.

The cooking begins at 3 p.m., and the paella should be ready around 4:30 or 5 p.m. A voluntary $3 donation for a serving of the paella will support the market, which is held every Thursday on Eighth Street Northwest between D and E streets.

Eat for Art. On July 15, numerous Capitol Hill restaurants will donate a portion of their sales to the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop.

Restaurants participating for lunch are Capitol Hill Tandoor and Grill, Fin Mac Cool’s, Meyhané, Mr. Henry’s, Trattoria Alberto and Two Quail. Dinner participants are Meyhané, Mr. Henry’s, The Monocle, Red River Grill, Tortilla Coast, Trattoria Alberto and Tunnicliff’s. World Cuisine will participate during breakfast.

Bullfeathers and the Hawk ‘n’ Dove will donate a portion of sales on July 17.

The Capitol Hill Arts Workshop is a nonprofit organization that offers art classes, theater, a dance studio and an art gallery.