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Fabulous Food, Drinks, and Music

Wander unawares from Waltham’s restaurant-rich Moody Street into Balani, and you’d never guess a space that looks so comfortably lived-in opened a mere few months ago. The room, a surprisingly deep, 120-seat space divided by tall curtains into multiple seating areas (spacious bar, lounge with low-slung sofas and chairs, conventional dining room) has beautiful old bones in the form of dark carved teak columns, railings and paneling. These are relics of a long-bygone Thai restaurant, but along with flatteringly dim lighting, copious hanging plants and flowers, vividly painted walls, colorful artwork (including surreal works by local painter/collagist Karen Moss), hand-painted (and glittered) menus, a good fake fireplace and uniformly sweet, affable service, it feels like a groovy, upmarket neighborhood tavern-with-food that has been around for years. Chef/owner Dave Becker and his executive chef Tim Fichera have assembled a menu that combines gussied-up gastropub fare, elegantly prepared seafood, a few dishes that appear to have wandered in from Becker’s other restaurants—beloved Needham Italian hangout Sweet Basil and Wellesley small-plates Mediterranean spot Juniper—plus a couple of Asian-inspired dishes for good measure. There’s a lot of comfort-food starch and fat here, generally elevated by excellent smoking and deep-frying chops. Amid the duck poutine and crispy smoked pork ribs and a pork belly-topped burger, there are pretty, precisely plated crudos and panisses. Similar to the ambiance, the food simultaneously embodies coziness and flashes of arty adornment, like the lovely handmade pottery most dishes are served on.
— The Improper Bostonian