Could this be true? Is Balena finally opening? Yes, yes it is. Eater just got word that the restaurant from the Boka Restaurant Group and the Bristol crew is opening on Tuesday, March 13. The wait has been a long one, but from what we hear about the housemade pastas, wood-burning pizzas and amaro-based cocktails, it will be worth the wait.
Eater checked out the space earlier this week (but wasn't allowed to take any pictures yet) and was pleasantly surprised at how different it is from Landmark Grill, which held that space for six years before it shuttered last June. First off, the entire facade is made of glass, including sky lights, which give the entry a greenhouse sort of feel. Natural stone tile covers the floor and two six-tops will be used for dinner service.
Next, as you walk into the room, you get a little feeling of Tuscany: a gorgeous brown leather saddled-stitched bar, 28-foot tall cathedral ceilings surrounded by dozens of windows flooding the space with light (or stars), wooden beams and bird's nest lights descend from the ceiling, leather chairs sit around sanded wood tables and thick industrial chains from a logging company hold up the heavy timber shelves that make up the back bar.
The word framani is painted along the entire north wall, not in a glaring way, but just enough to notice something is there. Framani means handmade, just like much of the food coming out of chef Chris Pandel's open kitchen on the second level. That area, viewable from the main floor through large glass arched windows, has a wood-burning oven encased in leather-looking stone. What's cooler is the two-person counter table just in front of the oven where you can watch the action in the kitchen.
The entire space has 210 seats that includes a semi-private 12-top dining nook and comfortable banquettes and communal dining beneath more windows on the second level that you reach from a marble staircase off the main floor.
Downstairs, the team turned the former private dining rooms into staff areas, but saved one for a 40-person event space that resembles an Italian wine cellar with a 1,000-bottle glass-encased wine room, arched brick pillars, a wall (that dates back to the 1960s) made of glass wine bottles behind the rustic wood-topped bar, in-laid tile floor, basket-weave wood ceiling grates and a massive barn-like door that has been in the building for decades, but no one knows where it goes.
Since Italian food and wine go hand in hand, partner Phil Walters has compiled a 300-label wine list bound in leather that comprises approximately 95 percent Italian wines. It's indexed by region with an explanation of what to expect. So if you like pinot noir, the index will tell you where to look for comparable wines. And if you don't understand what you're looking at? Just turn to the glossary in the back that explains it all.
Pandel and pastry chef Amanda Rockman have been busy creating their menus, which have been chronicled in some videos (as have cocktails by Debbi Peek), so while you have to wait a few more days to taste it all, have a look at the final menu, below.
Balena Dinner Menu