Baela Rose, which opened this summer in Dundee, might be a good illustration of what’s next in Omaha dining.
Think about the plates you’ve eaten on your anniversary or your birthday at one of the city’s finest restaurants, plates created with local, seasonal ingredients that are beautifully arranged, dishes designed for maximum sensory experience. The kind of plates people reserve for a few times a year because of their price tags and the high-end atmosphere in which they’re served.
Now, think about a similar plate, one creative, elegant and tasty, but with a price tag of $12 served in a casual chic atmosphere. A plate that rises to the top of your recent food experiences, but one that you might return for next Tuesday instead of for next year’s birthday.
That’s the experience at Baela Rose, a restaurant I like so much because it’s bridging the gap between fine and casual dining, and proving that you can, in fact, enjoy a well-composed, creative meal on a regular basis for a price that won’t make you gasp.
Take, for instance, the restaurant’s $12 version of panzanella salad. It arrives artfully plated on a long, white rectangle, the ingredients anchored by a generous spread of house-made ricotta cheese. Heirloom tomatoes in hues of red, orange, purple and yellow burst with summer flavor. Atop the tomatoes: zingy castelvetrano green olives, bright basil, shallot, aged balsamic and rustic pieces of torn, toasted bread.
Or the $5 bowl of vegetable chips, which we liked so much we ordered them both evenings we visited. Once, we got a crisped-brown array of carrots, Brussels sprouts and beets, among other options. But the next night, a week later, the Brussels sprouts were the only holdover. Instead, we got crisp kale, and sweet and white potatoes. The dish illustrates owners Kyle and Rose Anderson’s dedication to sticking with local and seasonal ingredients, and using whatever looks best at that moment.
The Andersons moved back to Nebraska from California in 2014 to be closer to family after the birth of their daughter, Baela Rose — that’s where the restaurant’s name comes from — but also to get a piece of what they saw as Omaha’s changing food scene.
Now, they’re working almost exclusively with local purveyors, Kyle Anderson said, to serve what he describes as dishes that pair “European techniques with local ingredients.”
He said he works hard with local producers to ensure that the restaurant gets the best prices on its supplies, and that’s what enables the restaurant to keep the menu prices reasonable.
The owners looked at other neighborhoods, but Dundee, they said, felt right. They took on a big project in renovating a former dry-cleaning office building into the restaurant’s dining room, adding floor-to-ceiling windows and exposing the building’s original brick interior walls.
It’s a warm but casual space and those big windows mean diners get a great view of Underwood Avenue from anywhere they’re seated. I’d prefer if the Edison bulbs strung from the ceiling were dimmed a bit more in the evening.
The menu is presented in four sections, each marked with a star, from one to four, starting with appetizers and ending with large plates designed for sharing. The two-star section includes salads and a cheese plate, the three-star section heavier, small plates, like braised short ribs and Brussels sprouts with prosciutto.
I’d strongly suggest not adhering to one dish per diner, and instead, do like we did: order four or five plates and share them all.
It’s hard not to compare the style of plating at Baela Rose to what diners have seen at The Grey Plume. Plates of food carefully dotted with different colored sauces and flavored powders reminded me strongly of what I’ve eaten at The Plume, especially when it came to the dessert courses.
(It’s probably not a total surprise: Baela Rose’s chef de cuisine, John Engler, is formerly of The Grey Plume. He also was sous chef at V. Mertz when Kyle Anderson was the executive chef from 2008 to ’10.)
The familiar style greeted us on the carefully arranged cheese plate, where room-temperature Natalie in Grey and Rosa Maria, both from Dutch Girl Creamery at Shadow Brook Farm near Lincoln, and Prairie Rose, from Iowa’s Milton Creamery, arrived artfully placed between puddles of seasonal jam, almonds and cut fresh berries set just so.
We saw it, too, on the braised short rib, a melt-in-your-mouth buttery piece of meat set between colorful carrots, celery and pink pickled onions. Two small towers of thin, layered potatoes had a starchy interior and crisp outside. A bright orange swath of sauce cut through the plate’s opposite side.
Other dishes, like the whole fried steelhead trout and the roasted cauliflower steaks, came served in a more rustic style.
That trout is a must-try. Ours arrived perfectly cooked, its flesh flaky and exterior crisp and herbaceous, creating a lovely contrast. The tomato salad lets the fruit shine alongside pickled onions and green beans. Simple, seasonal and straightforward, this dish was the star of the evening.
Hearty, meaty cauliflower steaks cooked to a crisp were another hit, served with a rustic salad featuring kamut, an ancient grain, summer squash, fingerling potatoes and roasted kale.
We tried a variety of other small plates: simple brioche served with butter and jam; “nuts and pork,” which is a warm, saucy blend of warm almonds and squares of fatty pork in a sweet-spicy sauce; and a pretty serving of roasted beets that arrived topped with fennel shaved thin enough to be transparent, orange, horseradish, creme fraiche and more thinly shaved Rosa Maria cheese.
A few more adventurous dishes dot the menu, and I sampled one, a crispy pig head terrine that arrives with an ultra crunchy outside and a rich and meaty interior. It’s an old-school texture that might unnerve some diners, but it’s one I really like. The slab arrives topped with a sharp mustard aioli, peppery arugula and acidic pickled cabbage.
For dessert, I’d recommend “chocolate, peanut butter and banana,” which, among other things, includes fried banana bread, cold house-made ice cream, crumbled bits of chocolate and peanut butter powder.
Baela Rose has adopted the best parts of some of the city’s fine dining spots — local and seasonal focus, attention to detail, creativity and excellent service — and put them within reach of the everyday. It’s comfortable, tasty and, without question, one of the best new restaurants to open in Omaha this year.
Address: 4919 Underwood Ave.
Hours: Tuesday through Sunday 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m. Closed Monday.
Hits: The veggie chips, which rotate according to seasonal produce, are a great starter at only $5. Other hits: a beautifully plated panzanella salad with ultra flavorful tomatoes, a buttery braised short rib and a flaky whole, pan-fried steelhead trout.
Misses: The one big miss came in the form of a corn cake, basil and strawberry dessert, which simply had too much going on with its basil ice cream, crumbly cake and lots of dotted sauces and powders.
Drinks: An approachable wine list and creative cocktails.
Prices: Surprisingly affordable. First plates start at $5. Second- and third-course options sit at $9 to $16, and entrees top out under $30.
Other things to know: The menu is designed for sharing, and I would recommend ordering dishes from each section and sharing. When the restaurant is crowded, the acoustics make it noisy. A 15-spot parking lot behind the building is reserved for customers.