December 27, 2011 § 4 Comments
Balthazar in Soho was always one of those restaurants I’d always walk by and think, “maybe next time.” I’d heard good things about the place but prices were pretty steep for someone on a student’s budget and I figured, it wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Last week, Laura and I were in a celebratory/holiday mood and hungry after walking all over downtown, so we finally decided to treat ourselves to an all-out meal at this beloved bistro.
Although it doesn’t look that big from the outside, the interior of the restaurant is almost cavernous, with high ceilings and booths that stretch deep into the restaurant. Despite the huge space, we felt instantly at home either due to the cute Christmas decorations or the fact that even though it was 4 pm, there were a lot of people enjoying their food.
Bread and butter came first. I always take this as a small indicator of how much a restaurant pays attention to detail. First, is the butter salted and soft? There’s nothing more annoying (ok, maybe an exaggeration) than warm, crusty bread (another detail) and a frigid chunk of tasteless butter alongside it. Happily, Balthazar passed this test and Laura and I ate almost the entire thing before stopping ourselves to save room for the starters.
We ordered the onion soup gratinee, one of Laura’s most favorite dishes in the world. It might possibly be one of the best French onion soups that I’ve had, no doubt because they top rich, caramelized onions with a giant slice of bread and cheese and torch the thing so it becomes almost like a savory brulee.
We also ordered the chicken liver and foie gras mousse with onion confit and grilled country bread (this is where saving some of the bread basket did us good). Fatty and smooth – it was the holidays after all – with chunks of coarse sea salt on top, this dish becomes a meal in itself. It’s perfectly balanced; the mousse is creamy and flavorful, the onion confit has a bit of sweetness, the greens add bite and rawness and the bread has that slightly burnt flavor and crunchy texture. Even though it didn’t seem like much initially, the mousse is very rich and a lot to finish, but we didn’t really have a problem with that.
For our entree, we split the Balthazar bar steak with bearnaise sauce and frites. It’d been a while since I last had steak and I had to get used to its pure beef flavor. The fries – apparently Bobby Flay’s favorites – were crisp on the outside and creamy on the inside and even though I was getting full, I kept nibbling at them until they were basically all gone.
And finally, to round out our classic French bistro meal, we ordered the warm chocolate cake with white chocolate ice cream. That’s right, white chocolate. Not your typical vanilla. The cake itself fell into the “crisp on the outside, molten on inside” category and the usual contrast between warm cake and cold ice cream brought an end to a truly wonderful time. I’ll definitely be returning to Balthazar, even if it’s just for some bread and a latte.
80 Spring Street
New York, NY 10012