Happy 20th Anniversary, Balthazar
On St. Patrick’s Day, where better to celebrate than at Balthazar, the lively French brasserie in SOHO owned by the restaurateur Kevin McNally. The thinking was that Balthazar is always festive. Sure enough, many Irish had the same thought that day, with touches of green throughout the dining room.
For 20 years, Balthazar has been packing in the crowds from 7:30 AM until 1:00 AM, which is saying a lot. But what accounts for the ongoing popularity in this restaurant-fickle city? A tip of the hat goes to the Belle Époque atmosphere -- the red banquettes, smoky glass mirrors, tile flooring, staggering bouquets of fresh flowers and comfortable lighting. No one does lighting as well as the French, or Mr McNally who knows what it takes to create a French restaurant. What we hadn’t taken into consideration was the traffic, given that a crowd of two million was estimated for the parade up Fifth Avenue. Even trying to skirt the traffic, tt took an hour to make our way downtown and more than that to get back to the Upper east Side.
Arriving on the late side for lunch, around 2:15 PM, the would-be diners were still pouring through the doors. Reservations highly recommended. The facade 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. Once inside, all was 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 bio-dynamic white, 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 compared to its more glamorous 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 most pleasant wine.
For sure, my companion was pleased. I, on the other hand, thinking Spring at last! chose a Côtes de Provence Rosé Coeur Estérelle 2015. Simply looking at that glass of rosé makes me happy. And the taste? With red-fruit character, it was dry with a hint of lemon for added freshness. Lovely with the broiled trout served over as 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. 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.
Here are some staggering statistics about Balthazar as reported 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-million, the number of meals Balthazar serves each year
1,500 covers per day, which averages about 700 served during dinnertime
Well, that's all for today, guys and gals! If I never made it back here last week, it was due to a computer malfunction that would not allow me to upload photos for the blog. A blog without photos? Not for me, and not for you either. So here's to next week, when I'll have the coffee ready. Until then, may life be good to you... À bientôt.