Thursday, September 22, 2011

Balaban's Feast Magazine Tasting

Feast magazine held their September tasting at the new Balaban’s located in Chesterfield. I used to love the old restaurant in the Central West End as my family used to celebrate special occasions there. Luckily, they still serve their Beef Wellington, but after the tasting, I was in the mood to try more of their appetizers and tapas. This just means I’ll just have to go back for my favorite dish someday.

The new Balaban’s took over the collection of wines from the old restaurant yet this month’s tasting featured more recent wines. Like previous Feast tastings, the food portions are small and often get drowned out by the large wine servings. My favorite glass was a white wine (of course): a 2009 Cline Viognier from Sonoma County, while the best tasting was the Smoked Trout Pancakes. The trout was paired with a 2009 Mudhouse Pinot Noir from New Zealand, which had a smooth finish. Pinots are definitely my favorite red wine these days.

After the tasting finished, I was very surprised to go inside and see that the new version is actually a retail wine and gourmet food store! All the tables are arranged at one end of the room, along with bar seating against one wall, and is NOT the large, formal restaurant that I had imagined. Still, I was eager to try out the menu.

Since I am always searching for quality seafood in the Midwest, I started with the Chilled Oysters, along with everyone else at my table. The oysters had a sweet flavor of champagne and I was able to trade one for a couple of slices of the Applewood Bacon Flatbread, definitely one of the best items on the menu. It was recently featured in Feast magazine in STLwinegirl's "Quite the Pair" article.

Another weakness of mine is Lobster Ravioli and the delicately handmade, large squares came in a fennel and ricotta sauce. Great flavors but I would have liked a little more sauce to cover all the raviolis.

The last tapas item I tried was the Artisanal Cheese Plate and I was disappointed that I got more toasted bread than cheese. Mostly because I didn't get much cheese at all.

Next time, I’m definitely getting the Beef Wellington!

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Tavern

I had been trying to get into The Tavern, located at the corner of Daugherty Ferry and Big Bend, for months because every Friday and Saturday night, the place would be slammed whenever I tried to walk in. My friend and I had to resort to planning ahead and making a reservation. This time, we picked a Sunday night and sure enough…no crowd, no reservation was needed! Maybe all we needed was to wait until summer was over?

To make the reservation, I used, which works really well for us folks who have phone phobia. The website even asks you if there are any “special notes” you would like to tell the restaurant while making the reservation, and I always be sure to mention if it is a special occasion, this time a birthday.

I got to the restaurant early, since there was no traffic on a Sunday either, that gave me some extra time to try a drink at the bar as well as review the menu some more. I admit that ever since I took those beer tasting classes at Schlafly and with New Belgium, I actually checked the beer list first. They had all my favorites such as Schlafly, New Belgium, Blue Moon, (in bottles, not draught), but I went with the Goose Island Sofie. She’s my favorite gal right now…so light with a hint of fruit.

Since it was just the bartender and I (along with only one other couple in the whole restaurant), I got to ask him to explain some of the dishes and give recommendations since I was still torn as to what to order. I really appreciated him taking the time to review it with me (like having my own personal tutor!), especially since I only expected him to know drinks!

The bartender recommended the Ahi Poke as well as the Zucchini & Onion Tempura for appetizers. I ended up solving my indecision by selecting the “Taste of the Tavern”, which provides a sample of four different appetizers: Ahi Poke, Tempura, Spring Rolls, and the Apricot-Hoisin Ribs. I ended up making this my main course, in addition to a well-sized starter Baby Spinach salad since it came with gruyere cheese. Even the Tender Greens salad had a thick and sweet Creamy Basil Dressing.

This was a smart move since I ended up feeling quite full even though the appetizer sampler served very small portions of each one. The menu lists this sampler for two but really there was only enough “bites” for one person, except for the Ahi Poke. The raw tuna was diced real small and laid over a large bed of rice. This was my favorite and the most filling. I could have done without the tempura because you can get that anywhere but the one “rib” was tasty. The spring roll was fine but it came in a crispy shell and I prefer a soft wrap like at a Thai restaurant.

In addition to the sampler, I ordered the Baked Artichoke Ravioli appetizer, which was quite large and definitely too much with the other sampler plate. Even after asking the bartender, I didn’t understand where the “ravioli” part comes in other than it was served with pita slices to help scoop up the artichoke chunks. It wasn’t creamy like a dip, but more chopped up as if it were a salad. You have to really like artichokes because the flavor was very strong.

By just looking at the menu, I really thought it was a “steak place” since they have four steaks listed in addition to their regular entrees. What I didn’t realize until I got there is that The Tavern has a large selection of fish, especially with several fresh catch specials. This is really ideal for couples and people with varying tastes. Again, it made it much harder to decide what to order and why I ended up just trying appetizers.

My friend and I had the same issue with the sides as well. Both the bartender and the server suggested their Asparagus “Ham & Eggs”, which did not sound good at all, but they both claimed it was their most popular dish. Instead, my friend selected the Loaded Tater Tot Casserole. Loaded with CHEESE that is! I would have loved to have made THAT my main entrĂ©e! I also was eyeing the chipotle cheddar mac n’ cheese, but I wasn’t quite brave enough.

When the server first came over to take our orders, she immediately asked if we were celebrating a birthday and I was really pleased that they did read my note. This also led to a complimentary hot fudge sundae dessert….sooooo good….and luckily, large enough for two people! The Mom in me almost wanted to scold my friend for finishing dessert before all of her dinner but it was her birthday after all! Not to mention my leftover stash ended up being twice as large….

Great staff, great service, interesting food, beautiful decor…this is definitely the kind of place I enjoy writing about and sharing with others. I can’t wait to go back…if I can get in!