Balon (Wine Bar/Bistro) | 245 East 81st St. (off 2nd Ave.) | 646.641.2282 |

IF YOU'VE EVER lived in an apartment building, you know how there are always people—who you know also live in the building—that you walk by almost every day that you might only acknowledge with a slight nod of your head as you pass by them at the mailboxes. You could share the same building—sometimes the same floor!—with them for years and never know their names.

Then one day, you actually decide that it's silly that for months, maybe years, the only and few words that you've exchanged with this person have been empty formalities about the weather, and you promise that the next time you see this person you will stop and, with the physical contact of a firm handshake, formally introduce yourself.

Then you eventually discover that this person is not only kind and genial, but cool and interesting and you wind up regretting that it took so long to finally get to know this now new wonderful friend.

Such was my experience when I finally decided to pop into a two-year old, lounge-y, cozy wine bar/bistro, three blocks from my apartment, called Balon, a place I've walked by countless times, each time reminding myself that next time I'd actually walk in as a diner, and today I did, right at the beginning of dinner service, and was more impressed with the décor and ambience of the interior—and backyard lounge—than I had always been as a passerby.

Being warmly greeted by Sarah, the sweet bartender and waiter, I informed of of my plans to not just have dinner but to photograph the space. (I try not to let restaurants know that I write a food blog, but sometimes, as in this case, it becomes unavoidable). She informed me that she'd have to check with the owner, Ilona, who would be arriving in mere minutes.

And once she did, Ilona couldn't have been more friendly or accommodating, as she not only was happy to let me take photos, but shared her interest in photography (even asking for the brand and make of my little point & shoot camera), explained to me the meaning of balon (it's a type of wine glass), and kindly stood audience as I snapped photos of my dinner of wild mushroom, black truffle, and ricotta-stuffed ravioli in a homemade alfredo sauce with pesto, even playing production assistant as she willingly helped me set up some of the shots.

The raviolis were wonderful, done a nice al dente in a creamy alfredo sauce of parmesan and garlic, made more aromatic by both the bright herbals in the pesto and the deep earthiness of the wild mushrooms, with the truffles making the collective whole "go to 11", as truffles usually do.

The side salad of arugula, fresh basil, cherry tomatoes and shaved parmesan was a perfect compliment to the dish, as was the wonderful glass of white wine, an Argentinian torrontés of bright, subtle citrus, apricot, and peach, with herbal hints, a nice "weight" (it doesn't "coat" the inside of your mouth), and finishing clean enough that you can still enjoy the flavors of whatever you're eating.

Ilona, my new friend, had actually donated the glass of wine to complete the "picture" of the table setting, and allowed me to sample/enjoy it on the house. I don't usually accept such gratuities, as to maintain a modicum of objectivity, but I was so comfortable in my setting, at an open window table, behind some flowers, just off the sidewalk and elevated as to be able to lord over passerby, with great European lounge music cooing in the background, and talking shop with my gracious host, I figured, carpe momentum! (Meds be damned!)

Much like going to a neighbor's for sugar, then staying for coffee and bagels, I felt so comfortable that I chose to make myself more at home by ordering dessert as well, the options being a chocolate molten lava cake or an apple tartine. For 8 years I've believed that the chocolate molten lava cake was outdated and passé, which meant that it had been 8 years since I'd had one. Until today, and this one came with ice cream.

Yes, still heavenly and sinful. Warm, airy clouds of cake and warm pudding-like puddles of molten batter do induce momentary transcendency, while cold, creamy, silky vanilla and pulpy bursts of raspberry augment the happy disorientation.

Very rich indeed, as was the whole experience of my visit, and fearing that I was making myself too comfortable—worried then that I could easily overstay my welcome—it became time to take my leave and go back to my own place, having spent twice the intended time not just out of my apartment, but, figuratively, out of the Yorkville that I resided in for the last 20 years.

I bid my fond adieus to Sarah and Ilona, and warned that I may return sooner than they might expect. And to you, Balon, after years of passing each other by in the street, it was great to finally meet you.

Bun Apple Tea!


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Balon (Wine Bar/Bistro) | 245 East 81st St. (off 2nd Ave.) | 646.641.2282 |