MY FIRST RECOMMENDATION OF THE YEAR! Based on my inspiration to make gnocchi, allow me to reveal the best gnocchi I’ve had in our fair city: Balena!
Why: If you’re looking for something cozy, but also not to stuffy or stuck up, Balena is one I highly recommend! The ambiance alone was just warm and inviting, but interesting and engaging. Wood paneled walls offer a rustic feel, while the chandeliers gave the space a beautiful note of sophistication, and that’s how I would describe the food. Homey, rustic flavors that are so beautiful on the plate you can’t help but admire it for just a moment before you dig in. And the staff were so nice and polite! We were talking and catching up, and while our waiter came to interrupt just to give specials, take orders, or check in, he would walk by, observe where we were, and if we didn’t stop, he walked away and came back only two minutes later, rather than doing a come by and leave forever kind of thing. (PS. MEET MY FAMILY! And yes, that is my slightly older sister you see in that first photo! *wink wink* Okay, but aren’t we a good looking family?!)
Food: We started off with spiced olives and lamb meatballs, which were so juicy and tender. My brothers at the Margarita pizza and left NOTHING behind, though I will admit to stealing a slice because I’m greedy and like to try everything. My mom had the Salt & Pepper Chicken Thighs (two thumbs up) and said the chicken was perfectly cooked and the skin so juicy and crispy, and my dad had their swordfish special (a little on the overdone side, but not bad tasting at all!) with a side of the cipollini gratinato (shown below with life changing gnocchi, not to mention it was so tasty and the cheese was just ungodly good). Note: I’m aware I don’t have photos for all of them, but a) it was too good to not dive in immediately, and b) this is why I claim being an amateur because I sometimes let my desire to eat take a priority over my writing…I promise I’m working on this.
As for me, I had their special gnocchi of the day. Homemade gnocchi bites on a bed of whipped ricotta, covered in a basil pesto cream sauce. I mean, I was basically eating clouds on the tip of my fork it was so soft and tender. Their regular in-house gnocchi looks just as good, but the special gnocchi was recommended as being just a little softer and delicate, which is something I look for in a gnocchi. And the piece de resistance! Tiramisu for dessert because, how can you not? Rich, creamy, with that tiny kick of booze that soaks through every inch of lady finger so its moist. A perfect meal if ever there was one, and it’s on my top ten to go visit again in the very near future!
Wines: I was more in love with the food to notice the wines we drank, BUT I remember no complaints and having about three glasses total, so I’m going to say yes to good wine. Plus my mom is a total wine snob, and she had three glasses too. 🙂 Got mom’s vote of approval for sure!
Would I Go Again: ABSOLUTELY!
Balena: 1633 N. Halstead Street, Chicago, IL 60614