It was a gorgeous first day of summer and on a whim, we did not sleep in and decided, instead, to head for the Village area for lunch. Our objective was Lupa. However, the wife was craving something French and so we kept going towards Soho and into Spring St.
We arrived at Balthazar at around 11:45. In spite of the customary crowd of people gathered outside the restaurant, to our surprise the greeter/maitre'd informed us that a table for 2 was available. As it was our first time in Balthazar, first thing we noticed was it's overall look of a casual, nicely dated French bistro, a very large high-ceilinged bistro. As large as the place is, the tables are arranged with no more than 6 inches of separation. Oh, and one more thing about the ambiance, this place is very loud. In order to converse, one has to speak louder than the next table, who in turn are trying to speak louder than the customers next to them. It was not hard to observe the restaurant's success with out-of-towners as it was easy to hear conversations all around us.
For starters, we had the half-dozen mixed oysters were fresh, beautifully presented and garnished on crushed ic. They were good. Unlike some of the careless raw bars in the city, they managed to retain the oyster juice submerging the oyster meat. My wife loved the vinaigrette-dressed roasted beet with haricort verts and a two large slices of good quality goat cheese.
For our entrees, I went with the steak frites with maitre'd butter and bearnaise sauce on side (this was suggested by our waitstaff as they sensed that I was undecided between the 2 sauces); while my wife ordered the moules frites. The fries were cooked just right, thery were just firm and soft in some areas, yet not soggy. However, I have had pommes frittes that are sufficiently tasty and delicious without having have to dip them on any condiment. These were not tasty by themselves and were good only when dipped in the bernaise or maitre'd butter or the liquid from the mussels.
The steak was just fine, with nothing to get that excited about. It was slighlty overdone from the medium rare that I ordered it to be and which was helped temendously by the good maitre'd butter and excellent bearnaise sauce. The moules were simply prepared with what my wife referred to as the most basic of ingredients. I cannot refute her culinary training and experience, and according to her, it was not her favorite moules frites, but it wasn't that bad.
Although we stuck with ordering their wines by the glass, I scanned the wine list that was presented to us and, imho, offered only very basic bottlings and vintages. The 1996 Lynch Bages at $145 per half bottle would have been my choice splurge. However, a glass of a low-end chablis from Leflaive, a decent Alsatian Pinot Gris and an uninspiring glass of 2004 Crozes Hermitage at an average of $11 per were, at best, sufficient to wash down the food.
It was obvious that the restaurant thrives on calculated turnovers. As efficient as the staff in serving, it's not difficult to notice that they were more efficient in clearing our dishes as soon as they sense that a custoemr was done, and this they do right after each final bite. We asked for our bill as the noise and busy marketplace ambiance has not endeared themselves to us.
Overall, we found the food to be just good and nothing to have to be writing home about. It could be because of the expectations that were built up by friends from out-of-town who consistently indicated their eagerness to dine at Balthazar on their next visit to New York, but this is one place where I don't expect to be back on my own expense or volition
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