As a restaurant hunter and obsessed foodie, I’ve tried a handful of different ethnic foods. But even in the city where diversity is so great, I still haven’t had the chance to sample all of the different types of food that NYC has to offer. Recently, I had the chance to visit a Lebanese restaurant called Balade to experience a type of food that I never had before. I had, of course, made my journey downtown with my foodie friend Amanda for a night of authentic Lebanese food.
Balade is a small, beautifully decorated restaurant. With a rustic atmosphere, romantically dimmed lighting, and quiet background music, Balade is perfect for a casual date night. We were greeted by Jen, the hostess, who sat us down immediately. What I loved the most about Balade’s visuals was the wall décor. I loved their incorporation of tree stumps hung up alongside the wall in order to give an earthy feel, and also the cultural paintings that they used to emphasize their Lebanese heritage. We were presented with a traditional Lebanese menu and began our dinner with drinks. I ordered the Massaya Classic Blanc, a mixed grape white wine, and Amanda asked for the orange, apple, and carrot juice. The juice is originally three different types of juices, but our waitress had told us that she would combine the three ingredients to Amanda’s liking. The Massaya Classic Blanc had a sweet, yet bitter aftertaste that all wines have, but I loved the fact that I was able to differentiate the distinct taste of the grapes with every sip. The juice that Amanda had gotten had a fresh and sweet taste; the acidity and sweetness of the apple and orange had been perfectly balanced out by the milder taste of the carrot, making a delightful drink.
For our mezze (appetizer in Lebanese), we started off with the Kebbeh Kras. The Kebbeh Kras is Lebanon’s national dish; a mix of lean beef and cracked wheat filled with a mix of ground beef ,diced onions, and pine nuts. Served with a side of a light Lebanese yogurt dip, the Kebbeh Kras was light and seasoned perfectly. While the Kebbeh Kras can easily be mistaken for falafel, its tastes are completely distinctive. We absolutely loved the meaty flavor given off, but even more so because of the fact that this mezze actually tasted like an appetizer. Next came our sampler of the Lebanon pizza. We received three mini Manakeesh: cheese, Lahme Baajin (meat), and Zaatar (Lebanese spices). The pizza dough was made from pita bread prepared in-house, giving it an extra crisp from having been cooked in the oven. The cheese pizza had a taste similar to a traditional white pizza, with the sharp and creamy cheese thickly covering the pita dough. The Lahme Baajin was my personal favorite – it had a hearty serving of meat placed on top of the pita and had a great balance between sweet, sour, and spicy tastes. Zaatar, Lebanese spices, had a unique mix of fresh, zesty, and nutty tastes, but it was certainly light enough to keep us wanting more of this delicious traditional Lebanese food.
Our main dish arrived shortly after we had finished our pizza sampler. We had ordered the Balade mixed grill, consisting of beef kafta, lamb kebab, and chicken tawook with French fries and char-grilled vegetables. All three types of meat have been grilled as kebabs and still had the smoky taste of the grill. The meats had been seasoned perfectly and were served with a garlic aoli and a Lebanese hot sauce to complement the natural taste of the meat. Although the beef kafta and French fries were too salty for my personal taste, I absolutely loved the lamb kebab and chicken tawook. The lamb was cooked so tenderly that it melted in my mouth and required no extra sauce for flavor. The chicken tawook went perfectly with the garlic aoli, combining the succulent chicken with the aromatic taste of the garlic. After we finished our meats and vegetables, we were faced with a slice of pita bread that had soaked up all of the juices from the grilled items, making it a delicious finish to our Lebanese meal.
Everything served at Balade is light, flavorful, and authentic in its heritage. My first Lebanese food experience was far greater than what I had expected and has led me to discover a hot spot for cultural food. I strongly recommend Balade Lebanese Pizza and Grill for people who are in search of great diversity in food, or for people who want a romantic date night with exciting food. I give Balade two thumbs up for great ethnic food.