Accomodating & un-fussy fine diningWe took my in-laws for their anniversary dinner, he wanted seafood and she was looking forward to a nice Italian meal. My partner is a fairly picky eater and I am vegan so we had to ask a few questions about the menu but everyone of us got exactly what we wanted. The waiter could not have been nicer or more knowlegeable about the menu, and the kitchen staff happily prepared my entree with olive oil instead of butter. Everything was delicious but the prices are a little high for the portion size. Balena has fantastic appetizers, cocktails (featuring a very in-depth selection of vermouths), and desserts so it's a nice spot for a quick but classy bite/sip before or after seeing a show at neighboring Steppenwolf or Royal George.5/19/2013 12:00:00 AMan excellent Italian eatery,an excellent Italian eatery, vibrant, and a diversity of food options including appetizers, salads, pizzas, entrees, and deserts5/19/2013 12:00:00 AMFood was just okayService was impeccable but the food didn't live up to the rave reviews I'd heard.5/18/2013 12:00:00 AMThey could not find our reservationThey could not find our reservation when we arrived but they did their best to accommodate us. We sat at the bar for a drink and ended up enjoying our dinner there. We enjoyed the wine list and thought the mushroom pizza was fantastic. The restaurant is beautiful inside.5/18/2013 12:00:00 AMIncredible!Outstanding service and amazing food. I highly recommend the chicken thighs entree.5/17/2013 12:00:00 AMAmazing MealI had to rearrange my reservation due to travel issues, and they were VERY accommodating. The service was first-class, and oh, my god, the food. I went simple with the "spaghetti cacio e pepe" but it was PERFECT. Perfectly al dente, and the flavor profile was amazing. Then there was the rhubarb basil sorbetti. Enough said. An amazing evening for a discerning diner. I will be back and will recommend this restaraunt to everyone I know.5/17/2013 12:00:00 AMVery good pre theater diningThis was my second visit and it was as good as the first. My only criticism is that the menu is too limited but maybe that's the secret to having consistingly good food.5/15/2013 12:00:00 AMIncredible food, as alwaysBalena has become my new favorite restaurant in Chicago. Always fantastic service and incredible food, no matter how busy. I have ordered most of the dishes on their menu by now, and haven't been disappointed by a single one. Of course, I do have favorites - for pasta, I highly recommend the gnocchi w/ fava leaf pesto, pine nuts and pecorino. For starters, try the zampone (pig's trotters stuffed with pork sausage and fried) served over beluga lentils with mustard greens and citrus marmellata. It sounds so fatty, but it 's absolutely heavenly. And if you like tripe, the tripe alla parmigiana is a winner. Definitely get a couple pizzas to share - the spicy Italian sausage is fantastic, as is the lamb pancetta and smoked mozzarella.5/12/2013 12:00:00 AMGreat Service and FoodI am not a wine enthusiast but I was told that those in our party that do drink enjoyed their selection. The food was superb and I even took some of mine home and it was great the next day. This is definitely a place I will return to.5/12/2013 12:00:00 AMOne of Chicago's best restaurantsMy friend is newly Vegan and was timid to ask what she can order from the menu. However, once she asked, our server was more than accommodating. He worked with the chef to edit the menu and gave her more than enough options to choose from. She decided on a pizza that our server couldn't stop raving about, I quote "everything will be delicious, but the pizza will blow it all of the others away." It absolutely did. The chef created, on the spot, a vegan friendly pizza that was absolutely delicious. If I can remember correctly, it was topped with fennel, arugula, olives, artichokes, seasonal veggies, and a lemon vinaigrette. We also order the mushroom bruschetta, tilapia, and Salt & Pepper chicken. All were to die for. Highly recommended.5/11/2013 12:00:00 AMFood was good but what reallyFood was good but what really impressed was incredible service.5/10/2013 12:00:00 AMBest $$ dining in Chicago!Just returned from my first and quite terrific visit to Chicago. I admit I am a SF Bay Area foodie and I did my research before I went.
