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  • Post #31 - February 9th, 2015, 2:54 pm
    Post #31 - February 9th, 2015, 2:54 pm Post #31 - February 9th, 2015, 2:54 pm
    Just hosted an 8-person birthday dinner at Balena this last Saturday. We were intrigued by the new "Family Style" menu they offer for groups of 8 or more, and happy to report that it's very much worth checking out.

    For $50/person, you get three apps, two pastas, two entrees & a dessert. The food was across-the-board excellent; in fact, we all remarked that it was a fair bit better than any previous meal we'd had there. Portions were perfect as well - more than enough to go around (in fact we couldn't quite finish either the app or entree courses).

    Perhaps best of all: for an additional $19/person, they offer all-you-can-drink house red & white wine for the table! Between the 8 of us I'd guess we went through 6-8 bottles total - fantastic deal, considering the cheapest by the glass wine on the menu is $9-$10.

    Highly recommended for larger groups.
  • Post #32 - February 9th, 2015, 8:13 pm
    Post #32 - February 9th, 2015, 8:13 pm Post #32 - February 9th, 2015, 8:13 pm
    Great tip, Possumlad. Thanks.

    Does anyone have a recipe for a pork ragu similar to Balena's? If I lived within walking distance, I might sit at the bar and have that for dinner several times a week.
  • Post #33 - February 10th, 2015, 8:33 am
    Post #33 - February 10th, 2015, 8:33 am Post #33 - February 10th, 2015, 8:33 am
    Possumlad wrote:Just hosted an 8-person birthday dinner at Balena this last Saturday. We were intrigued by the new "Family Style" menu they offer for groups of 8 or more, and happy to report that it's very much worth checking out.

    For $50/person, you get three apps, two pastas, two entrees & a dessert. The food was across-the-board excellent; in fact, we all remarked that it was a fair bit better than any previous meal we'd had there. Portions were perfect as well - more than enough to go around (in fact we couldn't quite finish either the app or entree courses).

    Perhaps best of all: for an additional $19/person, they offer all-you-can-drink house red & white wine for the table! Between the 8 of us I'd guess we went through 6-8 bottles total - fantastic deal, considering the cheapest by the glass wine on the menu is $9-$10.

    Highly recommended for larger groups.


    Balena is one of my favorite spots in the city. Last year, I hosted a family dinner for 10 (prior to the new offering Possumlad mentioned) and couldn't have been a better experience.

    When I go there with my wife, we always request the chef's counter - a little known two-top adjacent to the wood fired oven and overlooking the kitchen. It's a great vantage point and is actually quite private.

    Here's a photo from my photographer Nick Murway of the chef's counter. It's best to call and try to reserve or request the chef's counter when you make your reservation. Unfortunately, most of the time they're unable to guarantee the spot.

    balena_chef_counter.jpg View from the chef's counter of the kitchen and cdc Joe Frillman
  • Post #34 - September 14th, 2015, 9:47 am
    Post #34 - September 14th, 2015, 9:47 am Post #34 - September 14th, 2015, 9:47 am
    Dinner here last night was completely ... shrug. Good cocktails and great vermouth list, tasty basic arugula salad but uninspired and oddly crusted pizza (margherita ... rather too thick crust too chewy), ok pasta, really dull chicken thighs (with more chili oil?), boring beans. Tasty gelatos. The bill definitely added up to more than I'd want to spend on this meal ... too bad.
  • Post #35 - September 14th, 2015, 10:03 am
    Post #35 - September 14th, 2015, 10:03 am Post #35 - September 14th, 2015, 10:03 am
    Sad to say but my experience last week was also sub-par. Squid ink pasta with crab and sea urchin was barely lukewarm and the contained about three shreds of tasteless crab and two tiny pieces of urchin. No olive oil or any other flavorful liquid of any kind on the pasta. Hoping this was also an outlier, as previous visits have been stellar...
    "Barbecue sauce is like a beautiful woman. If it’s too sweet, it’s bound to be hiding something."
    — Lyle Lovett


    "How do you say 'Yum-o' in Swedish? Or is it Swiss? What do they speak in Switzerland?"- Rachel Ray
  • Post #36 - September 14th, 2015, 10:07 am
    Post #36 - September 14th, 2015, 10:07 am Post #36 - September 14th, 2015, 10:07 am
    mchodera wrote:Squid ink pasta with crab and sea urchin was barely lukewarm and the contained about three shreds of tasteless crab and two tiny pieces of urchin. No olive oil or any other flavorful liquid of any kind on the pasta.


