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Ballaro - Delicious Contemporary Italian in Highwood

Ballaro - Delicious Contemporary Italian in Highwood
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  • Ballaro - Delicious Contemporary Italian in Highwood

    Post #1 - June 26th, 2016, 12:39 am
    Post #1 - June 26th, 2016, 12:39 am Post #1 - June 26th, 2016, 12:39 am
    Tonight we had dinner at Ballaro, the new contemporary Italian restaurant in Highwood. In a word (or three), WE LOVED IT! Unfortunately, I didn't get the chance to take any photos. Sorry! But I'll do my best to explain why, because this place is a real gem, and stands out as different from other Italian restaurants.

    You can view the menu on their website. And props to their website designer; it's rare to be able to find everything you need (address, phone number, hours, directions, and menu) on a restaurant's home page, and kudos for that.

    The menu descriptions don't quite convey what a wonderful contemporary spin they are putting on Italian (or global / contemporary American) cuisine. Here's what we had, and hopefully I can describe it sufficiently:

    EGGPLANT - HERBED RICOTTA, CALABRIAN CHILI SAUCE, HONEYCOMB - I really LOVED this dish. The sauce was nicely spicy and the eggplant (in two-inch "chunks") was delicious. The daps of herbed ricotta and honeycomb were on the side, and added a contrasting bit of sweetness and chewiness to this dish. This dish (and several of the others) succeeded as a synergy, where the items together combined to wonderful effect.

    CRISPY OCTOPUS - TOMATO FUSO, FRIED FINGERLINGS, CAPERS, LEMON PARSLEY SALAD - I really loved this one too. I should admit first, I'm a sucker for octopus. (Sorry, but I just couldn't resist making that play on words! :) ) I usually order octopus when I see it on a menu, so I've had it in quite a few places. This was one of the very best anywhere. The octopus itself isn't crispy at all; it's tender and moist and amazingly flavorful. There's a slight breading on the outside that I guess is what is "crispy" about it, but fortunately, it doesn't overwhelm, and lets the octopus be the star of the dish. The fingerlings were tasty and the tomato sauce had some kick to it, so those items were interesting too. But oh, that octopus!

    ARUGULA AND ASPARAGUS SALAD - I didn't have much of this and don't really remember it well, sorry.

    RAINBOW TROUT - CARAMELIZED APPLES, CRISPY CAULIFLOWER, HARICOTS VERTS, WHITE WINE SAUCE - Rainbow trout is another dish I often enjoy, and this was such a wonderful rendition! The trout was filleted and easy to pull the meat from the skin. The fillets were sprinkled with a slight amount of what appeared to be cracked sea salt, and this made them particularly delicious - as good as any rainbow trout I can remember. The other ingredients served as a bed that the trout was plated on top of, and weren't all that special. But the trout was awesome.

    AMISH CHICKEN - GRILLED ASPARAGUS, RICOTTA & PARMIGIANO REGGIANO, WHITE WINE SAUCE - I only had one or two bites of this, but it was incredibly moist and flavorful, one of the best chicken bites I can remember.

    SLICED BAVETTE - POLENTA FRIES, CHARRED SCALLIONS, ROASTED SHALLOT & RED WINE SAUCE - This was an excellent sirloin steak. Not particularly unusual the way some of the other dishes were, but it was satisfying for the steak lovers in our group.

    CHOCOLATE & BANANA - CHOCOLATE CAKE, MALTED MILK CHOCOLATE GELATO, CHOCOLATE GANACHE, BANANA BUDINO & CHOCOLATE CRUNCH - We were reasonably full after our savory dishes, so the four of us decided to split this one dessert. It was nice to have the variety of three different items on the plate, and they were very pretty. The cake and gelato were okay, not really unusual; I rather liked the budino, thanks in part to its mild flavor (almost like a panna cotta with a subtle banana flavoring). I should add, the selection of desserts is rather limited (five desserts, two of which were gelato and sorbetti). Obviously, we only tried one, which represents a small sample size indeed, but I got the impression that desserts are not what Ballaro is best at.

    After our dinner, I wasn't surprised to read that Chef Newman was a sous chef for Todd Stein at Cibo Matto, the Florentine, and Piccolo Sogno Due. I've eaten at all three during Stein's rein at each, and all left me feeling that Italian cuisine had plenty of potential for contemporary innovation. I feel that Newman has elevated his dishes beyond Stein's by putting the focus on the main ingredient in each (e.g. the wonderful octopus, eggplant, chicken, trout) and making it stand out in a wonderful way. Hope that makes sense.

