Friday, August 15, 2008

Balu - Miami or Astoria?

Balu - 37-11 30th Avenue, Astoria NY 11103
N/W Train to 30th Avenue

Margot suggested trying Balu this week, the newly opened Med cafe on 30th Avenue. I've seen it under construction but didn't know that it finally opened. We checked it out on Tuesday and while the atmosphere impressed us, the food was nothing to brag about.

The first thing that popped into my head when seeing Balu was Miami. Everything was white, drapy and soft looking--it had that summery/tropical feel that I love. Even the staff wore white from head to toe.

There's a large outdoor seating area, which is covered by a big, (you guessed it)...white canopy or you can choose to sit inside. To the right, you'll notice a wall with moving water backed by a fish tank computer screen. Margot and I loved the water effect but what was up with the fish tank? Tacky, tacky.

The back of the room features a semi-private large table, which looks fabulous for throwing parties. There are also two identical smokestacks that strangely reminded me of the ones at Ovelia. Coincidence? I think not! While the overall effect was cool, it just seemed like Balu was trying way too hard to be trendy.

The menu at Balu revealed the usual Med cafe suspects--sandwiches, salads, pita, dips, pizza, specialty drinks and coffee. Margot and I were starving so we both ordered personal pizzas. They sounded great on the menu but in the end we were disappointed all around.

Tomato, Basil, Mozzarella Pizza - This was Margot's choice and it came out quickly. While it looked good and was piping hot, the taste wasn't anything special. Actually it tasted processed, like a frozen pizza. That's not to say that the dough wasn't good--that was actually my favorite part--it was just far from spectacular. Because we were both super hungry and because they messed up my order, we ate this pizza quickly.

Blue Cheese, Spinach Pizza - I thought that this sounded interesting and because I don't often eat blue cheese, I was really looking forward to it. To my surprise, what I received was an exact replica of Margot's pizza (tomato, basil, mozzarella). There was no trace of spinach or blue cheese so I spoke up and sent it back. It reappeared in about 10 minutes with what looked like the same pizza with spinach hastily plopped down on it and still no blue cheese in sight. Needless to say, I was disappointed and especially at the waiter's response of "sorry, we left this pizza in the oven by mistake." What a lie! It was clearly the same pizza as before with just a couple of quick "fixes," which were worse mistakes. I didn't appreciate the trickery and would've much rather preferred honesty.

Service and Cost:
As mentioned above, I wasn't at all wild about the service. They were dishonest, disorganized and inconsistent--we got a different waiter just five minutes after the first one took our order. The staff seemed frazzled and unsure of themselves--could be because Balu is so new but this needs to improve. Pronto!

The prices are low. Our pizzas cost $8 each and we even got drinks ($7-$8 each). Not bad. Sandwiches will cost you in the neighborhood of $7-10 and the same goes for burgers. You won't be dishing out the big bucks here because it's simply not worth it.

1 Mmmm


  1. Thanks for the warning. Just from the picture I can definitely tell that the pizza is something grabbed from the freezer and tossed in the oven.

  2. I live around the corner and have been anticipating the opening of this place. However, I went with two friends about a week after they opened and while the atmosphere was impressive, the food was one of the worst I've had in a while. We ordered a tuna dish, cheese platter and crab cakes and none of us could finish them because they tasted so bad. How can you mess up a cheese platter! They mixed mint within the cheeses, who's horrible idea was that? Also the stemware was cheap and the bathrooms tacky. Looks like someone ran out of money on exterior look and everything else suffered including the food.

    Good for drinks– DON'T go for food!

  3. I agree--the food is really amateur. Thanks for your input CH.

  4. lol.. my pizza had a piece of blue cheese and spinach under all the mozzerella.. perhaps I got yours Judes? Place is awful for food. Who do these people think they are? Not everyone sits around just to sip on frappes in Astoria, some people like to eat!

  5. Come on guys! I was there about a week ago. And I totaly disagree with you.Well ok the food is not like eating in the best restaurant you ever ate in your whole life but come on, it's really good enough and tasty while I really recommend the mixes and the sauces.Oh well,it's all about taste I guess.
    Just to know I went there to have my breakfast and lunch both days the one after the other.
    And for having your drink at night??wow,just show me something as good as this one.

  6. I am really surprised about the negative comments!
    I have now become a regular at Balu and addicted to their Balu salad and Ahi tuna roll!!!! Plus the atmosphere is amazing. Even if one is not in the mood to eat... what a great environment for coffee or a drink. Having traveled to Europe and within the US extensively, I saw elements of exquisite taste, which "quiet down" the clutter, no distructive decorative choices. "Less is more" and that's what I loved about the place.
    By the way...who takes a picture of a pizza and posts it? Get a life...

  7. Do you work there Tiesto? :-) I like the atmosphere too but the food is really no good. And taking a picture of a pizza, well that's what I do here. Take a look at the rest of this blog :)

  8. That's so sad!
    I can't understand what a report is all about when you are writing negative comments for a menu in general and yet the only thing that you have tasted is only the pizza..That's journalism??..hmmm...I wonder!
    I must tell you are so wrong and this cafe rocks! Finally something good in our neighbourhood.
    Vicky.And for the record..I'm a client ;)

  9. Overall I thought that the place needed a lot of work--the service was not on par and we also got drinks, which weren't great. My sangria tasted too sweet and there were only lemons and limes in there--a cheap trick. Anyway, my opinion stands. And that's what it is, an opinion. I'm glad that you had a good experience there though.

  10. soggy pizza and watered down oranga juice are the worst part of the food. everything else is ok. obvious that tiesto77 works at Balu and is trying to get people to go. Worth a visit in my opinion, but what isn't. don't spend too much time there...

