Great food without the pressureWe visited Balena after a show at Steppenwolf's Garage Theater. Given their location, they did ask if we had theater plans after dinner, and as we didn't, we got to experience a more relaxed pace and vibe. Their pizzas are well fired and have a great crust, and their carbonara is outstanding!6/15/2013 12:00:00 AMFabulous.My husband and I had a wonderful experience at Balena, Our server was particularly outstanding, it has been a long time since I had service this exceptional. The food was excellent (we both ordered fish), and the wine list--even the wines by the glass--was outstanding (if a bit pricey). Prices were a bit on the high side, but you get what you pay for...6/15/2013 12:00:00 AMWonderful experience! StaffWonderful experience! Staff went above and beyond and was extremely accommodating. The food was both exciting and comforting. We had a special night--the perfect setting for good company and good conversation.6/13/2013 12:00:00 AMIt would be perfect if ...The designers had paid more attention to devices to keep the noise down. I strained my voice trying to hold an ordinary conversation with my dinner partner. For a meal that cost $100 each, I think talking should have been easier.6/13/2013 12:00:00 AMFood was great, wait staffFood was great, wait staff was very friendly. Overall a great experience.6/13/2013 12:00:00 AMGreat small plates!I made a reservation for four and we had a last minute addition which made us five. They accommodated us right away in the bar area. We had six items from the menu plus a pizza and everything was great. The drinks were spot on. This was a fun place for our group of one fifty-something and four twenty-something's.6/11/2013 12:00:00 AMExpected to be wowedMy meal at Balena was good, with a couple of highlight dishes, but overall I expected more from the food. We had more average (lamb sausage, asparagus, cured meats - though the gin & juice salami was a stand-out) dishes than great (salt and pepper chicken thighs). For the price, I've had better meals.6/10/2013 12:00:00 AMReserve Your Table Now!Balena is a welcome addition to the Chicago food scene. Menu is full of unique and well-prepared items -- try one of their pizzas as a starter (good for a table of 4). We found our server to be engaging and delightful, without being overly intrusive. And the environment is a design marvel. This place is a gem and we would return in a heartbeat.6/9/2013 12:00:00 AMOutstanding service...and food too.We went to Balena to celebrate my wife's birthday and had an excellent time. Eric our waiter helped us with decisions from the wine list as well as the food. He helped us make choices based on our likes and dislikes, and every decision made was a great one. The starters were excellent, the pasta delicious, and the chicken entree was amazing (we rarely order chicken at restaurants). I highly recommend this restaurant and if you can ask to be seated in eric's section.6/9/2013 12:00:00 AMDelicious Food - Fun AtmosphereWe sat at the chef's table which was great. Not only did we get to see what they were cooking, also got to try stuff we didn't even order! Everything was so fresh and delicious. You could taste all of the ingredients in each dish - nothing to hide here! This would be a great time with a big group. The environment is very vibrant and fun. Can't wait to go back again!6/8/2013 12:00:00 AMEnjoyI thought there was not much you could improve on. I chose from the gluten free menu which was probably 90% of the regular menu. The rest of my family said the pasta was incredible. Service was top notch and prices were reasonable for what you got. Highly recommend.6/7/2013 12:00:00 AMRiff on ItalianOur meal at Balena was full of pleasant surprises. Although they serve pizzas and pastas, the ingredients are not limited to typical Italian and feature creative uses of seasonal vegetables, artisanal cheeses and home-cured meats. Meats were perfectly cooked, sauces flavorful but not overly salty. Portion sizes are generous, good for sharing.
