Saturday, January 23, 2010

Balthazar: NYC to Paris In 1 Hour

Say What You Will, McNally's Gem Still Shines in Soho

When the weather reaches 45 degrees in January in New York, you take advantage of it.

For me, this usually means a restaurant trip of some kind, followed by a neighborhood jaunt and some gratuitous shopping. When I’m hungry for a nice simple steak, this means I’m on the hunt for steak frites at one of a jillion NYC bistros.

Last weekend was just that weekend for me… and to get some ideas, I looked to’s list of “Top 38 Essential NY Restaurants” for inspiration. This is list that is under constant fire mind you… but what most NY foodies don’t read is the title…. “essential” doesn’t always mean “the best”. It simply means that NY wouldn’t be NY without them. Of course, if they weren’t doing something right, they wouldn’t be on this list…. but New Yorkers love to debate, and especially over who has the best what. Most of the time, they are right.

On that list of 38, and ranked highly I might add, is the essential, and quintessential Parisian bistro Balthazar.

Tucked away in Soho, Balthazar has the look and feel of a bistro that has been around for decades… when in fact McNally opened in 1997. This is actually a good thing, as Balthazar has something going for it that maybe no other bistro in NY has… it’s ability to transport you to Paris. There. I said it.

For some, this is a minus and not a plus…. but for any of you thinking of a trip to Paris in the near future – this is a replica of what a real Parisian bistro feels like. Nice size room, loud, incredibly cramped, fast impersonal service, solid food. The recipe for success. And only a five minute walk to Patagonia, where you can drop $200 on a sweater/coat thingy.

At the end of the day, what really makes Balthazar authentic… is the food. Not only does the menu replicate that of a Parisian bistro… it tastes like a Parisian bistro. Eggs, chicken, salads, soups, seafood, you name it – it’s there. Along side my steak frites.

On this day, we called ahead to make a reservation… lunch on a Saturday mind you…. and avoided an hour wait at 12:30. Not that the hour would have been hard to kill with the MOMA Design Store across the street, as well as Sur La Table. But on this day, we were hungry and were looking forward to a great lunch.

To get started, I ordered a hot bowl of bubbling goo, known at Balthazar at their French Onion Soup. I can usually tell how good a bistro will be by ordering this soup – and this bowl didn’t disappoint. The gruyere was mild and creamy, the soup rich and full of onions, and the homemade crouton spongy and delicious.

My companion ordered the Balthazar salad, a mix of greens, veggies and cheese tossed in a truffle vinaigrette. Two thumbs up.

For lunch, as you have now guessed, we ordered the Steak Frites… both medium… knowing that in a real French bistro, this would mean the steak would be medium rare at best. We were right, and they were perfect.

The steak frites lived up to their billing. The steak hearty and tender with great flavor, and the frites deep fried in duck fat. Yes, duck fat. Heaven. Béarnaise on the side completed the experience.

The deserts looked delicious, but at this point we were stuffed, and fairly annoyed at the French family sitting to our right, who’s manners had deteriorated beyond belief. Even the German couple to our left began starring them down. Ouch.

But on this day, the plusses certainly outweigh the minuses, and we are thrilled with our choice… and our mini-trip back to Paris. Balthazar has quenched both cravings in one day. And we got to shop for a new wisk, too.


80 Spring Street
New York, NY 10012
(212) 965-1414

+ authentic bistro

+ solid food, from morning to late at night

+ this is where the beautiful people eat

- it’s noisy, all the time

- I felt as if I was sitting in a toddler chair

- french tourists act like the own the place