691 Ninth Avenue
New York, NY 10036
Like the wines that they serve, wine bars come in a variety of flavors. Some are dark and romantic, some are youthful and trendy, some are simple and local, some are destination spots. Balkanika manages to be none of them. As its name implies, Balkanika is a Hell's Kitchen wine bar/bistro that focuses its attention on wines and food from Eastern Europe. Before my excursion here, I'd no idea that Slovakia or Croatia or Macedonia had vineyards, let alone vineyards that made good wine. But they do and you can try it here.
Myna and I had tickets to a show and were running late. We had hoped to get a seat at Riposo46, our go to spot for quick west midtown pre-theater boozing, but they were packed solid. I pulled out my trusty OpenTable app and snagged us a seat a few blocks north. Had I known that Balkanika was on Savored, I'd have reserved that way instead and saved 20%. Next time.
Inside, Balkanika is dark and loud, but not so loud that you can't have a normal conversation; it's lively, not hushed. It's not romantic the way some wine bars are or at least try to be. It's playful. The rather large menu is a mix of eastern European small plates and cheeses. Since we were rushed, Myna and I only got a single glass of wine each and a few bites, but we were impressed enough that we are sure to return.
We started with a Paprika Walnut Meze. Looking like either a plate of vomit or a cow pie that someone stuck an olive on top of, it couldn't have appeared less appetizing if it tried. Still, the dish was actually very good and with its accompanying lightly toasted pita bread, it was a filling way to begin our rushed meal. Next was a Spinach Burek, a filo dough pie stuffed with spinach and feta cheese. Delicious. You don't even have to love spinach to like this dish. You just have to like pastry and cheese. Last but not least, we tried Balkanika's Pepper Dolma, a yellow bell pepper stuffed with ground beef, rice, tomato, carrots, and onions, and in a light tomato sauce. I practically grew up on stuffed peppers and I almost never see them on a menu so I had to try this one. It was incredible. It is certainly the best stuffed pepper I can remember having and I simply can't recommend it enough.
By the time that the end came, we lamented that we had to skedaddle. Balkanika is one of those places you could literally sit in for hours with friends drinking wine and eating the comfort food of your grandparents. Or at least the comfort food of my grandparents. Take your grandparents. They'll probably like the place.
Two glasses of wine and three small plates, plus tax and tip cost about $75.
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