The service is impeccable and friendly.6/6/2013 12:00:00 AMA very impressed couple !Our meal was amazing - all fresh ingredients prepared simply but with great skills. The service was impeccable - again simple and friendly but yet very professional - made us feel like we were in a five star restaurant .6/6/2013 12:00:00 AMVery nice mealReally nice meal. Really enjoyed the roasted arugula.6/5/2013 12:00:00 AMGreat!This has been one of the best Italian restaurants that I have been too. They're pizza is amazing and the service is definitely one of the best.6/2/2013 12:00:00 AMFantastic mealI have eaten at Balena many times, but this was the best meal thus far. We had to be at a play across the street following dinner. The staff made sure our food was served promptly, but we did not feel rushed. Waiter chose excellent wines to go with each of our dinners. Would recommend this restaurant to everybody.6/1/2013 12:00:00 AMGreat ExperienceWent to Balena for my wife's birthday and was very impressed with the food. The food was very fresh and the home made pasta and pizza reminded us of Tuscany. The server was very helpful and knowledgeable and provided us with some excellent recommendations. It is a high energy and loud place.6/1/2013 12:00:00 AMThe food was great. The serviceThe food was great. The service was excellent. The whole night was terrific.6/1/2013 12:00:00 AMPre-theatre dinnerStumbled upon Balena before a performance at Steppenwolf, and decided to come back and give it a try. What a great find! Inspired, small, seasonal menu that is diverse enough for all diners. We went with starter and main options, but their pasta and pizza options would make for a more casual shared dish experience. Will be back.5/31/2013 12:00:00 AMCharming Italian restaurantGreat innovative food, very good wine list, excellent service! The staff were most welcoming and accommodating.5/30/2013 12:00:00 AMfantastic find!Food was excellent, as was the service. My husband and I shared the arugula salad and spring bruschetta. He had pasta and I had the salt and pepper chicken, which was amazing. Would definitely recommend to friends visiting Chicago. It was easy to get reservations.5/30/2013 12:00:00 AMGreat good, great atmosphere.Great good, great atmosphere. Best foodie pizza and pasta.5/26/2013 12:00:00 AMOutstanding!We were so excited to try Balena and I have to say that it exceeded our expectations! The food and the drinks were amazing! We can't wait to go back!5/26/2013 12:00:00 AMsurprisingly fresh greens....gardensurprisingly fresh greens....garden fresh. used a very good American Cheese on the salad (Dante) Pizza is surprising and gelato right to share,5/24/2013 12:00:00 AMPre-theatre destinationWe stopped for a bite before going to the Royal George Theatre. We told them we were in a bit of a rush when we sat down, but the waiter didn't seem to comprehend fully that we all wanted to order. He left to put in the pizza order, but we had to flag him down so the other diners could order as well. It was harried and awkward. But the food is fantastic.5/23/2013 12:00:00 AMExcellentEverything about Balena was excellent. We were lucky enough to get the kitchen table and really enjoyed it! The food and service was fantastic.5/22/2013 12:00:00 AMAbsolutely fantasticSmall but varied selection of dishes. The pizza crust was outstanding. The pasta (made in house, and tastes like it) was great. The service is noteworthy, our server was knowledgeable, attentive, friendly and genuinely excited about the food and drink. Speaking of drinks, there's a large selection of wines, and a unique and interesting cocktail menu. Both were quite good.
Overall, a really wonderful place to eat. Great food, good environment, outstanding service and nice cocktails, what more could you ask for?
It's not cheap, but it's a good value for the money.5/22/2013 12:00:00 AMDelicious and a great experienceThe food was amazing (Brussels sprout pizza and rhubarb sorbetti sundae for dessert), the cocktails were marvelous (try their new apertivo program!) and the service was impeccable. They accommodated our theatre-going schedule without feeling rushed, and our server was knowledgable, friendly, helpful, and seemed really excited to help us choose what we'd like. We are already looking forward to planning another trip to Balena!5/22/2013 12:00:00 AMAccomodating & 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 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 AMAppetizers yea; pizza nayWe will keep coming back to Balena because the meals are consistently good. The appetizers showed off that attribute -- the green pea bruschetta in particular was excellent. Disappointingly, the pizza we ordered was slightly burnt; this did not ruin the crust at all, but the herbs on the top of the pizza were completely charred. Perhaps the pizza was meant to be served this way, but it was disappointing.
We still highly recommend this restaurant, just be hesitant to order a pizza (particularly if it has herbs on it).5/15/2013 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 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 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 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 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 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 AM