    Not to pile on but we had a similarly mediocre meal a few weeks ago pre-Steppenwolf. Lovely room, great service, good cocktails. Food just so disappointing. Interestingly, I had the crab/uni pasta as well and it was also lukewarm and skimpy on the seafood but thick with some kind of pasty sauce that I couldn't even figure out. We won't be back.
    "Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad." Miles Kington
  • Post #37 - September 14th, 2015, 2:56 pm
    Post #37 - September 14th, 2015, 2:56 pm Post #37 - September 14th, 2015, 2:56 pm
    Prefer Boka over Belena. Lee Woolen cooks his ass off. Had some of the best service in a long while there as well.
    "In pursuit of joys untasted"
    from Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata
  • Post #38 - September 14th, 2015, 3:20 pm
    Post #38 - September 14th, 2015, 3:20 pm Post #38 - September 14th, 2015, 3:20 pm
    Jazzfood wrote:Prefer Boka over Belena. Lee Woolen cooks his ass off. Had some of the best service in a long while there as well.


    I think of Boka as a completely different price point and style of service though--more formal, pricier, etc. Has that changed?
    "Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad." Miles Kington
  • Post #39 - September 14th, 2015, 3:43 pm
    Post #39 - September 14th, 2015, 3:43 pm Post #39 - September 14th, 2015, 3:43 pm
    They seem pretty similar price wise to me. $35-50 per + drinks. Service wise, just know it was very good (but was w/a couple culinary heavy hitters and could have had something to do w/it. Soigne for sure). Belana didn't strike me as anything but avg all around, and agree, no need to return. Boka on the other hand was excellent. Frog legs and a sweetbread dish were both among the best I've had.
    "In pursuit of joys untasted"
    from Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata
  • Post #40 - September 14th, 2015, 5:43 pm
    Post #40 - September 14th, 2015, 5:43 pm Post #40 - September 14th, 2015, 5:43 pm
    Need to get back to Boka--haven't been since Wolen arrived. Glad to hear it's more moderately priced than I remembered!!
    "Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad." Miles Kington
  • Post #41 - September 14th, 2015, 6:50 pm
    Post #41 - September 14th, 2015, 6:50 pm Post #41 - September 14th, 2015, 6:50 pm
    Having been to Boka and Balena dozens of times each (they are both among my favorite venues) Boka is significantly more expensive. Entrees at Boka average about $35 with appetizers running about $15 and dessert $11 - as portions are smallish, I often order both a hot and a cold appetizer (so four courses) and that amounts to about $76/person before tax, tip and drinks. While Balena has a couple big ticket items, in general it is easy to fill up for just over half that - even less than half if you opt for pizza (which I find to be fantastic and is very filling). Alcohol is only slightly cheaper at Balnea vs. Boka (cocktails are $1 less for example). Boka also has a more upscale ambiance and more formal (though not at all stuffy) service as compared to Balena which is really relaxed (but still excellent) service.

    Sorry to hear some recent negative epxeriences at Balena; I was just there a week and a half ago myself and loved it as much as ever. Already itching to return.
    Twitter: @Goof_2
  • Post #42 - September 14th, 2015, 9:44 pm
    Post #42 - September 14th, 2015, 9:44 pm Post #42 - September 14th, 2015, 9:44 pm
    Goodness ... then we missed something for sure. My daughter picked Belena since it was the one in the group she has not tried and she adores Boka under Lee Woolen.

