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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Charming Balzac Returns to Its Roots

Wine, cheese and small plates in tranquil setting

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In 2005, Balzac helped to usher in the concept of “small plate” dining in Milwaukee. Today, “small plates” continue to gain in popularity. Balzac had veered away from that approach over the years, but a recent new menu returns the restaurant to its roots.

Balzac remains an attractive setting. The interior features rich, brown tones and tables that offer privacy. There is a landscaped outdoor patio, a perfect spot for the Sunday brunch.

Wine is the true specialty here. The extensive list offers considerable text in order to let diners know what to expect. Bottles of wine are half-price on Sunday.

Balzac offers eight choices of cheese, a natural accompaniment to wine. Prices range from $9 for one cheese to $20 for a selection of three. The plates offer quite a few extras, including fresh strawberries, apples and berries along with crackers and nuts. Among the choices are a Roth Grand Cru Gruyere Surchoix from Wisconsin and a Prairie Breeze cheddar from Iowa.

In line with the “small plate” concept, groups of diners should plan on ordering at least two to three items per person. If you sit at the center of the bar, you have a chance to view the kitchen and see what other patrons are ordering. One night many people ordered the PB & G ($5), a salad of mixed greens with slices of fresh pear, creamy chevre, a flourish of roasted red beet and lingonberry vinaigrette. The sweet lingonberry flavor is a fine pairing for the gentle flavor of the beet.

Pizzas are also a hit. They have a thin crust, more like a flatbread. The barbecue duck pizza ($13) comes with mushrooms, onions and mozzarella. The sweetness of the blackberry barbecue sauce goes so well with the duck meat.

One page of the menu is titled “Small Plate Classics.” This page features a diverse lot, with items like duck fat poutine, oxtail pot pie and tuna tartare. Balzac sac mac ($7-10) is the restaurant's take on mac 'n' cheese. Cavatappi pasta swirls in a blue cheese béchamel sauce. The béchamel contributes creaminess to the cheese and mellows the flavor. This dish is quite good.

Pork belly continues to be popular on local menus. Here it is featured in pork belly with white beans ($9), tender slices of the fat-layered meat accompanied by beans flavored with a hint of molasses.

In addition to the extensive wine list, diners will find a solid beer selection—a diverse group of domestics, microbrews and imports.

At Balzac, the food is worth the price. In addition to fine dining, the restaurant offers a relaxing, calming setting—the most tranquil spot in the Brady Street area.

Balzac

1716 N. Arlington Place

414-755-0099

$$-$$$

Handicap Accessible

balzacwinebar.com