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I chanced upon a Facebook or Twitter post for a preview tasting of an upcoming restaurant in Chicago called Balena–which is a collaboration between the Boka Restaurant Group and Chris Pandel, the chef from the Bristol.  Rustic Italian is the theme of the food, and the cocktail menu, courtesy of the Bristol’s Debbi Peek, has an amaro theme.

The setting of this pop-up dinner was Tenzing Wine & Sprits in the West Loop, and a group of about forty people were treated to a five-course meal with wine pairings.  All of the items served are supposed to be on the opening menu.   The stewed tripe soup (a less spicy Italian version of menudo–it even has chickpeas, which were listed by the fancier name, ceci beans) and amaro-infused roasted duck were my favorites.  My least favorite was one of the pasta duos, a orechiette (shells) served with a lemon cream sauce.

As I’ve said in a previous post, I think highly of chef Pandel’s talents.  The Balena menu is off to a good start, and I hope they allow for some of the same daily creativity and menu changes that makes me go back to the Bristol.


Tekka Kama


A very tasty item that is usually an off menu dish at Japanese restaurants is hamachi kama, which is the neck of the hamachi and usually served grilled.  The neck is saved after the sushi chef is done with the whole fish.  Asians are not deterred by the work one has to go through to get to the luscious meat, which hides in the nooks and crannies of the collar bones.  I know you can ask for it at Mizu.

I was intrigued by a listing for “tuna collar” at the Bristol, one of my favorite restaurants, and was pleasantly surprised to see that it was simply hamachi kama, but with tuna instead of hamachi.  Served with a soy glaze and grilled, the portion was huge, indicating just how much bigger tuna is than yellowtail.  The flavor was a bit richer than your average tuna steak, and better in my opinion.  You also had to pick at the bones to get to all the meat, but it is worth it.