Balon Winebar & Bistro | 245 East 81st St. (off 2nd Ave.) | 646.641.2282 | |
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I SPENT NEARLY SIX MONTHS at a job that was a close to literally soul-crushing as I have ever had. On top of the day-to-day frustrations of my in-office responsibilities, the work and work hours kept me me from having any real social or personal time out of the office. That's you may have noticed a several month's gap in PHUDE posts.

I love doing PHUDE and, since I've last work at that former job, I've dived headfirst back into it. This has, gratefully, allowed me to revisit the spots that have offered me great joy and comfort in the past.

One of those places is Balon, located just blocks away from my home and remains, to this day, my favorite local find, as expressed in my first post on Balon titled Like A Good Neighbor, owned by sweet lady Ilona who has became a fast and dear friend since my initial visit. She is as welcoming and warm a personality as the design of her space is.

I was happy to finally reconnect with her, as we would catch up on some personal stuff as well as discuss the business of me redesigning her website. Meeting her at the restaurant, I can't help but want to take pictures of the gorgeous, sumptuous food, and, of course, try it out myself.

I started with the excellent wild tuna tartare, served over avocado, topped with sesame seeds, with what I believe was a miso-soy-ginger reduction sauce.

The wild tuna was cut into toothsome, rich chunks, maintaining their texture and flavor while bits of scallion supplemented that richness with some brightness. The extremely fresh and likewise firm cubes of avocado added an grounded earthiness, while the slightly sweet aroma of the sauce danced from the tip of my tongue straight across the back of my mouth and up through my nose.

Ilona had added a special to her regular menu since I last sat with her and recommended I try it. It was coconut-crusted wild flounder filets over sautéed bok choy and served with dots of mano purée.

This dish was triumph of surprises. I don't expect to find coconut on seafood unless it's deep-fried on shrimp, but I was more a compliment to wild flounder, with this particular preparation cooking out most of the sugars yet maintaining some of the fruit's woodsiness. The fish remained flaky throughout eating, countered nicely by the slightly bitter yet "verdant" bok choy bulbs and leaves, and accentuated by the properly understated amount of mango purée.

I enjoyed these dishes with my go-to white wine, the 2009 Makia Estate Toreentés (from Argentina), officially making me a wine drinker again for the first time in many, many years. (For those of you who know me, it's very telling for me to be in a place that serves booze and not even thinkabout Jagermeister for the entire three hours that I am there!)

Balon, it seems, still has the uncanny ability of keeping me in its company twice as long as I ever intend to; it is my official my PHUDE away from home. A place where I can have a civilized and intelligent conversation (the friendly fellow customers run slightly more mature the frat boy-minded throngs that are this neighborhood's most populous habitués) with intelligent people who are both more amenable and accessible, where I can be heard over the softer background music of Spanish acoustic jazz guitar or Sade, where I can even just sit in peace, relax, and think clearly. All while having some of the best wine and food I will have all year.

Which is why Balon will enjoy, from me at the very least, many happy returns....

Bun Apple Tea!


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Balon Winebar & Bistro | 245 East 81st St. (off 2nd Ave.) | 646.641.2282 | |