Balena's $99 pizza just might be a bargain

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The thing you need to know about the special $99 pizza being offered at Balena (1633 N. Halsted St., 312-867-3888) is that originally it was going to be a $500 pizza.

So, in a way, this pizza is on sale.

And it's quite a pizza. The 12-inch pie is topped with Perigord black truffles in a mortadella and leek crema, followed by shaved jamon Iberico de Belota (arguably the world's finest ham) and crowned tableside with freshly shaved Alba white truffles.

Balena chef/partner Chris Pandel got the idea for the dish, he says, from Rodrick Markus of Rare Tea Cellar, known throughout the industry as a procurer of fine and rare ingredients. "He said he sees truffles on pasta and risotto, but nobody puts it on pizza," Pandel said. "Top it with the best ham in the world and two of the world's best truffles, and how can you lose?"

Pandel originally conceived the pizza at a $500 price point, but "it would have had so much truffle, it would have been absurd," he said. "Now the pizza has 14 to 15 grams of each (truffle); it covers the pie well, with all the elements (taste and aroma) that black and white truffles bring to the party."

Pandel said that he's basically breaking even on the $99 pie. "If you understand what you're eating and can appreciate it," he said, "it's a steal."

Pandel figures he has enough white truffles to keep the pizza on the menu through the end of the year and maybe the first week of January. Thereafter, the cost of white truffles will be prohibitively high, so Pandel plans to offer a Perigord truffle pizza at a lower price.

Available with the pizza is a glass of 2008 Gaja "Dagromis" Barolo, priced at $38. Which, believe it or not, is a fair price for this wine.

pvettel@tribune.com

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