The day before the New Year, I found myself over on Kenmore Avenue, looking for a bite to eat. The reason that I pulled over to Balkan Dining was twofold. First, the exterior of the place was attractive and welcoming. Second, I had never eaten at a restaurant that specialized in Balkan Cuisine.
Inside the eatery, I found the atmosphere as welcoming as the facade. I walked right up the the counter and as I stood there I realized that everyone around me was speaking in Slavic tongue, which was a good sign that I was in for a quality ethnic culinary experience. After asking the young guy at the counter, which dishes were his favorites, I ended up settling on the goulash, even though the Winnerwald chicken sounded pretty darn good. I also ordered the Balkan salad as an appetizer, which was also suggested.
As I walked over to my table, I decided that I was in the mood for a traditional beverage as well, so I perused the menu and realized that the only choice was a Turkish coffee, which actually appealed to me at the time (though I wish that there were a couple of other options for future visits).
The ambiance of Balkan Dining is warm, with subdued colors, from the art on the walls to the warm color of the tablecloths. There was traditional music playing softly in the kitchen and a single light sconce was the only source of incandescent light. The place was well lit by the sun, which I also found to be warming. There was a flat screen TV fashioned to the wall, which I normally would have frowned upon, but the Travel Channel was on, and the program lent a bit of worldly flare to the dining experience. The women at the table next to me even commented on the show a few times.
As I waited for my meal, I continued to look over the menu. I was impressed with the number of salads. Most of the menu was traditional in nature, though there were a couple of American curveballs that included a hamburger and chicken wings. Despite the anomaly, there were plenty of other ethnic choices to keep my interest piqued and my mouth watering.
When my salad arrived I was immediately taken with how beautiful it was. It looked like a work of art, and I could tell that someone did not just slop it all together, but instead compiled it thoughtfully and then added the perfect ratio of sour cream dressing. It was delicious and could have been an entire meal in itself. By the time my goulash arrived, I was already satiated. Instead of asking for a Styrofoam “to-go” box, I did what any respectful guest would do… I dug in and cleared my plate. Not that that was very hard to do, because the dish was fantastic. Served on a bed of rice, the beef tenderloin was extremely tender, and the side of pita was piping hot, fresh out of the oven.
By the end of the meal, I couldn’t even fathom taking a peek into the dessert cooler. So instead I sat back, sipping my Turkish coffee, completely content with the dining experience.
Balkan Dining is a family run operation that is infused with generations of pride. The food is soothing and delicious, and is thoughtfully prepared and served in a simple and tasteful atmosphere, similar to something that you might find when walking down any random back alley street in NYC. I can’t wait to head back and try a few of the other menu items, while making sure that I leave enough room for a dessert crêpe.