    There are two main dining rooms. The one to the left of the host stand as you enter is dominated by a large bar but also has tables for dining; the one to the right consists only of tables. Both rooms are quite noisy, thanks to a lot of flat hard surfaces (e.g. brick walls) and few soft items (no drapes or tablecloths) to absorb the noise. It wasn't as loud as the downtown Chicago restaurants that leave your ears ringing, so you should be able to hear the conversation of your dining companions, but it's still quite loud - louder than what you typically find outside of the city.

    The service was excellent, start to finish.

    The website says "Free Valet & Free Parking Lot". For the free valet parking, enter from Green Bay and pull into the parking lot on the north side of the building. For those who prefer to self-park, they also have a free parking lot which is unlabeled (no signage). To reach it, go around the block to Morgan Place (a very narrow street that looks more like an alley, don't blink or you'll miss it). Their self-park lot is the one with no warning signs about not parking there; it's on the opposite side of Morgan Place from the Ballaro valet lot, which has a low fence along the Morgan Place side. You'll need to walk around the north end of the fence and then across the valet lot to the restaurant entrance.

    I first heard about Ballaro in this post by critic780 (the father of Ballaro's owner, among his other accomplishments :) with the appropriate disclaimer in his post). I owe him a debt of gratitude for describing Ballaro so well in a nutshell; if not for his post, I would probably never have heard of it or gone there. With so many terrific restaurants in the Chicago area, it's a shame that many of them operate "under the radar" while some others get lots of hype in the media. Ballaro is in the former category, without all that much media acclaim, even though it deserves so much more. I feel like I should be shouting from the rooftops, because there's something very special going on at Ballaro. If you want to have some of the very best and most innovative Italian cuisine you've ever had - or even if you're just looking for a nice dinner in the northern suburbs - you should make a trip to Highwood and check out what they're doing here.

    Ballaro
    214 Green Bay Road
    Highwood IL 60040
    (847) 780-3396
    ballarohw.com
    Dinner only, closed Mondays
  • Post #2 - June 26th, 2016, 8:05 am
    Post #2 - June 26th, 2016, 8:05 am Post #2 - June 26th, 2016, 8:05 am
    Last night, I happened to be next door playing a gig at 210, but walked by Ballaro on the way there at about 8:30 and it was still cooking pretty good. Can't wait to try it!
    Last edited by jnm123 on June 26th, 2016, 3:40 pm, edited 1 time in total.
  • Post #3 - June 26th, 2016, 1:32 pm
    Post #3 - June 26th, 2016, 1:32 pm Post #3 - June 26th, 2016, 1:32 pm
    I have eaten at Ballaro several times and agree with Nxstasy that the food is quite good. I would consider it more of a contemporary American restaurant than an Italian one, although there are always several pasta dishes on the menu. And, as pointed out above, although the room can get a bit noisy if full, I really like Ballaro's atmosphere - I like the bar area and the restaurant is a nice size. A great addition to Highwood!
  • Post #4 - August 9th, 2016, 2:12 pm
    Post #4 - August 9th, 2016, 2:12 pm Post #4 - August 9th, 2016, 2:12 pm
    nsxtasy wrote:WE LOVED IT! Unfortunately, I didn't get the chance to take any photos. Sorry!

    A couple of nights ago, we returned to Ballaro, and had another excellent dinner. But this time, I took photos. So here they are.

    Entrance to Ballaro from the parking lot on the north side of the building
    Image

    The façade facing Green Bay Road, including their outdoor patio
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    The front dining room with the large bar on one side
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    The rear dining room
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    Complimentary focaccia
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    MINESTRONE AL FORNO - TOMATO & CANNELLINI BEAN SOUP, SEASONAL VEGETABLES, PARMIGIANO REGGIANO & FRESH MOZZARELLA CROSTINI
    Image

