"It's a challenge," Chris Pandel says when we ask him why Balena plans to make all its own pastas in-house. "We have the opportunity do it, so we are. It's an Italian-inspired restaurant, and we want to make everything from scratch, with as much knowledge of where everything that goes into the food came from as we can possibly get." Balena, which is shooting to open in mid-February, is Pandel's collaboration with the BoKa Group in the space formerly occupied by Landmark, and though Pandel says pasta only represents about 25% of the menu, it will be a major focus and point of difference. Our interview with him follows below, along with the premiere of a video from Boka Group showing him making tajrin, a regional pasta from Piedmont.
So you're making everything in-house, even the dried pastas? Why?
Because it's not something you see very often. You certainly don't have to. But we want to know where everything that goes into the food came from, like using flour that we source from the midwest.
There's an art form to it, a lot of knowledge about flour, water, pH levels that you have to have. If it's not done correctly, it will come out chewy with a crappy texture. A lot more goes into it than just flour and water.
Don't you need a huge space to dry all that pasta? Is there going to be an attic full of pasta?
(Laughs) No, you put it on sheet pans and a few racks we can do it all in our kitchen.
We're getting an extruder shipped from Italy hopefully it will be here this week. We've got about 12 dies for it, and we'll be rotating those so we have different shapes, everything from spaghetti and tagliatelle to funny little shapes.
What's the difference between what you'll be doing here and what you do at The Bristol?
At The Bristol, hey, we just do whatever we want. But Balena will have a few more traditional pastas like you'd see in the countryside. There's one I make in the video called tajrin, from Piedmont. It's kind of like a really thin tagliatelle, and it's just made with egg yolk and flour. It's a really rich noodle, and we're going to serve it in a traditional manner, like with a pork ragu, or just brown butter and sage.
Italians say it's all about the noodle, and with something like tajrin, we're going to abide by that and treat it in a traditional way, as opposed to something like orrechiete where you can pair whatever seasonal thing you want with it.