Balthazar, NYC

August 16, 2016

Balthazar is a perpetually trendy restaurant, famous for celebrity sightings, power breakfasts and a Soho version of French bistro ambiance. Guests from out of town tell us proudly that they have scored a reservation. I was always afraid that they would ask us what we think, as we had never been there until July 19, 2016, when Linda and I went for an early dinner following a pop-up suggestion on Open Table.

Balthazar was opened in 1997 by successful New York restaurant entrepreneur Keith McNally. It has been a smash hit from the start. The Balthazar Bakery is adjoining the restaurant’s entrance on Spring Street.
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We were seated in a corner banquette with a view of the dining room, under the mirror which fell last year on glamour couple gauche-caviar French politicians Arnaud Montebourg and Aurélie Filippetti.
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The faux old bistro décor is topped by lighting which puts a yellow cast on everything, including my photos.

We started with glasses of Taittinger Champagne “Cuvée Prestige” Brut. The one-page menu has a variety of à la carte offerings.  We ordered a bottle of 2013 Giroud Volnay; okay.
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The bread basket arrived.
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Linda’s first course was
with lobster, spinach and tarragon brown butter
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The agnolotti were nicely small, tender and had a good liquid corn-ricotta filling.  The lobster pieces, spinach and brown butter all had good flavor. Linda was happily surprised that this fairly delicate dish could be so good in such a large, busy bistro.

Mine was
with shrimp, mascarpone cheese and pea shoots
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The rice was the right texture and had absorbed the flavors of its cooking broth. The peas were fresh and good, but it was the pea shoots that really made this dish excellent. 

Linda’s main course was
with roasted leeks, butterball potatoes and spring mushrooms
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The duck and its crispy skin were good, and as they should be.  The leeks, potatoes and mushrooms did not add anything, as they  didn’t add flavor to the plate.  But the dish fortunately was not salty.

Mine was
with flageolet beans, tomato confit, niçoise olives and merguez sausage
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This was a shame. The meaty lamb T-bones were grilled just right. The other ingredients were well matched with them and well cooked. But the pervasive sauce was grossly over-salted and made it hard for me to enjoy the dish. That is a constant problem in New York; (it is even worse elsewhere in the US;) a sous-chef finishes a well-executed dish with too much salt, or chili flakes, or vinegar etc.

For dessert Linda had
Crème Brûlée
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The crème brûlée was classic and properly executed. Very good.

I had
Caramelized Banana Ricotta Tart with banana ice cream
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This was a good finish. For me it is hard to miss with caramelized bananas. 

Well, we are glad we went, if only to see what all the hoopla is about. The cuisine ranged from very good to potentially good, but not sufficient to draw us back. The service and pace were good.


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