Since landing in Chesterfield a few years ago (following a decades-long run in the Central West End), Balaban's Wine Cellar & Tapas Bar has reinvented itself, morphing from a French-inspired bistro into more of a small-plate destination. Balaban's has continued to garner accolades, including multiple Wine Spectator Award of Excellence nods. While there were still several enticing classic entrees on the menu, like the Beef Wellington ($21), on our recent visit, we decided to stick fairly close to the tapas that are now the restaurant's signature.
First up from the Tapas selections was the Artisanal Cheese Plate ($12). In addition to fromage, the platter came with a spray of spiced nuts, some grapes, onion jam and crackers. We were a bit disappointed in the sparse selection of cheeses offered; and as we're not avid turophiles, it would've been nice to have a rundown of the varieties on the plate. The onion jam, though, provided a nice balance of tart and sweet.
One of the nice features of the Balaban's menu was the suggested wine varietals listed to the right of each item. Next up on our itinerary were the Empanadas ($9), which were listed as a good match with Malbecs and Sirahs. A glass of Cuvelier Los Andes Coleccion Malbec ($10), dark and fruit-forward, proved to be a fine choice to accompany this plate. The dish consisted of three crusty pastries, stuffed with braised chicken and topped with 'ranchero sauce,' a sort of smoky mole. The pineapple-jicama slaw on the side provided a tangy accent and a welcome bit of crunch.
The last item on the tapas tour was the Lobster Spring Rolls ($10), which consisted of six fried rolls served with Asian slaw and a sweet chili sauce. The alternating crunchy and soft textures matched up nicely.
There was another section of the menu, labeled Appetizers, which looked inviting, so for the last round, we went with the House-made Lobster Ravioli ($14). This generous portion, bigger than the typical small plate, featured four pieces of tender pasta filled with lobster and seasoned deftly with fennel, pistachio and covered with a rich lobster beurre blanc.
The tapas portions we received varied from fairly small (the lobster rolls were quite petite) to the hearty (the empanadas had a good bit of heft). Each, though, was big enough to share, yet small enough for a lone diner.
The final course was a slice of the Chocolate Cheesecake ($9), a tasty confection that also paired well with the bit of Malbec we had left.
Roughly half of the current Balaban's space houses its retail wine selection, bar and small deli area. The other half is used as a dining room, and it is comfortable and inviting, with plenty of natural light.
Balaban's also offers lunch and happy hour menus, a deli carryout menu and a selection of box lunches, as well as gift baskets and all sorts of vino-centric items such as exclusive wine dinners and a wine club. Balaban's has definitely secured a spot as a top-tier dining destination in West County.
Balaban's Wine Cellar & Tapas Bar, 1772 Clarkson Road, 636-449-6700, balabanswine.com.