I was so happy to spend some time in Chicago after Labor Day weekend. A handful of girlfriends got together for an early meal at Balena, a place I have been wanting to check out for a while. The restaurant itself is beautiful, with high ceilings and a warm & rustic feeling.
We had ourselves a bit of a smorgasbord, but hey, we were seven foodie women who wanted to taste everything on the menu! The Balena platter came first: 3 cured meats, three cheeses, four breads, and some flavorful spreads to enjoy. The chocolate cherry sourdough was wild, and we each had enough of everything to nosh on before the rest of the courses.
Other dishes were the Kale Caesar Salad, Tagliolini Nero ( with Crab, Sea Urchin, Chili), and another starter. All were unique takes on their ‘regular’ counterparts.
Then our three pizzas came along, and I realized we may have ordered too much! For seven girls, 3 16″ pizzas were more than enough, especially after all of our appetizers. But this was a great opportunity to try three different types of ZA at Balena and take some home for later.
Check out my oven Pic:
First, Let’s talk crust. This is no normal Neapolitan or cornmeal crust. It has an Italian artisan flare. While it was light and airy, the dough wasn’t floppy or soggy. The ingredients were lightly applied as not to overwhelm the palette. There was a bit of inconsistency with the cooking of the pizzas. While a bit of char is okay, some areas of the pizza were overcooked. Otherwise, the flavor combinations were splendid, and slices reheated quite well for leftovers.
Mozzarella, Basil, Tomato: This basic pizza was well done. I loved their choice of cheese and how it melted beautifully on along the crust.
Heirloom Tomato, Ricotta Salata, Garlic, Oregano: FLAVOR AWESOMENESS! Though this pizza doesn’t seem too thrilling, the plethora of garlic and heirloom tomatoes packed a punch. Normally, restaurants would have these combinations as a white pizza, but I welcomed those heirloom tomatoes because they added so much to contrast the fresh ricotta.
Spicy Salami, Tomato, Mozzarella: Everyone seemed to be a big fan of this one. I was able to tolerate the spicy salami, and the meat tasted fresh. Very nice.
Along with the ambiance of the restaurant, their dishes were creative and satisfying. The pizza here was unique, and I appreciated the combination of flavors. The waitress suggested a few other pizzas that we didn’t try, so if I came back, I would love to get a different selection.