A friend of mine recently asked me for suggestions for a celebratory group dinner somewhere downtown; nothing upscale and with good food. Not knowing the size of the group but assuming it was in the 10-15 range, I immediately thought of Balsam Inn. The home-style Italian fare – which I have sampled for lunch and really enjoyed – and moderate price point are sure to have a wide appeal.
So here I was on this Saturday night at Balsam Inn, sister restaurant to Dominion Square Tavern next door (reviewed here). Open since the fall of 2014, the vintage space harks back to a bygone era via a restoration involving herringbone flooring, wood paneling and a sepia tone. The narrow dining room was half full upon our arrival at 7PM, but quickly filled up as a yuppie clientele filled up most tables.
Balsam Inn's versatile menu will meet the needs of patrons looking for a bite and a drink as well as those seeking more sustenance. An aperitivo section is followed by longer lists of starters and mains, the whole leaning towards northern Italian along with a few crowd pleasers such as Caesar salad, tartares and fried chicken. Drink options abound as well, from wines and spirits to Italian cocktails with a twist.
These fried risotto balls were crisp but unusually small in size and used a classic cheesy filling.
The calamari rings were beautifully seared but alas there was too few of them under the heap of fennel.
Two pieces of fried bird had a crusty encasing but lacked flavouring while the honey dip was plain boring. At least the fries hit the spot.
In the end, our dinner party comprised over 25 members. In hindsight, perhaps Balsam Inn was not the best choice for a group of this size. While the staff did do their best to accommodate us, the restricted layout meant we had to be split across several tables while placing us directly in the waiters' route.
Also, as I do like to nitpick; I thought the flutes used for our prosecco-by-the-glass were really tiny and cheap looking. Otherwise, our waitress was very welcoming, friendly and prompt.
Those who recall Laurier Avenue's Baldwin Barmacie can assert how important Alexandre Baldwin's first venture was to Montreal's cocktail scene some fifteen years ago. Today, Mr Baldwin and his partners are still pushing strong beverage programs across their collection of establishments, be it at Mile-End's Whisky Café and Henrietta or at downtown's Dominion Square Tavern and Balsam Inn.
In terms of food, my lunch last year was spectacular while dinner tonight had its highs and not-so-highs. Either way, the cozy setting combined with affordable, approachable food make this Italian brasserie one of downtown's better spots for drinks and nibbles.
tagged: PLAN B.
Price per person: $33
Montreal restaurant and bar reviews brought to you by two regular guys who like to eat and drink. We will go anywhere and we will say it like it is.