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Balaban’s new team balances the past and the future
By Sauce Staff Writer • Photo by Josh Monken
Posted On: 03/01/2007   


After a bit of sprucing up, Balaban’s reopened in February under new ownership and with a new chef at the helm. Previously executive chef at Harvest Seasonal Market Cuisine, Andy White has redesigned the menu, striving to respect the restaurant’s history while giving the cornerstone establishment an update.

So how are you revamping Balaban’s but keeping its soul?
We’re keeping all the artwork, keeping all the animal heads – they’ll all just be cleaned up and rearranged. The format of the restaurant will be the same as far as the three dining areas. It’s a modernization of colors and, more importantly, of the style of service and food.

You obviously had a specific style at Harvest. Is that the style people can expect at Balaban’s?
Stylistically, it’s not much of a change. I won’t be as seasonally driven as I was at Harvest. My cooking techniques won’t change, but I want the food a little more approachable. I really want to be that neighborhood two-, three-nights-a-week place.

Can you give me some examples?
We’ll be opening in cold weather, so we’ll have a slow-roasted pork shank with house-made sauerkraut. We’ll be doing a brook trout with Spätzle. Our lunch menu will be a nice mix of sandwiches, smaller entrées and a small starter section.

What are you going to do for brunch?
We’re going to start off pretty softly, but we want to get into a full jazz brunch scenario. Eggs Sardou. Rockefeller omelets. House-made ham. Cured meats, cheeses, farm eggs. Of course cocktails. I want to get to the point where we’re making our English muffins. Open the café windows and have the jazz band playing. That’s our eventual goal.

It is a trend right now to go back to more traditional fare, update it and make it with the very best ingredients. Is that what you’re going for?
Exactly … using what we know now about fresh ingredients, about different techniques, about lighter techniques. We’re not going to thicken things; we’re going to reduce sauces and bring out natural, lighter flavors. Instead of a roasted chicken breast with a clingy gravy, now I’ll do a light reduced pan sauce using lemon juice and herbs to bring out the flavors and not mask them in flours and butters.

Are you going to have separate menus in the different dining areas?
We’re going to have one lunch menu for the entire restaurant, one dinner menu for the entire restaurant, one brunch menu for the entire restaurant. Then a separate bar menu, which is a mixture of higher-end bar snacks, sandwiches – lighter fare that we’ll serve in between lunch and dinner and hopefully until an hour or more after we close the kitchen. I would really like to see a lot more West End industry people in here. More chefs, more servers, more bartenders. Where they can come in and actually get a nice bite of food at midnight.

Tell me about the chef’s tasting room.
It is considered our back, back, back dining room. We will seat that for normal business but we want to promote that as a chef’s table, a tasting room. We want to … do tasting menus of anywhere from eight to 20 courses. We’ll have Tim Bishop, who’s our sommelier, pair wines with it.

Are you going to be redoing the cocktail menu? The wine list?
Tim, you overhauled the cocktail and wine list, didn’t you?

Bishop: We’re trying to do classic drinks but keep it … updated and fresh.

Are you sticking with the updated-classics theme of the food menu?
Bishop: We’re really trying to, yeah. Manhattans are coming back and all the older drinks like Old Fashioneds. We’re even going to be doing a Ramos Gin Fizz, a Sazerac, a French 75 for brunches. And the wine list, [we’re] trying to get more of a variety. [The old list was] pretty much just Cab and Chardonnay.

I’m excited about the rebirth of Balaban’s.
The restaurant turns 35 in March. The restaurant is exactly one year older than me. I want to get [voted] best new restaurant in a 35-year-old restaurant. That’s my goal for the year. It would be kind of cool to get best new restaurant 35 years after the fact.

I love that you’re respecting the history of the restaurant.
It’s still Balaban’s. To come in here and take the name away would be the worst business move in the world.

Oh, yeah. I mean, think of who’s eaten here – Mick Jagger, the Dalai Lama, James Taylor.
And the hidden secret rooms downstairs.

Are there hidden rooms?
I can’t comment on that.

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