Adventures of a Gastronome in Training (GIT)

One amateur foodie's quest for culinary enlightenment. Musings on cooking, dining, food products, basically all things edible are fair game.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Balthazar

Balthazar stands triumphant over the crash-and-burn cycle to which many hip spots helplessly concede. The place is as packed as ever. Sure it’s not celebrities filling the tightly spaced tables, but mere mortals (read: mix of tourists and locals) lining up reservations. When it opened in 1997, Balthazar was the hottest ticket in town. A-listers lined the street with limos while paparazzi snapped away - the cuisine was really secondary. After a bit of a learning curve, the bumps were ironed out and Ruth Reichl donned it two stars. More recently, Amanda Hesser reaffirmed the rating asserting that food has remained consistent over the seven year review interval. This considerable accomplishment is mainly attributed to Riad Nasr and Lee Hanson, the co-chefs who have been there from the beginning.

The original mirage of an authentic French brasserie straight from the sixth arrondissement has become more authentic with age. From the beginning it was well worn, just not with in-house use (marble had been aged with tea, antique mirrors come from Pennsylvania, light fixtures were left over from a defunct department store). The noise level is still deafening, which keeps the energy level high. I figured they designed the place with high ceilings to keep the then-legal smoking from fogging up the room. Now, they just keep the sound bouncing.

There’s much of the menu that I still need to try – I haven’t even been to what I hear is their best meal, breakfast. However, my lunch of toasted French ham and gruyere on country bread with mixed greens ($13) was spot on. It managed to be savory and filling without being greasy. And the bread basket, yum - stick to the sourdough and be generous with the salted butter. I also greedily sampled some of the text-book fries that came with Marty’s moules frites ($15). I would come here for the fries alone, but they are made even better soaking under a buttery steak. For once, it wasn’t me ordering the steak frites ($24). It was Marty – I made him share. In exchange, I forked over rich, sauce coated chunks of my duck confit with crispy potatoes and wild mushrooms ($21). The appetizers have also pleased. Marty tried out some impressive oysters ($14 for ½ dozen). I enjoyed the contrast of the strong cheese and sweet onions in my goat cheese and caramelized onion tart ($9), but wasn't overwhelmed. The only dessert we’ve tried is the dense, dark chocolate cake with white chocolate ice cream. It’s like a molten chocolate cake, without the lava center. I’ll tell you what, I didn’t miss it.

Beyond breakfast, there is so much more at Balthazar that I want to try – whole roast free-range chicken for two, Dover sole meuniere, even the cheeseburger. Given what I’ve had so far, I doubt I’ll be disappointed.

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Blogger Steve Austin said...

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Jennie/Female. Lives in United States/Jennie Auster/New York, speaks English. Eye color is blue.