Yesterday, I helped my dear friend, Barb, celebrate her birthday by having dinner at Balena in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood.
Balena is located just 1 block from
the North/Clybourn ‘L’ stop along the CTA Red Line. It is the perfect spot for dinner, if you are attending a show at Steppenwolf Theatre which is directly across the street. Balena is also adjacent to the fabulous Royal George Theatre.
Balena is an Italian-inspired restaurant. Chef/Owner, Chris Pandel has created a really tasty menu of starters, pastas, entrees, dessert and libations.
Here’s how our dinner went down:
Barb and I shared an interesting starter of Smoked mackerel, soft boiled egg, pumpernickel bread crumbs and aioli. The flavors were all very nice. I cannot remember the last time I saw mackerel offered on a menu. So, this was a pleasant surprise.
Next up, we shared a mid-sized pasta of Orecchiette, kale, lemon, bread crumbs and chili flakes. The thing I love most about Italian cuisine is that dishes, if done right, are made with just a few simple ingredients. This pasta dish really highlighted the lemon flavor which was fabulous news for me, since I adore all things lemon 🙂 Also, there was just the right amount of chili flakes to make this the spicy dish I hoped it would be.
We each ordered our own main entree. Barb ordered this super comforting Braised short rib with rhutabaga puree and shaved brussel sprout salad. Yum!
I ordered the Wood-roasted chicken thighs with fregola and pickled winter vegetables. This dish was my absolute favorite of the evening. Seriously, I was blown away. Normally, I do not order chicken at a restaurant, unless the restaurant specializes in chicken. I am usually disappointed because the chicken at many restaurants is either overcooked, undercooked (Yikes!) and underwhelming.
However, I love chicken thighs and just about anything prepared in a wood-burning oven. Our server promised me that this dish was amazing. Folks, I was not disappointed! Balena’s chicken thighs were very juicy on the inside and super crispy on the outside. They were seasoned really well. The pickled winter vegetables and fregola were just the right complement of flavor and texture for the chicken. Perfection! I challenge any other restaurant to offer me a better chicken dish than this one from Balena.
We washed down our dinner with some Prosecco and Lambrusco, the perfect and elegant celebratory drinks.
Lastly, Barb and I split Balena’s Nougat Semifreddo with dried cherries, walnuts and pistachio gelato. It was smooth, creamy, crunchy, light and yummy.
The space at Balena is warm and cozy yet elegant. This building used to be home to Landmark, until Balena took over a few years back. There is a really sleek leather-covered bar with leather stools. The dining tables also include comfortable leather chairs.
There is a vaulted ceiling with beautiful wood beams and sparkling chandeliers. Think elegant ski lodge!
Another cool aspect of the space at Balena is that the kitchen is located on the second floor. Diners in the first floor dining room can view the chefs at work through the pretty arched windows.
I cannot believe it has taken me so long to get to Balena. I will definitely be returning to sample more from its delicious and changing menu.
Balena is located at 1633 N. Halsted. Click here for more information.
In keeping with the spirit of Feeding Off The Rails, I encourage you to leave your car at home and take the CTA Red Line to Balena. Save on gas. Avoid traffic, road rage and parking. Reduce pollution. Don’t drink and drive!