In my previous post, I mentioned how I went to a small, cozy café for brunch. Well, for dinner, I went to the antithesis of ‘ino, the aforementioned café. While ‘ino is Italian influenced, Balthazar is all about French cooking. While ‘ino measures the floor space of a garage, Balthazar measures the floor space of a gym. The contrasts could go on and on, but then I wouldn’t have time to write up a brief rundown of Keith McNally’s popular French restaurant.
Balthazar is located in the middle of bustling SoHo. Consequently, the restaurant attracts hoards of tourists who are weary from shopping in SoHo during the day. Right across the street from Balthazar is the MoMA Design Store, so there really is a lot of activities one can do before dining at Balthazar.Upon walking into Balthazar, I was greeted by a tall man who I asked if there was a table for three available. Despite the bustling activity and frantic waiters pushing food around to all corners of the high-ceiling, rustic restaurant, my family and I were seated immediately at a small round table right next to the door. We never made any reservations, so our prompt seating was a pleasant surprise.
The décor at Balthazar is absolutely captivating. There were racks of wine bottles that reached nearly twenty to thirty feet high. The seafood area had a large blackboard with colorful, chalk writing indicating the day’s specials. The walls and supporting columns looked aged and weary. I felt like I had entered a busy restaurant in France on a holiday weekend.
Aesthetics aside, the food at Balthazar was splendid also. There was no dish that lacked in quality in comparison to the others. All the dishes were fresh and tasty.
The bread basket only contained one type of bread—white baguette—but was soft and chewy on the inside. The crust sported a nice covering of white flour.
For appetizers, I ordered a small steak tartare and a “Balthazar salad.” The steak tartare was truly a new experience for me, but an enjoyable one. For those who do not know what a steak tartare is: steak tartare is raw meat minced or ground into a stubby cylinder shape. Usually, the tartare has some sort of binding such as eggs and seasonings. The tartare at Balthazar had the texture of sushi grade tuna and had a taste reminiscent of roast beef. The mushy conglomerate was delightful to chomp on because it was very mealy. The toasted baguettes that were served with the steak tartare paired well with the raw meat. When crunch meets mush, you get a nice balance.
The Balthazar salad was a bit heavy on the oil but the white truffle oil vinaigrette kept the salad interesting. The salad was definitely more on the savory side, with a crumbly ricotta salata cheese and some salty tinge to it.
My mom ordered the homemade fettucini with shrimp, broccoli rabe, and espelette. Although I generally oppose ordering a simple pasta dish at a restaurant—pasta is easy to cook at home—the fettucini dish at Balthazar proved itself to be a substantial choice as an entrée. I was awed at the perfect balance of butter and salt achieved by the pasta. The fettucini itself was also very authentic. Each strand made me want to chew on the pasta for hours on end because the fettucini was cooked perfectly, al denté. My only complaint is that they only offer shrimp with the fettucini. I wouldn’t be surprised if the waiters and chefs obliged to a request of swapping out the shrimp for chicken.
Lastly, the dish I ordered, duck confit delivered multiple layers of texture and an overarching savory flavor. The duck meat was as tender as ribs that were cooked for hours on end. The underlying layer of potato chips provided a delicate crunch to complement the tender, juicy meat. There were mushrooms added to the mix, which provided yet another layer of texture. The mushrooms were jelly-like and slimy—in a good way. Of course, the frisée that topped this dish was a paltry attempt at making the dish “healthy,” but at least there was yet another layer of texture in the dish.
On a side note, duck fat is high in monounsaturated fats and includes some polyunsaturated fat. Duck fat is so high in healthy fats that it positions itself to be a great alternative to butter when you want some rich, animal fats in a dish. That’s a story for another time however.
80 Spring St.
New York, NY 10012