So glad I finally got to try Balena in Lincoln Park! I have been meaning to try this place for a while, so 5 friends and I went to check it out last week. Chris Padel, the restaurant’s head chef, was in the running for a James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant; that’s some serious stuff! Balena was also nominated for Best New Restaurant in the Chicago Foodie’s Bible- Time Out Chicago. I always trust the food writer’s opinions in that magazine and that was the big reason I was so tempted by this restaurant’s tantalizing menu.
Balena means “whale” in Italian, and after feasting on these delicious menu items, I think we all felt pretty whale-like…(but well worth it).
We started with two pizzas. The first, and all around favorite of the two, was the Spicy sausage pizza with red onion, tomato and mozzarella. The crust was so fresh and all of the ingredients melded perfectly together for a cheesy, spicy, warm slice.
The second pizza was the brussel sprout pizza with pancetta, pecorino and red onion. It had a salty/lemony flavor with the crisp leafy texture from the sprouts. Still a really good pizza, but nothing compared to the spicy sausage which was scarfed down by the table within 10 minutes. The brussel sprout pizza had two slicing remaining. The winner was clear.
Everyone got their own pasta dish for the main course. I like how the pasta dishes weren’t humungous like most Italian eateries. I was happily able to eat every last bite of mine. The most popular dish at the table was the Tagliolini Nero which was an ink pasta with crab, sea urchin and chili. Three people at the table ordered it! This dish reminded me exactly of the pasta I ordered at RPM Italian and I have to say, RPM take the cake on that one. Everyone at the table really enjoyed Balena’s Tagliolini Nero, for me, it was my least favorite.
I ordered the Orecchiette based off of the waiter’s heartfelt recommendation for it. I was very impressed! This dish came with kale, lemon, chili and toasted breadcrumbs that added some great texture on top of the creamy sauce. I only let one person at the table take a taste and I ate all the rest!
The last thing I tried was the Rigatoni with pork ragu and porcini mushrooms. Mushrooms are probably the only food I do not enjoy so I poked at the pasta and pork sauce which was really delicious.
Everyone really enjoyed their dinner at Balena, I hope to go back soon and try some more of their amazing-looking pizzas!