The shtick Italian-ish for the whole family.
The vibe Balena’s cathedral-esque dining room does its best daytime work when you’re out for a brunching occasion. Birthday celebrations, entertaining visiting parents, getting the girls together for the first time in ages—the space feels special without being fussy, nice while still approachable and interesting. On our visit, most of the tables were filled with bigger parties who’d cleaned up a bit for the morning meal—it’s not the kind of place where you can roll out of bed and into a plate of eggs. You’ll want to brush your hair first, at least. 9 out of 10
The food Much like at dinnertime, there are really no bad moves on this menu. Order the crespelle ($12) as an appetizer and divvy it up amongst your tablemates, so everyone gets a few bites of blintz-like, mascarpone-cheese filled crêpes topped with a tangle of ultrasweet roasted grapes (it’d be too much sweetness for one person to handle). A polenta hash ($12) replaces potatoes with cubes of fried cornmeal swimming in pork sauce, a breakfast desire you probably didn’t know you had until that first salty, crunchy bite. And the egg-topped porchetta sandwich ($14) is a strong contribution to the breakfast sandwich pantheon—when yolk drips over the crispy, fatty slice of roasted pork and into the soft slices of foccacia, it hits every A.M. craving note. 9 out of 10
The drinks Props to the cocktail crew for stepping outside the saccharine, peachy comfort zone with the pear Bellini ($10), where the pear-thyme soda is a mere complement to the bubbly wine. The La Colombe coffee ($3.50) is good, too—it just could have been refilled once or twice more. 8 out of 10
The service The only little quibble we had with our relaxed yet chipper server was the occasional lapse in coffee refills. 8 out of 10
Overall Few celebration-friendly brunch spots are also comfortable (and affordable) enough for a normal weekend meal, too. Balena hits the sweet spot. 8.5 out of 10
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