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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.


Next (Paris 1906)



I was fortunate to be invited to a dinner featuring the inaugural menu of Grant Achatz’s new Next restaurant.

He was my friend’s client so we were comped, but we didn’t know until the end.

My favorite dishes were the fillet of sole with a crawfish mousse, and, of course, the roasted pressed duck.  The Chinese do duck well (e.g. Sun Wah Bbq), but this was so flavorful.

It is a great concept and I also appreciate the business model:  sell (out) tickets in advance, and keep the same menu for three months so you don’t waste any food.