Yes, I read all of the accolades of Chicago's finest and hippest , but at $$$$ this was way beyond my budget. When I travel my goal is to find an outstanding memorable dining experience for $$. Disclosed: I want a nice bottle of wine with diner so of course that adds to the tab
. Balena fulfilled all of my requirements! Great artisan food, beautiful interesting room and beyond knowledgeable helpful staff. This was a great experience with many laughs and ahhs. Unfortunately I could not get tickets to Steppenwolf's show. 2nd disclosed: this is the first review I have felt compelled to submit to Open Table.5/10/2013 12:00:00 AMworthwhileWould prefer to see a menu more friendly to pesco-vegetarians. Fish dishes oftimes combined with
meat flavorings or additions. Wait-staff extremely knowledgable and attentive---better than most.
Very worthwhile and well done overall.5/9/2013 12:00:00 AMan excellent menu and winean excellent menu and wine list, outstanding service. the food was prepared to perfection. it is difficult to hold a conversation of normal tone and volume due to the excess "ambiance". while I would most definitely give a thumbs down as a place for a first date, this shortcoming would not preclude me from making another visit.5/8/2013 12:00:00 AMgreat post theatre experierceExcellent Italian food, wine and service. Creative menu and very friendly warm staff.5/5/2013 12:00:00 AMAdventurous Italian foodUpdated, stylish, Italian-influenced food, with many new things to try, like the delicious sausage appetizer, which was made with lamb instead of the traditional pork. relaxed atmosphere, wonderful house cocktails, and excellent service made for a great experience.5/5/2013 12:00:00 AMExcellent, unique ItalianEverything on the menu looks amazing - love the more exotic options like tripe, beef heart etc. Pizzas are perfect for sharing - we tried the house cured salmon w/ potato, arugula and creme fraiche. The pizza comes with an absolutely heavenly chili oil. Totally dip your crust in it. Also loved the spring pea bruschetta, unlike any I've had. Instead of a crostini, it's on a thick bread and the ricotta and spring pea puree topped with pea shoots is so refreshing. Balena also has a great Italian wine list and the space is beautiful. Very romantic but also chic and good for groups. Everything we had was tasty and I'll definitely be back for more soon. Still so many things on the menu I want to try.5/5/2013 12:00:00 AMBreadless meal?While we thoroughly enjoyed dinner, we were mystified by the lack of bread offered at the table. Having eaten at Italian restaurants all over Italy, as well as Chicago and New york, bread is always a given. Drinks first, and bread presented before that. I did question our server when she served our appetizers, as to why there was no bread (unless you order a bruschetta , as it's a component of the dish) and she indicated that they didn't consider it necessary, but was certainly willing to bring some to the table. It arrived, however after we had finished our first course, which I thought was bad timing. It consisted of a single slice, cut in two, with a small dish of olive oil. Excellent sourdough bread. Ask for it!5/3/2013 12:00:00 AMHip, great food and cocktails.Not just for the theater crowd.
This is in the huge, ex-Landmark space. And while it has some sure-to-be popular items such as pizzas that will enable it to fill said space, even these crowd-pleaders are done in spectacular fashion. Our pizza was fantastic, with some of the best crust I've had. We had 4 starters, all delicious. And the amari based cocktails (of which I sampled 3) were well balanced, if not terrifically strong. My wife had a great wine off of the list by the glass.
Server was friendly and attentive, and the ambience was energetic but not rowdy. It is not a quiet place, which is fine for where it is and what it is going for.5/3/2013 12:00:00 AMGem!I love this place - been multiple times and I always enjoy it. The ambiance is lovely, and the food so delicious.5/2/2013 12:00:00 AMWonderful as usualThis restaurant is our favorite! We live a couple of blocks away and find ourselves going almost weekly. Cannot go wrong with anything on the menu. Some other tv chefs have opened resturants in the city and their menus look like a carbon copy. But the good and atmosphere are just plain better at Balena.5/2/2013 12:00:00 AMItalian with a twistDelicious, well thought out Italian fare in a beautiful restaurant.5/1/2013 12:00:00 AMMemorable MealFood was exciting, recommended pairings were ideal, and the depth and richness of flavors was amazing!5/1/2013 12:00:00 AMBeautiful. Drinks are wonderful.Beautiful. Drinks are wonderful. Restaurant is gorgeous. I really recommend it!4/28/2013 12:00:00 AMMake a reservation now!This was my first time eating at Balena. I had high expectations after friends and reviews were telling me to expect a wonderful time. It met and exceeded those