Lebanese-Middle Eastern eatery Balade is a quaint little space that should not be overlooked. Located on 208 1st Avenue, Balade, which means “produce of the highest quality,” offers traditional Lebanese cuisine in an atmosphere true to the Lebanese culture. Balade opened in 2010 by chef and restaurateur Roland Semann, a native of Beirut, Lebanon, with the mission “to introduce Lebanese cuisine to New Yorkers. They serve a variety of small plates and family-size platters — so much so that I’m sure there’s an option for your entire family.
Upon walking into Balade, we (that’s me and my girlfriend) instantly fell in love with the dim lighting and the ambiance was instantly calming. We were seated and offered some glasses of white wine to start our night. After being greeted by the general manager, Elson, we were brought some of Balade’s housemade bread, which were soft and pillowy when it made contact with my teeth.
For appetizers, we were treated to some Jebne (Lebanese cheese) with za’atar spice and olive oil with an olive on top (much like a cherry on top of a sundae). If you want a dish that will let you know what you’re in store for when it comes to Balade’s cuisine, I think this was the perfect introduction. There was a lentil salad (Swiss chard, lentils with essential Lebanese spices, and fresh lemon juice) that was a perfect blend of fresh vegetables, cheese and warm, toasted, and bright flavors. We also had some falafel that was accompanied with tomatoes and tahini sauce simply divine.
Our main courses could barely fit on the table! I had to make sure I tried one of Balade’s Pita Pizzas and I settled on the Sultan El Shawarma (thinly sliced, marinated beef, roasted with onions, cucumbers, tomatoes with a drizzle of tahini and touch of za’atar). I took the onions off of my pie, but believe me when I say this tasted exactly like a high-quality shawarma sandwich… but it’s a pizza.
My love had a Mixed Grill platter of beef kafta, lamb kabab and chicken tawook served with hand-cut fries and chargrilled vegetables. It was plated so immaculately it could contend with some of the best food out there. As far as taste goes, all the meats were tender, juicy and flavorful, but if I had to label things from best to (still) very good, it would be as follows: beef, chicken, lamb. Don’t get me wrong, the lamb was tasty, but — to me — the beef and the chicken were simply better and took center stage on my tastebuds.
I also ordered the Sheikh El Shwarma platter (shredded marinated chicken with toum served with pickles and hand-cut fries) — basically what I know as a chicken shwarma sandwich deconstructed and served as a platter. Now, this has been the second time I have had something people would call “traditional” prepared differently. There’s something about a dish not LOOKING the way you expect it to look that can be a deal-breaker or an unexpected surprise — and I’m happy to say this way the latter. The chicken is extremely tender, the middle eastern spices gave the chicken a bit of a kick, the pickles added acidity, the lettuce provided texture and crunch, and the thinly hand-cut fries were the perfect pair.
For dessert we enjoyed a homemade white pudding with honey, pistachio and fresh fruits called Ashta. Even after eating so much food, the dessert provided a light, sweet bite that enticed us back for just another small spoonful.
I genuinely enjoyed my time at Balade. It’s a very intimate setting that works for you and a special someone or a group of your closest friends. Even if you’ve never had Lebanese cuisine before, you’ll leave Balade wanting to try everything on the menu. baladerestaurants.com