CHIReview

Balena is permanently closed

photo credit: Christina Slaton

Balena review image

Balena

$$$$(312) 867-3888
Hours:FRI
5PM-11PM

This Restaurant Is Temporarily Closed

We all have short attentions spans. Remember “The Simple Life” with Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie? Of course not. That show is a poor man’s Keeping Up With The Kardsashians. Remember how the Kardashians got famous? Probably, but we overlook it these days. Our short attention spans also fail us when it comes to Balena. One second it’s all the hotness, then suddenly it’s an afterthought. But unlike Paris Hilton’s beloved dog Tinkerbell (RIP), Balena hasn’t gone away.

In fact, Balena is still a very useful restaurant for a lot of occasions. It offers comfort and simplicity in a modern way with familiar yet still interesting Italian food. Date Night? Do it. Co-workers, parents, or friends in town? Yup. Salmon breakfast pizza for brunch? Told you it was versatile, and it’s even reasonably priced.

We like to make shared pastas, like cacio pepe and rigatoni ragu, the backbone of any meal. But pizza, small plates like burrata and lamb meatballs, or a personal steak or chicken are acceptable. The shared plates and pastas are also plenty of food so you’re not fighting over the last bite. That’s not always the case at modern Italian restaurants, so while Balena feels new-age Italian, you never feel like you’re served three noodles and getting screwed.

The restaurant itself is also a great place to sit, which is where a lot of the comfort factor comes into play. The ceilings here are huge in a cathedral-like manner with giant wood beams. It helps give Balena a sense of action without ever being too loud.

We might choose to ignore how the Kardashians became famous*, but don’t ignore Balena, because that would be a mistake.

*A sex tape and a father who defended OJ. Never forget.

Food Rundown

Arugula Salad

Get some greens in the mix because you don’t want to be a disgusting human being. We like the arugula salad with pine nuts and lemon.

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Burrata Di Panna

Burrata, olive oil, sea salt. Never a bad way to start.

Lamb Meatballs

Get them. They come in a pomodoro sauce with pecorino and pine nut. Maybe get two if you have more than four people.

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Cacio Pepe

Yes, yes, and yes. A perfect balance of cheese and pepper. Our favorite of the pastas.

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Hen Egg Tajarin

A plainish pasta with brown butter and sage. Based on the name, we wish it had a much richer brown butter sauce.

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Rigatoni

Rigatoni with a pork ragu. Simple and delicious.

Tagliolini Nero

Squid ink pasta with crab, sea urchin and mint. Not bad, but it’s heavy on the mint and light on the seafood. We wish it was the other way around.

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Potato Gnocchi

Potato gnocchi with mushroom and parmesan. Another of our usual pasta orders.

Spicy Pepperoni Pizza

The pizza is thin crust, the pepperoni definitely has a spicy kick, and there’s a hint of sweetness to it. Our go-to pizza order, but any of them are good.

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Skirt Steak

If you’re looking for some meat on the table, then skirt steak all the way. It comes with raw mushrooms and a porcini mustard, and it’s delicious.

Brunch

Balena is always a strong brunch move. You can go the smoked salmon pizza route, which is great, or go the egg route with something like the the scrambled egg bruschetta or crispy polenta hash.

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