expectations. The pizza was great. I love their crust and this chili olive oil that the bring out to sprinkle over you pie was a great touch. The arugula salad was light and cleaned up my palate nicely for a small pasta and the salmon. The pastas a great for a primi to share with a few people. They're not so pig that you have to skip them if your getting one of their pizzas but they are large enough for a few people to have a few tastes. The salmon was perfection and came with a fish skin chip. It, again, showcased the chief's imagination and restraint! It's a go to place.4/28/2013 12:00:00 AMAwesome food. Looking forwardAwesome food. Looking forward to my next dinner there. Everything extremely fresh and vibrant.4/27/2013 12:00:00 AMGood service since we wereGood service since we were going to a show at the steppenwolf that night.4/26/2013 12:00:00 AMService was excellent, includingService was excellent, including moving us to a different table when our neighbors were extremely loud. The pasta was delicious, the pizza was average4/25/2013 12:00:00 AMThis was our first time atThis was our first time at Balena and what a memorable time we had. We arrived early and were seated in the upstairs portion of the restaurant overlooking Halsted. The hostess was kind enough to secure us a table right at the window...excellent! Our waitress, Becky, was very attentive and took great care of us. I ordered a fish that was a "whole fish", which I sent back. She was kind enough to comp my meal and was extremely apologetic, as the menu did not state that fact. Overall, excellent food, great ambiance and wonderful service!4/25/2013 12:00:00 AMDon't miss Balena!Went before a play at the Royal George. Space is sparse but beautifully appointed, tall ceilings, soft wood on the walls, accented by comfy seats and an unusual view of the kitchen. Had the kale Caesar salad, onions gratine, orchiette with lemon, a sensational brussel sprout and pancetta pizza, a lovely bottle of wine and a very nice light turn on a tiramisu which is usually not a favorite of mine. There was an extensive wine list to choose from, and our waiter, Eric, was very attentive, very conscious of our timing for the show and we never ever felt rushed but were finished in plenty of time.
The portions are not huge but we all shared at the table and everyone was very satisfied. There were plenty of items we want to go back and try!4/25/2013 12:00:00 AMOne of the best dinning experiencesOne of the best dinning experiences I've had in a while. This is a must hit restaurant!4/17/2013 12:00:00 AMhad a very enjoyable birthdayhad a very enjoyable birthday dinner for my son to include some of the best tiramisu ever which included a side of candle. We shared a Brussels sprouts pizza for a first course and a great sea urchin linguini for seconds along with a nice grilled steak dish. Great atmosphere great service, we will be back4/17/2013 12:00:00 AMTry the kale orecchiette!We had a delightful experience at Balena. We ordered the cured ham plate and an arugula/pine nut/parmesan salad to start, which was a delicious combination. We shared pasta dishes, and one of our party had excellent fish. The pasta was outstanding, particularly the kale orecchiette. For dessert we had an assortment of the sundaes, the pistachio orange being the highlight. The service was attentive and thoughtful without being intrusive. We had a great time, loved the food and thought the meal was a good value.4/16/2013 12:00:00 AMThe space is spectacular,The space is spectacular, service was great, food was decent.4/13/2013 12:00:00 AMWe had a reservation but hadWe had a reservation but had to wait 30 minutes for our table; however, they made it up to us without even asking --- free dessert! The dinner was well worth the wait...delicious!!4/13/2013 12:00:00 AMWe were disappointed. WeWe were disappointed. We were looking forward to their unusual bread selection, which is no longer available4/12/2013 12:00:00 AMDefinitely coming back.The space is beautiful, and the food was fantastic. The service was excellent, and the cocktail list was impressive. I highly recommend the mushroom bruschetta.4/12/2013 12:00:00 AMBalena has a gorgeous interiorBalena has a gorgeous interior space, dimly lit and lots of rustic charm. We enjoyed the handmade pastas and Italian wine selections. Dessert was a simple, yet delightful affogato, served with just made, still warm donuts! A real treat.4/9/2013 12:00:00 AMThis is a wonderful place,This is a wonderful place, and we'll definitely go again. Food was overall quite good, although it didn't quite meet the standard of the last time we were there. But the service from our waitress, Nick, and Erica was so great, it made my birthday outing a real treat.4/6/2013 12:00:00 AMQuite noisey, but tables setQuite noisey, but tables set apart, so we were able to converse with friends we were with.. Food was very good, pizza/crust delicious. Pasta was great.
