- Julia Thiel
- No tweezers necessary
If Nellcote is where the drug-addled rock stars are partying, Balena is where the house servants cut loose with the serfs, the idealized rural Italia where stout peasants feed on their own noodles, wine, and animals that happily fattened themselves for the task.
Last week Mike Sula reviewed Nellcote, Jared Van Camp’s Stones-inspired luxe-meets-louche villa on Randolph Street. This week it’s Balena, like Nellcote, an ambitious pan-Italian-inspired cucina offering pizza, handmade pastas, house-made breads, and shareable plates. The difference: under Chris Pandel and a couple marquee members of his team at the Bristol, preparations are unfussy and “resolutely rustic” as opposed to decadent, and the atmosphere, rather than sceney, is big-hearted and easygoing. Nearly everything on this menu—from the grilled prawns with aioli to crispy salt-and-pepper chicken thighs with greens and green garlic to a plate of Korean-style thin-cut short ribs—is “something you want to tear apart with your teeth like a rabid animal,” says Sula. In other words, score another success for the Boka Restaurant Group (Boka, Perennial Virant, Girl & the Goat, GT Fish & Oyster, and Landmark, the unlamented Halsted Street barstaurant Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz closed to make way for Balena).