Saturday, June 2, 2012

Balena... Tried a place last night in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chi-town and have much to report back.

First the ambience. The interior of the restaurant was casually elegant, a sort of polished rustic vibe. There were walls of ragged brown brick and dark exposed wood beams lined the cieling. The best part was the lighting, the entire place was full of a great yellowy glow given off by large tangled round bundles of gold string lights that hung down sporadically in lieu of chandeliers. Of course the feel of a place more or less enhances the meal, so I was off to a good start with initial feelings warmth and comfort.

The food is italian with a twist. First out was a beautiful basket of homemade breads and spreads. The assortment included lemon herb challah and crusty raisin baguette just to name a few. All warm and freshly baked - perfection! Next there were two salads/starters. The first was a "kale caesar", and was Dahlicious down to the last bite. I'm really loving kale but I'm wishing I knew how they got the tenderness just right for a salad. Usually raw kale is a bit tough and sauteed or steamed kale seems too soft to hold up to a thick creamy dressing, my guess is that they blanched it which I will have to try sometime soon. The second salad was buratta, beet, celery root, and parsley. This was pretty good, but as a buratta lover I was unimpressed with the texture of their cheese. Normally buratta is like fresh mozzarella but with an undeniably creamy center. This version unfortunately was quite firm, but the flavors were nonetheless pretty good. The main course was salt and pepper roasted chicken thighs topped with an arugala and watercress salad. The fluffy greens were dressed perfectly in a very light vinegarette and the chicken was that great combination of juciy and tender on the inside with a crispy salty skin on top. Along side the chicken thighs was a delectable creamy polenta covered with "tomato fondue". This was rich and Dahlicious and a great sweet bite to go along with the savory chicken. The meal could not be completely finished off so there was a bit left to take home. This however was no reason to miss out on dessert, which had been suggested before hand. The last part of the meal was a perfect bit of sweetness to satisfy my belly! Cinnamon Sugar doughnuts paired with vanilla gelato, all made in house, and a shot of espresso on the side. When the dish is served the waiter pours the shot right over the double scoop of gelato. Let me just say that this combination was unreal. The doughnut was not your typical airy, frosted, early morning bad decision. It was dense. Not dense like a cakey doughnut but dense like it was made with quality ingredients and love. Warm and fabulous. The other half of the dessert was the icy sweet homemade vanilla gelato, which was at that point slowly melting in a puddle of dark, rich, slightly bitter espresso. For those of you who don't know me, I am an espresso addict so this was right up my alley. I can only say that the doughnut was basically begging to be dipped hunk by hunk in the creamy concoction that sat next to it. Can you tell I loved this dessert??

The only downside to the meal was that it took almost 2 hours! I tend to consider myself an Eater not a Diner so this made me a bit antsy to hit the road once the meal was over, but I definitely left satisfied. My one suggestion would be to stay away from a late reservation!

I think this meal will inspire some blanched kale salads as well as roasted chicken. I've been perfecting my chicken roasting skills in the last couple of months so I think that will have to be on my dinner menu sometime in the very near future.

Hope yall thought this meal sounded as Dahlicious as it was in person! Enjoy the pics below!

Homemade Breads and Spreads
Kale Caesar 
Beet and Buratta
Salt and Pepper Chicken Thighs
Polenta with tomato fondue
Cinnamon sugar doughnuts with vanilla gelato and a shot of espresso

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