Bitter and Sweet Rustic Italian
Too many cooks spoil the broth, the saying goes, so when new Italian diner Balena opened its doors with four restaurant professionals and the Boka Restaurant Group all pitching in, the soup really could have been in jeopardy. But with Eater Chef of the Year Chris Pandel behind the stove and an impressive array of awards from Michelin to Bon Appetit quickly garnered, Balena’s sanded wood tables have become some of the hottest in town.
Brimming with rustic European homeliness, the dining room’s exposed timbers and twine-wrapped globe lanterns give a cosy vibe, while a peek upstairs reveals an intimate mezzanine level with ivory banquettes and low rafters. The seasonally-focused menu is ever-evolving, but must-orders (when they’re there) include the tantalising mortadella, pistachio and onion pizza, Tagliolini Nero pasta, with mint, serrano peppers, crabmeat and creamy sea urchin, plus grilled specialties like Skuna Bay salmon with roasted sunchokes and olives, and succulent 36oz bistecca steak. A long list of beer, wine, amari and grappa is on offer, but if you’re feeling brave why not try one of their razor sharp cocktails, cleverly ranked from least to most bitter. Mirto (#2) has Nardini berry, Old Forester bourbon, orange bitters and fiery absinthe, while the Fib (#10) is a tongue-tingling blend of Ransom gin, Amaro dell Erborista and pink grapefruit. Salute!