  11. Valid comment Anon. A fair synopsis like that actually makes me want to try it again--not rants like the one prior. Thanks for that.

  12. Astoria Eater15 September, 2008

    Amusing comments.

    I always give a place 3 strikes. If they can't impress me after that, forget it. This place will be receiving no more $ from me. Their food is terrible (sliders, pizza, salads, sandwiches). The atmosphere, yes, it's pretty, but that's all. I'm not one for hanging around a bunch of wannabes. The people who sit outside this cafe are not worthy of my time.

    The fact that Vick has not sense of "decent" food is what she will have to live with for her life. If she's happy with mediocre and wants to be there every day, I'm all for that! Better food for the rest of us to enjoy without her presence.

    Tiesto has no sense of Europe either. If he thinks a digital TV with fish on it would be found behind a "waterfall" in Europe, get real. Get some live bait.

    This place will only survive because Astoria loves frappes.

    If you want a decent meal, go elsewhere.

  13. I got their menus in my mailbox yesterday... I spit on them and threw them in the trash. lol

  14. hahhaha you're awesome margs!

  15. John your an idiot. You must be five years old. Cocky hotty its obvious. You must be a competitor to Balu. The cheese platter and the crab cakes are one of the best in the city. As for Foodista, not giving this place another shot is your loss. Before Balu opened I went to Grand cafe several times. Talk about not getting it right after all these years. The service and the food at Balu is great.

  16. Ok, ok...I'll try it again.

  17. I went to balu last night,wow the atmosphere blew me completly away..i have never seen a restaurant sooo trndy in my life..but when the food came out i was soo dissapointed.I guess the menu doesnt match the greatness of the decor.I ordered the skirt steak,and they brought the smallest piece of meat ive ever seen in my life,i left there very hungry.We had to go grab dinner again becasue we were starving...I would def. come here for drinks..but never for food..ill eat at home before i come here

  18. I agree Gisselle - it's prettier than it tastes.

  19. I never wrote a comment before but i felt like doing so this morning. i went to balu with my wife for brunch. the worst experience i have ever had. i felt ripped of. the waitress took long to come to the table. after she came we ordered the pre fix brunch which comes with bread and muffin. none of those came in the table. the coffee was old. after the food hit the table we asked for bread and guess what, they bring two slices of some toasted bread. with nothing. Just horrible. the manager or the owner was around. we send the bread back and she knew the things werent going good at our table. she never came over until we finished. after that she comes over and asks? what is that? i truly felt ripped off and i said to myself does she think i am stupid? anyhow astoria is competitive but i will never in my life go back there again and i live a block away. DONT GO.

  20. So did you ever go back Foodista? I'm planning to check it out tomorrow with some friends and will post my review. Last summer I was out with a few friends for my birthday and walked by when they were testing their sound system, so we walked in and they said they were not open for business. I told them it was my birthday and they gave us all free shots. The staff was very friendly and asked us to come back after they opened. That's what I'll be doing tomorrow. I guess at those prices, you can't expect exquisite food, but a cool place to chill and munch with friends...

  21. Right on Bledar, I agree with you. And anon - I don't think I want to go back. From all the horrendous feedback I've been hearing, I'm thoroughly turned off.

  22. okay so I did go today with a few friends for brunch. the atmosphere is nice and it's true the food is nothing to brag about, but after reading all these reviews I stuck with something safe and had french toast, which was tasty. I dared not have their brunch drinks, but instead had the pomegranate margarita which was good. the service was slow, but the staff was friendly (a little spacey). my friends had sandwiches and thought the cold cuts were more like oscar meyers brand. I had a cappuccino with a shot of baileys which was excellent. the price was unbeatable though... 7 of us with food and drinks at only $17 each is a steal in this economy... overall the place was cool, it was a nice affordable place to go and catch up with friends... if you go, don't go for the food... don't think we'll go back often, but may check it out again. next time we're planning to do brunch at grand cafe!

  23. Hey Anon,

    Glad that you experienced it for yourself and that you had an OK experience. I think that you'll really enjoy Grand Cafe if you try it for brunch. It's a great deal and the food is tasty - the service is also very good and so speedy.

  24. The place is beautiful though! As for it's service/food: I had drinks there on the night of it's Grand Opening last summer and ate lunch there just two months ago--burger and fries--and it was fairly good. Maybe things have changed since last year?

  25. Maybe but a friend of mine went there in the last 2 months and said that it still wasn't up to par. Glad that you had a good experience though.

  26. I went to Balu-Astoria last evening. It was one of the worst experiences I have had with any business. I reserved the back lounge for a wedding rehearsal dinner several weeks earlier. Upon arrival, I was told by the shift manager and the evening manager that the area had been given to another party. This was the beginning of a terrible night. I had over fifteen people in my party and after being seated at 9:15 p.m., the last person did not receive their food until 11:45 p.m. Appetizers alone took almost an hour. Balu called to confirm my reservation and I was not told that they were having problems with service ahead of time, nor that my lounge area was given to another party. The lounge area was the only reason to reserve at Balu since there are several comparable restaurants in the area in terms of food and atmosphere. The servers were apologetic, but the management acted as though they were doing us a favor. When will people realize that a greasy diner with great service will be around for decades, but no amount of plasma tvs and mood lighting can mask bad treatment of clients? Astoria is not Chelsea or the Meatpacking district, and a business in the area should not act as though they can treat people as if they don't matter. BTW, the other party did not arrive until approx. 11:00 and received their food promptly. Unacceptable!

  27. D - you've confirmed once again that this place is not all it's cracked up to be. I don't buy its gimmick one bit and continue to believe that people should steer clear. Bah!



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