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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Brady Street Dining

Balzac’s maturing menu

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Nearly every restaurant on Brady Street offers outdoor seating. Most of the seats are very much amid the hustle and bustle, as diners share the sidewalk with pedestrians. But there is one place, Balzac, that provides tables with more privacy.

Forget about the few spots near the entrance: Instead, walk through the restaurant and its wine-themed bar to the back terrace, away from the street. Here the tables are spaced farther apart and have a bit of shade, which proves useful on hot summer days. The wine list arrives quickly; though it is not a large one, it offers more affordability than most. Bottles can cost as little as $20. The main menu has all of the right accompaniments for wine. Perhaps start with one of the cheese plates. There is a 6-year aged Widmer cheddar ($7) served with bread, crackers, assorted fresh berries, walnuts and slices of apple, which gives you quite a bit to nibble on. Then try one of the many small-plate appetizers, such as the sausage plate ($7). The Bohemian link is from the Koppa’s market. What the menu fails to mention is that the sausage, laced with hot pepper, is quite spicy. A mustard sauce helps tame the heat of this treat.

The pizzas at Balzac are another bonus. They have a thin crust and are more freeform than round. The one with bacon and Gruyere ($9) has an Alsatian feel, though it’s much cheesier. For finger food, the Yukon gold and sweet potato frites ($6) are a sure winner. The big plate of fries is served with a trio of dipping sauces. The familiar chipotle mayo is outdone by the spicy tomato and rosemary Dijon sauces. This is what good fries should taste like.

The menu shows diversity everywhere. Grilled shrimp kebobs ($9) arrive as two skewers of shelled shrimp treated simply with a gentle lemon garlic sauce. Vegetarians are not neglected either. There is a very compelling vegan strudel with a filling of spinach and mushrooms perfumed with basil oil. The roasted duck leg confit ($16) also pleases. The serving includes about half of the thigh and is served over Mediterranean salad. The duet of lamb lollipops ($16) is a pair of rib chops that have been marinated in Scotch whisky, a simple technique that works well. A parsnip mint puree helps fill the small plate.

After nearly three years in business, Balzac is showing signs of maturity. The menu has evolved considerably and offers a variety of tasty meals. You can always dine indoors and enjoy an urbane setting with rich chocolate-hued walls, but if the day is warm and sunny, the terrace is definitely the place to be.

BALZAC - 1716 N. Arlington Place 755-0099 $$-$$$
Credit Cards: All major Smoking: Yes Handicap Access: Yes

Photo by Tate Bunker