Friday, May 30, 2008

Ballistic At Balthazar

Well, that is a bit of a stretch. Nobody went ballistic, exactly. However I did get sharply reprimanded for having the audacity to take a picture of the interior of Balthazar's. More on that later.

The Mysterious Chinese Woman and I met up with a couple of her equally Mysterious Sisters for dinner at Balthazar in the ever so fashionable SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan. SoHo is another of those cute names they give to little sections of the City and is short for South of Houston. Houston (pronounced How Stun in New York, just to confuse the tourists) is a major street running east and west across Manhattan.


This is quite a well known French Bistro type restaurant located on busy Spring Street. It is a fairly large restaurant with a separate bar area and an adjacent bakery which may be even more popular than the restaurant.

The Big Picture

New York is a very interesting city for many reasons. One is the wide variety of neighborhoods and even streets within a neighborhood. Although Spring Street was crowded with cars and pedestrians, right around the corner was this almost deserted, partially covered-over, cobblestone street.

Almost Pastoral

I managed to get to Balthazar about fifteen minutes early so I had time to pop into the bar for a couple of beers.

Wetting The Old Whistle

It was fairly early so the bar hadn't packed up, quite. It was crowded enough so that there were only a few barstools open. There were three bartenders on duty so I had time to chat with mine a bit. He was very friendly and we talked about beers. I didn't get a chance to get his name or a picture though, my fault really.

The bar is quite stylish in an old French Bistro simulated kind of way. Nice though. For some reason they had those black-knobbed beer taps though so you don't really know what they have unless you ask. I think they had about six draft beers. I opted for a Corsendonk and a Belgian White. I don't know what kind of a Belgian White though, and neither did the bartender. It was good though, as was the Corsendonk.

They also had peanuts and olives and thin cracker-like bread on the bar to nibble on. That is always a nice touch. It was a pleasant enough place and would probably be fun to stop into some afternoon for a stretch. I bet is is too crowded for the likes of me in the evening though. It was pretty packed up by the time we finished dinner, and that was early by New York standards.

The dining room was as nicely appointed as the bar and it, again, had the ambiance of an upscale bistro in Paris. Except one end of the dining room was occupied by a large raw bar. That is something I don't recall ever seeing anywhere but here.

Our waiter was very attentive and quickly took our drink order, an Alsatian wine, and it arrived promptly. He kept a watchful, but unobtrusive, eye on our table and was quick to take our order when it looked like we were ready.

We started with smoked octopus as an appetizer and it was excellent. Nice and crispy on the outside with a real grilled flavor to it. Real tender on the inside. This is not the easiest thing to accomplish so the dinner got off to a nice start.

One of the Mysterious Sisters ordered the duck confit that was served with crispy fried potatoes, wild mushrooms, and a salad of some kind. I didn't taste it but it got good reviews from everyone who did. It certainly looked delicious, browned and crispy.

The other Mysterious Sister ordered grilled chicken paillard and she also commented on how good it was. The Mysterious Chinese Woman ordered pasta (in a French restaurant, go figure) with pancetta and green peas. Not exactly my cup of tea, but what do I know. She also said hers was quite good.

I ordered the Steak Frites and my opinion is a bit mixed. The frites were quite good, thin and crispy just the way I like them. I ordered the steak medium-rare and that was how it came, so no complaints there. However, it wasn't the most tender cut of meat I had ever had and, for the price of $30, it should have been. Not bad, but I would recommend that if you do order it you get it at least medium.

We split two desserts between the four of us and they were delicious. We had an apple tart with ice cream that was dynamite. Nice crispy crust and an apple filling my mother would have been proud to call her own. The other dessert was Lemon Mille-Feuille. Not sure what that means, but it too was outstanding. Kind of a crispy lemon meringue with a lemon custard. My descriptions are not doing justice to these so you will just have to try them yourself.

During the course of our meal I saw an interesting greenish cocktail go by with a lime slice hanging on the rim of the glass. It looked like a margarita but I wasn't sure. I wanted one, but I didn't want it if it was some kind of a melon thing. The waiter tracked the drink down and informed me that it was, indeed, a margarita. So I had one. Lip smacking good it was too. Tasted like they used real lime juice and not a mix.

Now if this place wasn't so hard to get into I might go more often. The problem is that you have to make reservations almost a month in advance. Kind of eliminates just spontaneously popping in. And if I am going to plan on going to a restaurant a month in advance I probably wouldn't pick this one.

Oh, the picture thing. I had no problem taking pictures in the bar area but after we sat down at our table I snapped this one and the guy entering the frame from the right immediately came over and told me that no pictures were allowed. As you can see, I wasn't taking any pictures of other patrons and he wouldn't have been in it if he hadn't started to rush over to the table when he saw my camera.

No Pictures, Except This One

I half expected him to make me delete that one too.

To compensate I pulled this picture off of the web. It will have to do.

Purloined Picture

To sum the place up, decor was nice in a pseudo fancy French bistro kind of way, service was excellent, food was by-and-large very good, desserts were to die for. Oh, and the bread they served with the meal was fabulous. As I wandered off at least one of the Mysterious Sisters was standing in line in the bakery to buy some bread to take home. She said she wanted it to make sandwiches out of some leftover lamb from our Memorial Day outing.

Balthazar on Urbanspoon