Date of Last Visit: Friday, 2 March 2011
The Victim: Natalia
The Damage: $80 each
The Background: I haven’t seen Natalia in AGES. Like 2004 ages. I think she’s a spy and should you ever meet her, I think you’d agree that the moniker fits. She is Belarussian, tall and enviously thin and Slavic-ly exotic looking. I remember when I first got to know her, she would smoke cigarettes in just that way–you know, that spy way. And she rarely every smiled. Not that she was unhappy or anything. It was just Natalia.
I haven’t seen Natalia until now because she’s just moved back to Chicago after a stint in Santa Monica, with her startup Interest Mix. Before that, she was somewhere between Detroit and Mexico City. But now she’s back and it was great to catch up with an old friend.
Natalia puts me in charge of ordering and I put our server in charge of ordering. We start out with some silky foie gras, which tastes deceptively light and airy. The speck is satiny with just the slightest elegant hint of smoke (like Natalia herself). Actually, the speck is truly excellent. I am very happy.
I’d watched a neighboring table secure an order of burrata and demolish it in good speed. And after tasting this, I can understand why. Mozzarella and cream. Was there ever a finer combination? I appreciated that when plated, they added a generous drizzle of olive oil along with a good dash of salt and pepper. This was lovely.
For our main, we split an order of Veal Blanquette–carrots, Paris mushrooms, and egg noodles. This reminded me of a dish from my childhood; my mother used to serve us veal, carrots and butter noodles on a regular basis. This was a homey and filling dish and perfect for the chilly weather. Perhaps a bit on the soupy side, but the buttery flavor melded well with the veal and carrots and made it all quite delightful.
Service: Service throughout was attentive and helpful. Honest, really. My only quibble is that the room we were in was in no man’s land to the back of the restaurant. It was dead, while the rest of Balsan was quite lovely.
The Verdict: I liked it here. I’d go back. I’d also go back to The Elysian’s bar on the second floor, Bernard’s, where we enjoyed a glass or two of Prosecco before embarking upon our dinner reservation. (And they actually comped us some Prosecco when our table wasn’t ready at 8, as booked. Natch.)