I am loving all the amazing restaurants in Chicago, and Balena is most definitely one to add to the “amazing” list. I went there last week and was blown away by it. It was sort of a last minute decision, so we didn’t have reservations and ended up sitting at the bar – which didn’t really matter; it was still a great dining experience.

I went with two friends and among the three of us, we shared one bottle of wine, two pizzas, and two desserts. Everything was excellent.

For the pizzas, we chose a simple one with mozzarella, basil, and tomato and one with spicy sausage, red onion, tomato, and mozzarella. Both were good, but the sausage one was my favorite. They weren’t kidding about the “spicy” part either and, while I generally don’t like spicy foods, it worked here. The spiciness gave the pizza a nice kick and made it memorable.

For dessert, we had the affogato, which was vanilla gelato and espresso with cinnamon sugar donuts on the side. The donuts were delicious and the perfect thing for dunking in the affogato.

We also ordered the vanilla gelato sundae, which came with a chocolate chip cookie, malted chocolate sauce, and “toasted milk.” The menu lists the “toasted milk” in quotation marks, and I’m not quite sure what that means or what it is, but I’m almost sure it was what made the sundae crazy delicious. Seriously, I wasn’t that excited about the prospect of a vanilla sundae, but it was amazing and I would definitely order it again.

Before we went, I read an incredibly over-the-top rave review (using phrases like “whale of a restaurant,” “pastas dazzle,” and “desserts are created by Amanda Rockman, whose compositions are so beguiling she might consider changing her name to Amanda Rockstar”). So, needless to say, expectations were high. But you know what? Balena met them.

The Details: Balena | 1633 North Halsted Street, Chicago, IL 60614 | 312.867.3888

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