On St Patrick’s Day, where better to celebrate than at Balthazar, the lively French brasserie in SOHO owned by the restaurateur Kevin McNally.
For twenty years, Balthazar has been packing in the crowds from 7:30 in the morning until 1:00 in the morning, a mind-boggling accomplishment. But what accounts for the on-going popularity in this restaurant-fickle city?
A tip of the hat goes first to the belle époque atmosphere with red banquettes, smoky glass mirrors, tile flooring, staggering bouquets of fresh flowers and comfortable lighting. No one does lighting as well as the French.
What we hadn’t taken into consideration was the traffic, given that a crowd of two million was estimated for the annual parade up Fifth Avenue. That day, it took an hour to make our way downtown, and a hour more to get back home.
Arriving on the late side for lunch, around 2:15 PM, would-be diners were still pouring through the doors. Reservations highly recommended. The front of the restaurant is obscured for the time being, due to heavy construction on the street. Construction is booming in Manhattan, so it's hard to find a block where no one is digging up the roadbed or putting up a new building. Once inside, all is well.
Wines offered by the glass in too many restaurants are unremarkable, but such is not the case at Balthazar. On the list that day was a biodynamic white wine, a Pinot Blanc Cuvee George from Alsace, 2015, a medium-bodied wine that felt rounded in the mouth—not too dry and untroubled by oak. If many wine enthusiasts consider Pinot Blanc an understudy for Chardonnay and others think it plays second fiddle when compared to it's more glamourous cousin, Pinot Grigio, remember this: If you're uncertain as to what wine to order, you'll never go wrong with a Pinot Blanc- a pleasant wine.
For sure, my companion was pleased. I, on the other hand, thinking spring, went with a Cotes de Provence rosé Coeux Esterelle 2015. Simply looking at that glass of rosé is a joyful experience, rich in color and in taste. The ripe red-fruit character of the wine, dry with a hint of lemon for added freshness, went well with a delectable broiled trout served with a bed of lentils and carrots.
We knew we were in good hands when our knowledgeable and charming waiter, Sen, recommended the Blue Point oysters, and they turned out to be spectacular, best ever. See for yourself!
After which came the escargots, served in the handsome shells, shells that defied those tiny seafood forks. Asking Sen if it would be possible to have them out of the shells on another day, he assured us it was. They aim to please at Balthazar. On leaving, our neighbors were likewise struggling with the shells, which gave the four of us a good laugh.
And how better to round off a meal than with ‘Expresso pour deux s'il vous plaît…’
While enjoying the espresso, I unearthed a few staggering statistics about Balthazar in a Departures magazine
· $20- $25 million, the approximate amount Balthazar takes in each year
· 246 The number of employees who work at Balthazar on any given day
· Half a million – the number of meals Balthazar serves each year
· 1500 covers per day, which averages out to about 700 served during dinnertime
And 1 is the Balthazar waitress who allegedly was the model for the caryatids...
What fun it was! If you haven't been to Balthazar, you might want to put it on your list for the next time you're in New York. On the corner of Spring and Crosby in SoHo, Balthazar is where New Yorkers go...for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
If I never made it back here as promised last week, it was due to a serious computer malfunction that would not allow me to upload any photos for the blog. A blog without photos? Not for me, and not for you either. Here's to next week, when I'll have the coffee ready..