FINELY AGED

The Central West End's Balaban's grows old with grace

For entrees, we went basic with a sirloin steak and funky with duck breast over soba noodles. In the case of the soba noodles, I thought that the addition of dried blueberries put the dish a little over the top, providing a level of sweetness beyond what would be a good complement for the earthiness of the wheat noodles and the full-bodied flavor of the duck. It wasn't off-putting; rather, it just wasn't a balance that suited me, although the thick slices of cross-hatched, medium-rare duck were outstanding. The steak was an ideal sidewalk-bistro dish, a hearty 12-ounce cut with finely shredded onions strewn across the top and around the sides of roasted pepper, carrots and snow peas that certainly must have preferred to be called mange-tout in this particular environment.

The wine list is lengthy and exceptional, but even more exceptional were the extra knowledge and effort exhibited by our waitress, who quizzed us at length on our preferences for oakiness, dryness and several other factors in helping us choose what to drink and then came up with several potential matches.

There are pay parking lots on Euclid and McPherson avenues, but do yourself a favor and cruise for an on-street spot a couple of blocks in any direction, which will afford you the benefit of a brisk stroll through one of the most distinctive neighborhoods in America. Walking back to our car after our meals, the memories just kept on coming: the Post-Dispatch strike-paper newsroom; late nights at Duff's listening to sometime-RFT-scribe Tom McDermott on the piano; antiques at Pete Rothschild's; flowers from Jon Prel; chocolates at Bissinger's; sitting around the Europa with the cast and crew of City Players after the latest of their dozens of world premieres. And throughout it all, dates, brunches, Bastille Days, power lunches, overcrowded bar chats, spiked coffees and other delights at the restaurant at the heart of it all. Vive la CWE! Vive Balaban's!

BALABAN'S, 405 N. Euclid Ave., 361-8085. Hours (the dining room and cafe have different hours; call for confirmation): lunch, 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Mon.-Sat.; dinner, 6-10:30 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 5:30-11:30 p.m. Fri. and Sat., 5-10 p.m. Sun.; brunch, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sun. Cafe entrees: $9.95-$16.95. Restaurant entrees: $15.95-$22.95.

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