Due to conflicting schedules, my friend insisted on taking me out to Balena for my birthday, two weeks early. I hate to be that person who celebrates her birthday month rather than her birth DAY…but we had so much fun, so I’m not complaining!

We slipped into the new Lincoln Park Italian restaurant early Friday night without a reservation, and we were quite pleased to be seated soon after at one of the high-top tables in the bar area. The tall ceilings, rustic interior, twinkling globe chandeliers, and sprawling leather-wrapped bar made a great back drop for an evening of gabbing with my girlfriend.

We started with cocktails from the bitters mixology offerings, which were listed on a scale from 1-10, making it easier to make a guided decision when ordering. Our selections, which were on the lesser side of bitter, included the Strawberry no 1. and Manlino no 3. The cocktails were a nice departure from my usual Vodka/Soda.

Our meal began with a Tuscan Kale Caesar Salad which came with the crunchiest croutons I’ve ever had. For those who love this trendy super food, this salad is a great way to get your fix. The generous portion of greens was topped with a non-traditional Caesar dressing that was creamy, but somehow not heavy. The salad was a great lead into the carb-laden meal.

The Radiatore Pesto Pasta, which was new to the menu that day, came highly recommended by our waiter. The pesto, asparagus shavings, and fun-to-eat pasta shape were all great, but we both agreed that the dish needed more sauce, and arrived Luke-warm at best.

It’s safe to say the pizza was the main event, and they made that clear by putting it on pedestal…literally! It was a tough decision, but ultimately, how could we not go with the Lasagna Pie? It just sounded like a wonderful collision of two great things. Topped with bolognese, ricotta and basil, the pizza was wonderfully chewy and packed with meaty Italian flavors.

No celebration is ever complete without a sweet treat, so we ended the meal with a refreshing sundae consisting of blueberry and lemon gelati topped with blueberries, walnuts, and pie crust.

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