Balaban's Is Back

Same as it ever was? No — but that's not a bad thing.

The best entrée from my first two visits was roasted leg of lamb with coriander-spiked pesto and rosemary broth, served with a dense, delicious onion custard and bitter — too bitter, for my taste — braised rapini (broccoli rabe). The lamb, served off the bone, was beautifully browned on the surface and a deep red inside; the tangy pesto drew attention to the meat's natural gaminess while the savory broth rounded out the flavor.

Last week Balaban's introduced its new spring menu. Gone are the brandade fritters, merguez sausage and grilled salmon. The lamb with pesto has been replaced by lamb chops with dandelion greens; duck confit now comes with elephant garlic and butter beans. The new menu features rabbit, yellowfin tuna and — oh, yeah! — sweetbreads.

And although I visited on the very evening the new menu made its debut, it was the best of the three very good meals I had at Balaban's.

Balaban's could rest on its laurels. Instead, it just gets better and better.
Jennifer Silverberg
Balaban's could rest on its laurels. Instead, it just gets better and better.

Location Info

Map

Balaban's Wine Cellar & Tapas Bar

1772 Clarkson Road
Chesterfield, MO 63017

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Chesterfield

Details

Balaban's
405 North Euclid Avenue, 314-361-8085. Hours: Lunch 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Mon.-Fri. Dinner 5:30-10 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 5:30-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 5-10 p.m. Sun. Brunch 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Sat.-Sun. (Bar open till midnight Sun.-Thu., 1:30 a.m. Fri.-Sat.)

Roasted beet salad $7
Shrimp and grits $9
Sweetbreads $9
Bar steak $21
Grilled yellowfin tuna $26

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To start, I tried the sweetbreads, which had been sautéed just enough to crisp the surface while leaving the inside tender and snow-white. They were served in a veal jus, with diced ham and sugar-snap peas, but the flavor that lingered was a surprise: cinnamon, or maybe cinnamon and vanilla, as delicious as it was unexpected. On the other side of the plate was a scoop of rhubarb compote — a good idea in theory, but I found its tartness too mouth-filling when paired with the sweetbreads.

Pork-cheek ravioli are another new starter. The ravioli arrived in a neat row, like a display of cushions, sauced with "salsa verde" on one side, crème fraîche on the other. The ravioli were excellent, the pork braised tender and sweet, but I was ambivalent about the sauces. They didn't overwhelm the pork, but something — the salsa verde, I suppose — bore an overpowering broccoli flavor.

Yellowfin tuna, grilled rare, was excellent, the sweet flesh given a juicy finish with a pinot noir reduction. The centerpiece of this entrée — literally, two pieces of tuna stood on either side of it — was a light, sweet crêpe bursting with wild mushrooms and braised spinach. A lovely dish. The new rabbit entrée, the saddle roasted a mouthwatering brown and folded over a stuffing studded with English peas, was a bit messy on the plate, the stuffing spilling over into the side of farro, and the rabbit was, by its nature, a little tough, but the dish was excellent, with verdant notes of sage.

The brief dessert list includes crème brûlée (of course), chocolate fritters and even a root beer float. But I went for the strawberry trifle, sliced fresh strawberries layered with mascarpone cheese and slices of a kind of pound cake. The strawberries and cheese paired beautifully, but the cake was on the dry side. I preferred the lemon-poppyseed sorbet I'd had on a previous visit, a simple, delicious palate cleanser.

How all of this compares to Balaban's in 1972, 1992 or even last year, I can't say. But I do know that when I return to the restaurant, it won't be because it's Balaban's the "institution," but Balaban's, the restaurant made new by Brendan Marsden, Harlee Sorkin and Andy White.

Old-school Balaban's fans can take heart, however: You can still order beef Wellington — if only on Wednesdays.

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