    Nothing stood out but also several items were not quite fully cooked or seasoned. Maybe some changes on the line?
  • Post #43 - September 15th, 2015, 8:07 am
    Post #43 - September 15th, 2015, 8:07 am Post #43 - September 15th, 2015, 8:07 am
    Siun wrote:Goodness ... then we missed something for sure. My daughter picked Belena since it was the one in the group she has not tried and she adores Boka under Lee Woolen.

    Nothing stood out but also several items were not quite fully cooked or seasoned. Maybe some changes on the line?


    It is possible they are spread a bit thin as their restaurant group is in the final stages of opening Swift & Sons - I know some of the front-of-the-house are in the process of shifting to different venues, so it is quite possible the back-of-the-house is impacted as well. I did not notice any execution issues during my recent meal, but since a few on this forum have reported recent issues something must be up - over the years they have been so consistent that I am confident they will work it out fast, but too bad in the meantime some of you had negative experiences. Would definitely encourage people to give Balena another shot at some point; in my experience they are one of the few venues that generally deliver a very positive experience across the board - food/beverage/service/ambiance/value.
    Twitter: @Goof_2
  • Post #44 - September 19th, 2015, 4:46 pm
    Post #44 - September 19th, 2015, 4:46 pm Post #44 - September 19th, 2015, 4:46 pm
    Had a recent meal there, perhaps around a month ago. Everything was just as fantastic as I'd remembered it. Hadn't been since April and loved the new menu structure. I like being able to choose the amount of pasta I want now.

    Things do feel a little different without the old GM Erin Philips, but great people move up in this business... I believe she is one of the finest people in restaurant management in Chicago. That said I thought service was on point and still just as warm as ever and the food was incredible. Special mention of the grilled romaine salad, spicy pepperoni pizza, and the legendary cacio e pepe.

    Balena is still frankly in my top five favorite venues in Chicago (which consist of Alinea, Boka, Balena, Fat Rice, and Grace).

    Sorry to hear that there have been some negative experiences recently. I would definitely follow up with the restaurant and provide them feedback. Boka Group restaurants tend to really want to know feedback, their culture is such that they really want to know (not all places do...). I bet they would attempt to make it right for you.
    "People are too busy in these times to care about good food. We used to spend months working over a bonne-femme sauce, trying to determine just the right proportions of paprika and fresh forest mushrooms to use." -Karoly Gundel, Blue Trout and Black Truffles: The Peregrinations of an Epicure, Joseph Wechsberg, 1954.
  • Post #45 - June 14th, 2018, 9:05 am
    Post #45 - June 14th, 2018, 9:05 am Post #45 - June 14th, 2018, 9:05 am
    Is there any news on what's happening at Balena? As far as I can tell months have passed with no sign of activity. Are there still plans to reopen?
  • Post #46 - June 14th, 2018, 11:05 am
    Post #46 - June 14th, 2018, 11:05 am Post #46 - June 14th, 2018, 11:05 am
    chicagojim wrote:Is there any news on what's happening at Balena? As far as I can tell months have passed with no sign of activity. Are there still plans to reopen?


    I heard directly from senior management that Balena will NOT be reopening.
    Twitter: @Goof_2
  • Post #47 - June 14th, 2018, 11:14 am
    Post #47 - June 14th, 2018, 11:14 am Post #47 - June 14th, 2018, 11:14 am
    Gonzo70 wrote:
    chicagojim wrote:Is there any news on what's happening at Balena? As far as I can tell months have passed with no sign of activity. Are there still plans to reopen?


    I heard directly from senior management that Balena will NOT be reopening.


    That's a shame. We dined there about a week before the fire and hoped we would be able to do so again someday.
    Cookingblahg.blogspot.com
  • Post #48 - October 7th, 2019, 5:07 pm
    Post #48 - October 7th, 2019, 5:07 pm Post #48 - October 7th, 2019, 5:07 pm
    Long-shuttered Balena will make its final goodbye at Dutch and Doc’s

    https://www.chicagotribune.com/dining/p ... story.html
    Hors D'oeuvre: A ham sandwich cut into forty pieces.
    - Jack Benny

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