Balena pop-up dinner at Tenzing | Photos + report
You don’t win friends with salad. That’s from a Simpsons episode that aired in the ’90s; picture Homer taunting Lisa, a vegetarian, with a conga line of neighbors singing that phrase. But there’s salad, and then there’s Bristol chef Chris Pandel’s Tuscan kale salad. And I think Pandel made plenty of friends with the mountain of greens he served at last night’s pop-up dinner for Balena, the Bristol/Boka Group collaboration taking over the old Landmark space in January. Lightly coated in Caesar dressing and sprinkled with rosemary croutons and meaty sardines, this is one of the best preps of kale I’ve had. The Balena crew assured me this dish will stay on the menu in some iteration; the rest of what we tried last night, may reappear, may not.
Either way, the meal was insight into a menu that’s shaping up to be sophisticated—much more sophisticated than all the buzz about Pandel’s pizzas has let on—yet accessible, too. For example, there’s the amaro. Mixologist Debbi Peek is scouting dozens of varieties of the bitter Italian digestif, a spirit you rarely—if ever—see mixed into cocktails. But, she says, each amaro-based drink at Balena will have a rating from 1 to 10 to help the virgin drinker decode how bitter it’ll be. Or this: Last night’s third course was stewed tripe. When a diner seemed unsure about eating stomach, Bristol owner Phillip Walters described the dish, served in a delicate broth studded with chickpeas, as a sister to chicken noodle soup. I take another slurp. Get me that sister’s number, please.
Balena (1633 N Halsted St, no phone yet) is slated to open in January.