    CRISPY OCTOPUS - TOMATO FUSO, FRIED FINGERLINGS, CAPERS, LEMON PARSLEY SALAD
    Image

    EGGPLANT - HERBED RICOTTA, CALABRIAN CHILI SAUCE, HONEYCOMB
    Image

    RAINBOW TROUT - CARAMELIZED APPLES, CRISPY CAULIFLOWER, HARICOTS VERTS, WHITE WINE SAUCE
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    VEAL MILANESE - ARUGULA PANZANELLA SALAD, SUNDRIED TOMATO PUREE
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    AMISH CHICKEN - GRILLED ASPARAGUS, RICOTTA & PARMIGIANO REGGIANO, WHITE WINE SAUCE
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    DUCK PROSCIUTTO PIZZA - FONTINA, SMOKED MOZZARELLA CREAM, CHARRED SCALLIONS, TOMATO SAUCE
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    SPINACH - RICOTTA CREAMED (SIDE)
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    GRILLED ASPARAGUS - PARMIGIANO REGGIANO, LEMON (SIDE)
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    SORBETTI - LEMON, MIXED BERRY
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    We again loved the dishes we enjoyed during our previous visit, especially the eggplant, the octopus, the trout, and the chicken. We also thought the duck pizza was excellent. We were a bit disappointed in the veal (a bit dry and chewy) and the creamed spinach (which wasn't very creamy), but there were many more hits than those two misses. All in all, another excellent dinner!
  • Post #5 - June 11th, 2018, 9:14 pm
    Post #5 - June 11th, 2018, 9:14 pm Post #5 - June 11th, 2018, 9:14 pm
    After three years, Ballaro — the suburban Italian restaurant from a team including the son of former WBBM 780 AM restaurant critic Sherman Kaplan, is closing at 214 Green Bay Road in Highwood.

    https://chicago.eater.com/2018/1/2/1684 ... sures-2018
    "At a formal dinner party, the person nearest death should always be seated closest to the bathroom." George Carlin
  • Post #6 - June 12th, 2018, 7:36 am
    Post #6 - June 12th, 2018, 7:36 am Post #6 - June 12th, 2018, 7:36 am
    So much competition on that stretch of Green Bay Rd.--and actually Highwood in general--that I think you're going to have this transiency as a rule moving forward.

    Like Hawkeye Pierce said in M*A*S*H, "I've had a river of liver and an ocean of fish. We want something else. WE WANT SOMETHING ELSE!!"

    Maybe that's true for the folks that frequent this area for dinner...
  • Post #7 - June 12th, 2018, 7:44 am
    Post #7 - June 12th, 2018, 7:44 am Post #7 - June 12th, 2018, 7:44 am
    Hi,

    They also just opened a new restaurant at the corner of Green Bay and Prairie Ave (22). Maybe they could juggle one, but not both.

    Goodness knows, maybe they had an anniversary clause in their lease. If you are there beyond this date, then you are committed for the next X years.

    Wishing them all the best.

    Regards,
    Cathy2
    Cathy2

    "You'll be remembered long after you're dead if you make good gravy, mashed potatoes and biscuits." -- Nathalie Dupree
    Facebook, Twitter, Greater Midwest Foodways, Road Food 2012: Podcast
  • Post #8 - June 12th, 2018, 8:14 am
    Post #8 - June 12th, 2018, 8:14 am Post #8 - June 12th, 2018, 8:14 am
    Dunno, Cath. I'm only around there on either Friday or Saturday nights when one of my bands is playing nearby at 210 Live, and 52 weekends a year that area is hopping, Ballaro included. Must be dead during the week, or like you say maybe the lease is up.

    BTW, I've actually heard good things about the place on the corner of Prairie/Green Bay, whateverthehell the name is, some contemporary American grill thing. Great--something new! :roll:
  • Post #9 - June 14th, 2018, 2:00 pm
    Post #9 - June 14th, 2018, 2:00 pm Post #9 - June 14th, 2018, 2:00 pm
    jnm123 wrote:BTW, I've actually heard good things about the place on the corner of Prairie/Green Bay, whateverthehell the name is, some contemporary American grill thing. Great--something new! :roll:
    It's called Greenwood, and it's pretty good. They have been super accommodating for my sister in-law who has a lot of food allergies and she loves it. I've been there twice and got the marinated skirt steak with fresh cut frites both times which was very good. I've also had the Caesar salad which has crunchy sweet cornbread croutons and plenty of shaved cheese. PS - Give in and do valet parking. It's free (last time I checked) anyway.

    I was talking to one of the owners last time I was there and he mentioned we should check out Ballaro as well. I'll have to ask what happened.
  • Post #10 - June 14th, 2018, 2:04 pm
    Post #10 - June 14th, 2018, 2:04 pm Post #10 - June 14th, 2018, 2:04 pm
    Ram4 wrote:
    jnm123 wrote:BTW, I've actually heard good things about the place on the corner of Prairie/Green Bay, whateverthehell the name is, some contemporary American grill thing. Great--something new! :roll:
    It's called Greenwood, and it's pretty good.

    Greenwood is the sister restaurant (same owners) to Ballaro. (You may already be aware of that, but it hasn't been mentioned here.)

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