Bartenders offered a taste of each wine by the glass, before our purchase-- Very nice touch!! (at the bar, while we waited for our rerservation)4/5/2013 12:00:00 AMGem of a place! Pre-theater!Perfect evening, friendly and great service, comfortable/casual without compromising the high quality food experience. Big place without feeling big. Plates timed well, so we didn't feel at all rushed. Perfect locale for pre-theater dining at nearby locales.
Delicious, homey, lovely, satisfying!4/5/2013 12:00:00 AMMy second visit this year,My second visit this year, and just as good the second time around!4/3/2013 12:00:00 AMGreat time, lots of fun.Great casual dinner. Food and service great. Unbelievable wine list.4/3/2013 12:00:00 AMMake Your Reservations Now!Balena is one of my favorite restaurants in the country. The atmosphere is "hip elegance": a youthful vibe, but with a dose of class and superb service that make a couple in their fifties feel right at home. The decor has a creatively rustic flair, without being too trendy, and I would say the same about the food: it's rustic gourmet Italian, with pasta dishes that are extraordinary, and pizzas that transport the palette--especially with a sprinkle of the optional Calabrese chili oil! My favorites to date are: the tagliolini nero with crab and sea urchin, and the mushroom-fontina-taleggio-scallion pizza. For dessert, the grapefruit sorbetti with Aperol granita (recipe featured in the New York Times (08.07.2012) is fantastic.4/2/2013 12:00:00 AMMy 2nd dinner here was soMy 2nd dinner here was so good, I cannot wait to go back to try more of the menu. Service is always top notch, and the space is great and feels a level above the typical rustic modern interiors that are now ubiquitous. The salad was perfect, and the ravioli was so tasty, we were tempted to get a 2nd order of it. Our entrees were both excellent, and the portion on mine was generous. I love the onion tart and hope it stays on the menu. We saved a bit of room for dessert, and the donuts were the best I've had in this city remarkably.3/31/2013 12:00:00 AMWe started our first mealWe started our first meal at Balena with the deliciously fresh focaccia bread. We then tried a pizza. This was no ordinary pizza, it was Brussel sprouts and pancetta arranged delicately on perfect crust with fresh grated cheese sprinkled in just the right amount on top. This pizza is amazing! We didn't stop there - we each ordered a pasta dish - the simple, yet satisfying Cacio e Pepe and the pork Ragu, which was equally delicious. The meal, wine, and overall experience left such a positive impact that we went back again the next night. This is a great restaurant.3/30/2013 12:00:00 AMThe cocktail and wine listThe cocktail and wine list here are really quite excellent. I have been several times and both times had great service. The staff is very attentive and willing to provide some of their favorites as the menu does change. (One thing to bear in mind, the actual menu is not always exactly the same as what is listed on line, despite that fact I have never been disappointed with the menu options).3/30/2013 12:00:00 AMWent there on a day to Chicago.Went there on a day to Chicago. I had made revations. When we arrived we were greeted with a smile and then lead to our table which was a window seat, which I felt had a very nice view.
The service was good. Nothing over the top but by no means anything to complian about.
They suggest sharing most items (which I love) and that could be coursed out with the exception of the pizzas. We ordered the mushroom brochette and beef heart as appetizers and a mozzrolla pizza. All the food was excellent.
As we were finishing dinner another couple was seated next to us. The lady had called ahead to see if they could get a nicer table as it was his B-day. The staff had made him a card which I thought was a very nice gesture.3/29/2013 12:00:00 AMFrancesco, sausage pizza,Francesco, sausage pizza, salt and pepper chicken, pork ragu pasta, and affogato were all delicious and fairly priced. I think the kale ceaser could have had more croutons and more finely chopped sardines. The only major disappointment was the porchetta. The polenta was favorless and too runny to be considered creamy. The "red onion salad" was virtually nonexistent. The meat was alright, but nothing to write home about—steer clear of this entree. Everything else, however, including service and ambiance, was excellent. I will definitely return.3/29/2013 12:00:00 AMAfter dining at Bristol, weAfter dining at Bristol, we were looking forward to trying Balena. Balena did not disappoint. We arrived 1/2 hour early and our table wasn't ready. It was suggested we have a seat at the bar until we could be seated. By the end of our drink, we were escorted to our table at the original time of our reservation. Throughout the meal we were treated with warmth and professionalism. Explanations were given with knowledge of the food and suggestions were right on target. We regret that we do not live in the Chicago are but visit only once a year. We want to return again and again.3/29/2013 12:00:00 AM