While I enjoy finding little-known gems for the group, sometimes a restaurant is legendary because it's just a great restaurant! Balaban's is such a restaurant, and one which took the usual step of upending itself and moving to Chesterfield from the Central West End a few years ago. I wasted no time checking it out, but at the time it was both too popular and not large enough to handle our group! But now they have opened a new banquet room with a huge amount of space... so I checked it out, and am pleased to report that, first, the food is still as awesome as ever, and second, they are happy to accommodate us!
Cuisine - Balaban's menu is pretty hard to define, which is why I just called it "eclectic". Because they are very much into wine (if you are a wine-drinker, you definitely shouldn't miss this dinner!), most of their menu is somewhat bistro-style, with a focus on quality over quantity. From real pate to pan-seared Hawaiian prawns to artisanal cheese plates to a great selection of salads to seasonal bruschetta, their selection of lighter dishes is incredible. They are famous for their smoked trout on a corn and chive pancake with horseradish creme fraiche! My own favorite is the house-made lobster ravioli, which is amazing enough to start with but then it's made with fennel and pistachio, and served in the best lobster buerre blanc I've ever tasted... I had to ask for extra bread to soak it up or I would have been licking the bowl! They have an entree section which again covers a wide variety without any specific focus... their Ligurian (northwest Italian) shrimp pasta with walnuts and garlic is delicious; they have a spectacular paella (Spanish seafood-and-sausage thick stew over rice); my favorite is the beef wellington - filet mignon and mushroom pate in puff pastry served with a madeira sauce - which is absolutely to die for. They have several additional choices, as well as some very creative flatbread pizzas. Bottom line here is that they have a creative and widely varied menu, and everything on it is incredibly delicious! And for the oenophiles, every dish comes with a recommended wine pairing! And you really might want to save room for dessert, too...
Cost - For the most part, the individual dishes are pretty inexpensive, with most running from under $10 to the mid teens; a few of the entrees are clustered around the $20 mark. Quite reasonable for such awesome food! But to be fair, the menu is designed with mostly smaller portions for you to have more than just one dish; an appetizer/tapas, soup or salad, and entree makes a filling meal but it does add up a bit. In my book the food is easily worth it, but I would not consider this to be a cheap dinner.
Additional Info - Balaban's is located in the Dierberg's shopping center on the northeast corner of Clarkson and Baxter, and their building is right out on the corner. Tons of free parking, of course!
I'm looking forward to seeing lots of my west county foodies at Balaban's on Monday the 10th! Plus, since I'll be on vacation the last half of the month, this will be our final west county dinner of 2012! So come one come all!