Since reopening in Chesterfield several years ago, Balaban’s has garnered plenty of accolades, including multiple awards of the Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence. It had been a while since our last visit and lots has happened in the interim, including an expansion of the space and the promotion of D. Scott Phillips from catering and banquet chef to executive chef last summer; so we recently dropped in to see what else is new.
The focus still is decidedly on smaller plates, as opposed to the bistro fare at the original Central West End location. The dinner menu reflects this, divvied up as it is between selections of Tapas, Soup & Salad, Appetizers and Entrees. We figured we owed it to ourselves to try something from each.
The Beef Carpacio ($12), consists of a selection of thin slices of beef with pickled red onion, strips of shaved Parmesan cheese, capers, Dijon mustard and crostini. The combo of salt, spice and crunch made for a fine appetite primer. It paired with a glass of Novelty Hill Merlot ($9), suggested next to the dish on the menu. For those looking for value in their vino, the menu also notes that all wines are sold at retail prices with none of that ‘restaurant mark-up.’
Cold soups aren't exactly an intuitive dining choice during the winter months, so we were surprised to find Cucumber Bisque (cup $5, bowl $8), under the Soup & Salad offerings. We put our preconceptions on hold and decided to give it a try. It proved to be a mild and flavorful reminder that spring is (hopefully) right around the corner. The gorgeous green soup was set off with a swirl of creme fraiche. The mild, vegetal sweetness of the cucumber was offset by a touch of lemon. On the whole, the dish made for a clean, tasty palate refresher.
The Smoked Trout Pancake ($12) was another cold dish standout. The sweet corn pancake, crisp around the edges and flaky throughout, was accented with a horseradish creme fraiche. All of these elements served to highlight the savory dollop of smoked trout rillete on top.
Those who come to Balaban's with a hearty appetite will be pleased with the entree selection, which currently includes big-plate favorites like Beef Wellington and Filet Oscar. We opted for the Stuffed Chicken ($18), which was supremely tender and chock-full of earthy shiitake mushrooms and savory bacon with assorted vegetables on the side.
A slice of classic, no-frills Carrot Cake ($7), accented with a bit of whipped cream and a blackberry, wrapped things up nicely.
With it's convenient location on Clarkson Road and plenty of parking, visiting Balaban's is a breeze for county and city denizens alike, and the varied menu and expansive wine list ensures there's something for every palate. Also of note for oeneophiles is the expansive retail wine selection and the ongoing schedule of wine classes and dinners.
--1772 Clarkson Road, 636-449-6700, balabanswine.com
Balaban's Arugula and Shitake Stuffed Chicken Breast
4 skin-on chicken breasts, cut airline-style
3 C Fresh Arugula
8 oz. Boursin cheese
4 oz. crumbled bacon
2 oz. julienned onion
4 oz. julienned shitake mushrooms
2 tsp. chopped Italian parsley
1 t butter
Salt and pepper, to taste
• Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
• In a hot skillet, brown bacon until golden brown and crispy. Add onions and cook on low for about eight minutes. Add shitake mushrooms and sauté an additional two minutes.
• Let mixture cool to room temperature. Mix in arugula and Boursin cheese, then set aside.
• Using a paring knife, cut a small slit in each breast horizontally, about half way through. Stuff mixture into chicken breasts and use tooth pick to fasten breast closed. Season with salt, pepper and Italian parsley.
• Preheat skillet to medium high heat.
• Place chicken breasts skin-side down and sauté for about four minutes. Turn breasts over and place into the preheated oven for 18 minutes on center rack.
• Brush with melted butter and serve with your favorite sides.