Balaban's -- Along With 3,700 Other Restaurants -- Wins 2011 Wine Spectator Award

A view of Balaban's award-winning wine selection. - Jennifer Silverberg
Jennifer Silverberg
A view of Balaban's award-winning wine selection.

When we first heard that Balaban's Wine Cellar & Tapas Bar (1772 Clarkson Road, Chesterfield; 636-449-6700) took home one of Wine Spectator's awards of excellence, we were happy for the restaurant. We still are. Open for just over a year and a half, Balaban's was the only St. Louis winner that doubles as an eatery and retailer. But with 3,700 restaurants named worldwide -- 37 of those in Missouri -- we have to question just how rigorous the judging process is.

The special-interest magazine contest recognizes restaurants for good wine selections that match the menu and are priced fairly. There are three levels of awards: the award of excellence, the best of award of excellence and the grand award. To be considered, entrants must submit a current wine list, the dinner menu and a "one-page cover letter on restaurant letterhead describing storage conditions, inventory, pricing." The letter must be in English and, oh yeah, Wine Spectator is gonna need a $250 nonrefundable entry fee.

We know that college applications, for example, come with a processing fee. Wine Spectator's website is a little fuzzy on how the contest is judged, but Balaban's rep Carol Miller suspects the vetting is rigorous. Restaurant employees suspect the magazine's employees were behind many oddly specific calls that came in to the restaurant after its application was submitted. And you have to pay someone to do that work. We get it.

Still, if you do the math, the wine mag raked in a cool $925,000. And that number is based only on restaurants that were awarded, so the number could be higher. Although after looking at the restaurants that won -- Chateau Grille in Branson, Missouri, for example -- it seems everyone's a winner when it comes to the contest.

A full list of local winners is posted after the jump.

Annie Gunn's (16806 Chesterfield Airport Road, Chesterfield; 636-532-7684) Gerard's Restaurant (1153 Colonnade Center, Town & Country; 314-821-7977) Monarch (7401 Manchester Road, Maplewood; 314-644-3995) Truffles (9202 Clayton Road, Ladue; 314-567-9100) Eleven Eleven Mississippi (1111 Mississippi Avenue; 314-241-9999) Café Napoli (7754 Forsyth Boulevard, Clayton; 314-863-5731) Cardwell's At The Plaza (1701 South Lindbergh Boulevard, Frontenac; 314-997-8885) Charlie Gitto's "From the Hill" Charlie Gitto's "On the Hill" Fleming's Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar (1855 South Lindbergh Boulevard, Town & Country; 314-567-7610) J. Buck's (101 South Hanley Road, Clayton; 314-725-4700) Lucas Park Grille (1234 Washington Avenue; 314-241-7770) Mike Shannon's Steaks and Seafood (620 Market Street; 314-421-1540) Morton's, The Steakhouse Remy's Kitchen & Wine Bar (222 South Bemiston Avenue, Clayton; 314-726-5757) The Melting Pot -- Town & Country (Clayton Road and South Woods Mill Road, Town & Country; 636-207-6358) The Melting Pot -- University City (6683 Delmar Boulevard, University City; 314-725-4141) Tony's (410 Market Street; 314-231-7007) Vin De Set (2017 Chouteau Avenue; 314-241-8989)