There’s a glossary at the front of Balade’s menu—not that the food is particularly difficult to understand, with its grilled meats, bright veggies, and verdant salads. But it serves as a mouthwatering preview of the flavors to come: there’s laban, the yogurt that serves as a dip for the labor-intensive meatballs known as kebbe; jebne, fresh white cheese; and sumac and zaatar, ground spices that dapple shawarma platters, char-grilled beef, and manakeesh, a lebanese pizza. There’s also an entry for the word “balade” itself: as it turns out, it’s used to describe fresh produce that’s of high quality and usually local. Two-thirds of the ample selection of mezze are vegetarian, including Beirut-style hummus with cumin and vegetables and celery- and mint-spiked spheres of falafel.
Whatever’s chosen from the enormous menu, housemade bread is generally on hand, from the toasty, dimpled manakeesh crusts to pita “pitzas” topped with thin-sliced marinated meats to sandwiches. Refreshing sips include wines and specialty drinks such as sparkling wine with rose water or fruit purée. Though there’s a spontaneous feel to the food and drink, the atmosphere is carefully composed to create what ViaMichelin calls “a welcoming and tasty Middle Eastern experience.” At tables, candlelight flickers across the surfaces of imported clay water pitchers painted with rustic designs. Brick walls and arches are inset with arabesque tiles, and the sawn ends of logs compose one wall, creating a mesmerizing mosaic that instantly soothes any angry lumberjacks who wander in.