Where to Eat Next in Chicago: Balsan

Enjoy the luxurious two-star Michelin restaurant RIA in the fabulously chic Waldorf Astoria Chicago with one of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs 2012 Danny Grant. Then go try Balsan – RIA’s hip casual-yet-sophisticated little sister, sharing the same kitchen.

Balsan’s rustic artisanal menu, crisp easy-going service, and a gregarious atmosphere for which Chicago is known make for a winning combination. Looking for a place to hang out when you attend the National Restaurant Association SHOW next month?
This is the place.

And how could you not fall head-over-heels for an establishment that discreetly pays homage to
Coco Chanel – named after her first lover and business benefactor? Étienne Balsan

Balsan noticed Coco Chanel in Moulins and became her lover. They remained friends throughout their lives. In 1909, when Chanel settled in Paris, he lent her his bachelor flat on the ground floor, 160 Boulevard Malesherbes, and helped her to open a boutique in Deauville. (from wikipedia here)

Located in the heart of Chicago’s Gold Coast at 11 E. Walton Street.

Waldorf Astoria Chicago


We chose to dine at a table, but on another visit we just might sit at the bar.

*a sleek bistro ambiance

pazo de galegos albariño
rias baixas, spain

Fans of this Spanish grape must try this wine, our favorite, from a small estate (under 2,000 cases) produced from old vines and using natural yeast to respect the flavors of the terroir.

“Pazo de Galegos 2010 Albariño was fermented with native yeasts and went through partial malolactic fermentation. Fragrant lemon, floral, and mineral aromas inform the nose of this smooth-textured, round, ripe, and savory offering. Nicely proportioned and lengthy, this outstanding value will provide pleasure over the next 4 years.”  The Wine Advocate 

Choose Fruits de Mer from a raw bar brimming with Hawaiian prawns, lobster, oysters, clams and crab, as well as a seasonal crudo – this night – tuna with avocado, radish, coriander. Select from a discerning variety of  Charcuterie & Cheese including pheasant and oxtail terrines, duck rillette, prosciutto, speck, and salumi as well as impeccably-chosen artisan cheeses.

potted eggplant, ricotta salata, with thick grilled bread

*don’t pass up this über-smoky-garlicky dip

small plate: roasted cauliflower salad, almond, orange, pecorino

*a delightful combination of flavors, colors, and textures

small plate: crispy veal breast, green garlic, olive, garbanzo

* the veal – extraordinary marriage of crisp plus melt-in-the-mouth


small plate: wood oven charred sepia, cannellini beans, chorizo, arugula

* bean aficionados will swoon

large plate: steamed bar harbor mussels, vermouth, saffron

*davida’s top pick

with perfect frites, ketchup & aioli

large plate: grilled rainbow trout, ramps, artichoke, burnt orange

*bright, captivating, balanced

award winning paris-brest, hazelnut nougatine

The pastry was created in 1891 to commemorate the Paris–Brest–Paris bicycle race. Its circular shape is representative of a wheel. It became popular with riders on the Paris-Brest cycle race, partly because of its energy-giving high calorific value, and is now found in pâtisseries all over France.

“Perhaps the tastiest of all great French pastries, created a hundred years ago to honor a bicycle race. Assembled to order, which I’ve never seen done in a French patisserie. Wheel-shaped choux pastry stuffed with hazelnut mousse and hazelnut nougatine, topped with powdered sugar and toasted hazelnuts. Will have your wheels spinning.” Alan Richman

 Alan Richman of GQ Magazine named the Paris-Brest pastry at Balsan, Chicago the best dessert in the U.S. for 2010. (from wikipedia here)

butterscotch pots de creme

butterscotch pots de creme, pecan sandies, creme fraiche

*thank you all for the sweet birthday wishes

Congratulations to Chef Danny Grant, and thank you to the terrific team at Balsan including
GM Brian O’Connor, Restaurant Manager David Sanchez Marcos,
and our knowledgeable engaging server Kelly.

14 thoughts on “Where to Eat Next in Chicago: Balsan”

  1. Beautiful restaurant! And happy belated birthday! Hope you had a wonderful birthday. 🙂 You always take very good restaurant pictures. With restaurant indoor light and maybe some natural light (if daytime)… I never succeed taking good food pictures outside my home. What kind of lens and setting do you use for restaurant food pictures, if you don’t mind telling us? I and my husband need to practice…

    1. Thanks for the birthday wishes Nami. My secret to restaurant photos at night is to balance the ambient yellow dining room light with white light from the iphone screen. This is discreet and doesn’t affect other diners. I take the shot, and my brother (usually) holds the iphone. It’s kinda fun because you can shine the light at different angles.

  2. OK, as if I didn’t have enough reasons to return to Chicago — this one is up near the top now. That food looks exquisite. I have always loved that Paris Brest dessert but never manage to make it. Seeing it just now on your blog at Balsan makes me want to give it a shot. Great tip on taking photos using the iphone screen. Now all I need is an Iphone!

  3. We’re always looking for new spots to dine when we’re in Chicago…this looks fabulous, Lori Lynn!!! And belated birthday wishes…next time I want a Paris Brest instead of cake, though that pots de creme looks darn tasty, too!

  4. Fantastic. Chicago is one of my favorite cities to visit. Great eats. Glad to a see a Rainbow Trout course. Such an under appreciated fish.

  5. you sure know how to live your lovely life!! happy belated birthday… all of those entrees look amazing! Great story behind Chanel, too. 🙂

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