Balthazar is probably one of the most, if not the most, iconic restaurant in New York for both tourist, regular visitors, and locals alike. After all these years, you still need to make a reservation a month in advance unless you can roll with a 2 p.m. brunch or a 10 p.m. dinner. There is something about all of Keith McNally’s establishments that lights a fire inside of you upon first entrance. Maybe because you don’t know if you are in France or London after listening to everyone’s chitter chatter or maybe because you can barely fit through the door and then the restaurant is wide open with gorgeous oyster platters and mirrors. The restaurant is also known for its fresh baked breads that are sold to more restaurants than not around the city. They have a small bakery next door if you want to pick up a loaf or a chocolate chip cookie.
The energy in the room paired with the warm, gooey, cheese French Onion Soup is a match made in heaven. This soup comes in a traditional white bowl with melted cheese browning and crisping around the rim. It’s steaming hot and the cheese stretches up to your lips with each bite. It really could be a meal in itself because it’s so satisfying and hearty. Dunk your trusty bread in there for a little sandwich fix and you are golden. So what else should you get? When you are spending close to $30 for an entree here you gotta just close your eyes and order what you want because everything is so good and you can’t get out of here with a steal no matter what you do. On the plus side, you also won’t feel regret for losing half of your wallet because it’s such an enjoyable and special time so just make sure you bring your favorite, trusty buddies or loved ones. The Grilled Sullivan County Trout served over a bed of lentil and spinach walnut salad is a gigantic portion and the entire trout offering both filets. It’s healthy, flavorful, and each bite is warm and homey with the lentils and nuts. I’d add this to my list of staples here as it could be hidden by the Macaroni Au Gratin or Steak Frites which is another popular order.
One thing to applaud and take note of is that Baltazar is very accommodating. They happily split portions for you back in the kitchen say if you want to share the Beef Stroganoff which you definitely should because it couldn’t taste more like a famous grandmother’s recipe or take you back to childhood. They will also split the Steak Frites which is great if you want to each start with your own soup or try some other dishes. If you see that toasted French Ham and Gruyere Sandwich on Country Bread before you decide to order you might fall to your knees and lose your mind. The fluffy and carby visuals this guy sells is hard to beat.
You can order all of these dishes at brunch/lunch time and many are on the menu for dinner service as well. I’m a fan of the Bouillabaisse special on Friday’s. When I was in college and visiting New York one summer, we not only walked in around lunch time and were seated immediately, but I learned of this life-changing fish stew that is available all over the east coast and not as familiar back in Texas. As a seafood, lover I dove right in and still haven’t come back up for air. I order this wherever I see it no matter what. This deep bowl is tomato based and full of all kinds of fish and surprises. Again it’s a great choice if you need to keep using their bread through out the meal. In case you are interested, the Thursday special is Lamb Shank Daube, and Saturday special is Braised Short Rib.
The rest of the dinner menu includes all of the classics like a Steak Tartare, Grilled Octopus, Moles Frites, Chicken Paillard (which you’ll see at all of his restaurants), Duck Shepard’s Pie, Coq au Vin, and raw bars out the wazoo.
Is it worth all the hard work and money to get to Balthazar? The answer is yes. I owe a lot of my food and hospitality education to this spot. It’s a classic spot where I had my first poached eggs as a tween, where I was inducted into their bread game, and where I felt the value and love from simply just walking into a restaurant. Feelings y’all!