I have always wanted to eat at Balthazar. After many years of
fruitlessly trying to go to Balthazar, I finally succeeded. Maybe it
was the way the restaurant teased me over these past few years that I
had become thoroughly intrigued: The restaurant’s Parisian frontage and
the crowds of diners seen through the windows beckoned me. Maybe it was
the promise of la vie Bohème. From afar Balthazar has that
je-ne-sais-quoi look, but from up close it seems just a bit faux and
overdone. I think the restaurant tries too hard to look authentic with
its crackled mirrors, dark paneling, and dim light fixtures.
To make sure I got in this time, I made reservations almost three weeks in advance, but I still could not get the specific time I wanted. Still the eventual time was suitable enough for a stress-relieving Friday night out this past week with my friend Amanda of the Undomestic Goddess. When we arrived, one of the many hostesses confirmed that indeed the reservation was made, but then told us to wait for the maître d’ to direct us to our seats. A little confusion followed in which we were stormed by a large group coming from the bar area and then another group entering. We almost didn’t get served—a somewhat sordid start to an evening meant for relaxing.
At our seats we unloaded our winter gear, though checking our coats might have been a better idea as my chair decided to do a somersault later on. I already knew what I wanted to order from the menu, of course I had just about memorized it over the years, so we ordered almost right away. While we awaited our food, we very much enjoyed the Balthazar Bakery breads. The bakery always has the freshest artisanal goods. The only caveat was that the butter could have been at room temperature. For an appetizer we ordered the grilled squid with lemon roasted potatoes and arugula. The squid was good but a bit too salty, whereas the potatoes were underseasoned, overcooked, and sour. I had no fault with the arugula except that it seemed out of place. I think the dish would have been better if it had just been the squid with a squeeze of lemon.
We decided to enjoy our evening with more than just the wine-by-the-glass offerings. I ordered a reasonably priced 15-ounce carafe of Côtes du Rhône. When asked about the wine the waitress seemed knowledgeable and was able to describe the differences between the two choices of red wines by the carafe. We decided upon the Le Grange de Piaugier for its full-bodied blend of Syrah and Grenache. With the $18 carafe we each had about a glass and a half of wine.
For entrées I ordered the grilled lamb T-bones with potatoes Dauphinoise. It was a very good choice, but it needed some salt. I usually never salt in restaurants, but the meat and potatoes required it. I wished that some vegetables might have been provided. In this day and age where nutritionists tell us that half our plate should be made up of vegetables, this plate didn’t have any. It took a while to carve off all the little bits of meat from the two T-bones I got and I didn’t want to let any go to waste. Most of the evening was spent with my friend Amanda watching me carve my meat. She ordered the duck confit with crispy potatoes and frisée salad. The duck was succulent with crispy skin with only a few dry bits of meat here and there. The potatoes on the other hand were akin to a bag of potato ships. So I ended up donating half my potatoes to Amanda to make her meal a little more satisfying.
We originally were set to share one dessert, but we felt we still had plenty of room for our own desserts. Sometimes it's just better to keep one's dessert to oneself. The warm chocolate cake with white chocolate ice cream was standard faire, however, nowhere near as good as those expertly made by Johnny Iuzzini at Jean Georges. The caramelized banana ricotta tart with banana ice cream was rather good. I thoroughly enjoyed the banana ice cream but was let down by the small amount of ricotta inside the center of the tart, it only amounted to about a tablespoonful. The bananas could have been a touch riper. I’m not a banana fan, but this tart could have changed my mind.
By the end of our dinner we were well sated and ready to leave. It was just so horribly crowded, hot, and smelly in there that much of the evening was spent peeling off layer after layer and sweating it out. Could a combination sauna and restaurant possibly be a good thing? I guess there's no weight gain. Maybe I'll end up at Balthazar again but I won't be seeking it out as I've done all these years past. I mean it's just another restaurant with a French shtick in a long line of French restaurants in the city. I think there's better to be found.
80 Spring Street, between Broadway and Crosby Street
New York, NY 10012
Open daily, Monday through Thursday 7:30 to 12 a.m., Friday and Saturday until 1 a.m., and Sunday 8 to 12 a.m.
Appetizers range in price from $10 to $24 and entrées from $19 to $38.
Joseph Erdos is a New York–based writer and editor, but
above all a gastronomer and oenophile. He shares his passion for food
on his blog, Gastronomer's Guide , which features unique recipes and restaurant reviews among many other musings on the all-encompassing topic of food.
Also published on gastronomersguide.com