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By Steven Li on 2006-05-01

May 01, 2006

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Ok! Posts are back in nyc, and it’s staying here till spring break eating is all pau with! Sorry for doing this so late, these posts are waaay past date but I still wanted to share them with you.

New York, for better or worse is filled with too much wonderful food. There’s is always too much to eat and never enough time or stomach space. You could live for a dozen life times and still have places to explore, things to eat, people to meet. Boredom, thank god, is never an option. Unlike damn Claremont here. These are the days when I ask myself why the hell did I transfer from NYU!!! Sorry, just in a crappy mood. Finals are coming up and I’ve already studied so much that there’s nothing left to study. But then there’s nothing to do AT ALL in this boring town BUT study (unless you have a car). All I want is to go home to Hawaii where I’m not surrounded by Olive Gardens, McDonalds and fake Indian food. Culinary wasteland I tell you.

Or maybe I’m just never satisfied. Because even in nyc, there can be too much of a good thing. Most of the times you don’t recognize culinary overkill until it’s too late and you’re like, ugh, why did I do that? Like three visits to Balthazar in two days. It was excellent the first time, alright the second and I don’t know why I came back for the third round.

Balthazar is often described as the quintessential nyc restaurant and it’s not difficult to imagine why. A rather glamourous room boasting high ceilings and dark wood walls, it is full of people at every hour of the day. All you hear is noise – the talk, the whispers, the sound of one sucking a mussel out of it’s pearl black shell, the bustle of well dressed waiters, customers, tourists and locals alike, hustling in and out and waiting in line.

I did not come here on my own accord, but with a few friends who are madly obsessed over this restaurant. While I’d be perfectly content with a slice of Pizza Bianca or perhaps one of Claude’s marvelous croissants, part of me wanted to understand all this Balthazar hype.

So below is everything consumed during my visits. Not all by myself, of course!

To begin, a basket bearing two types of simple well done bread (I think Blue Ribbon beats Balthazar on the bread bar by all levels). One was a basic, country white with a nice crunchy wood fired crust and the other, a dense, nutty wheat loaf.

The Balthazar Salad ($12.50) came classically presented on a plain white dish. The mingle of light spring colors from a base of haricot verts mixed with tender baby asparagus, fennel, ricotta salata was beautiful to look at. The truffle vinaigrette was very oily and nope, didn’t taste any truffle in there! Hehe, guess you can’t expect much truffling going on for $12.50. I think restaurants overdo the “truffle” emphasis on salad dressings – does anyone really taste the truffle flavor?

The Duck Shepherd’s Pie ($19.00) was my single most favorite item. It screams comfort food – only upscale. Duck in it’s finest form, stewed tender and sooo soft in a rich, thick gravy. Topped with a generous layer of warm and fluffy mashed potatoes with just a hint of garlic and a light sprinkle of cheese, then briefly browned in the oven, I felt like curling up in front of a fireplace with this dish in hand. Of course I’d burn myself holding that hot, heavy pan, but it’s nice to imagine eh?

This was the first time I’ve had Moules Frites ($19.50) and I look forward to trying it out at other restaurants. Such a fun dish to eat! A large bucket of warm mussels paired with a tall cone of fries and aioli.

Here’s a closer look at the mussels. There were more than a few which refused to open up, but the ones that did were plump, sweet and juicy. At the bottom of the pail/bucket/whatever-you-want-to-call-it was a good amount of mussel broth. I was tempted to lift it up and just drink straight out of there. But there were too many people around. Sigh. How society binds us.

Fries were textbook boring though I did enjoy dipping them in the mussel broth. Oooh, what’s even better is dipping the country bread in the broth. It simply soaks up all the savory sweet flavors of the broth.

The Sauteed Skate “Buerre Noir” ($21.00) was finely executed both in presentation and taste. Sautéed in a rich pine nut brown butter and paired with delightfully bitter broccoli rabe, it left me perfectly satisfied and not overwhelmingly full or weighed down. The skate was delightfully crunchy on the outside, though still soft and fork tender complemented the cuts of tomatoes, pine nuts and a welcome surprise of tart golden raisins.

Ingrid ordered the Irish Lamb Stew ($19.50) with (as the menu describes it) meltingpotatoes, onions and sweet carrots. Potatoes didn’t look anywhere on the verge of “melting” but I’ll give them credit for menu wording creativity. I didn’t have a taste but she finished it in a matter of minutes so it must have been good :)

Another friend had the Pan Roasted Chicken Riesling ($24.00). I took a bite of everything and found the chicken to be dry and lackluster. A sauce based primarily on mushrooms and pearl onions was as expected, though nothing you couldn’t make at home. What blew me away was the SPATZLE. Holy crap that was good. I’ve never had good spatzle in my life but this, in all it’s light, nearly butter crunchy, yeasty, doughy but still airy and crisp glory, this is what all spatzle should be like! Robyn does a better job of describing it, but when she eats a bowl of it, you bet you can find me sitting right next to her doing the same. Robyn also has a review and (awesome) pics of her Koulibiac entree and a drool worthy caramelized banana tart with ricotta. I won’t even try live up to her post. :)

What comes after entrees? Why the best part of the meal! I was too full to partake on the first night, but did make off with profiteroles the following day. The waiter brought out trio of good sized babies bearing rounds of smooth vanilla ice cream. With a small silver gravy boat of warm chocolate, he poured it lavishly over the golden tops of the profiteroles. Fun to watch, okay to eat. Eh, you can’t really go wrong with profiteroles but it’s also hard to set them apart from the ordinary and make it spectacular, spectacular.

Now isn’t this a sight for the eyes? This is Ingrid’s favorite dessert, a beautiful pavlova, light as air, crisp as the first bite of a fine macaron. Doused in a mélange of berries galore – blueberries, strawberries and blackberries, they tease and tickle your tastebuds as tart and sweet fight with alternating bites of crunchy meringue. Now if chocolate or mascarpone was somehow incorporated in there…

The tart of the day was a letdown. A skimpy slice of pear tart from the adjoining bakery topped with vanilla ice cream (same as profiteroles). The damn tart wasn’t even warmed! Not warm nor cold, just hovering somewhere in the I’ve been sitting in this room for too long temp. The pears alone were sweet and tender but all you need for that is good fruit, not culinary experience, which is what we were paying for.

To reiterate that after all this fancy food, the simplest things are indeed the best. Three scoops and nothing else: pistachio, maple walnut and plain old vanilla.

The thing is, it kills me to know that I probably would have appreciated everything at Balthazar much more if it wasn’t crammed into two days. I suppose that’s what happens when you’ve only got a week and a million places to eat. I’m realized I’m an all or nothing person. I either go for everything with full gusto or don’t pursue it at all. Bah, I need balance in life. Though, as said earlier, I wouldn’t have made as many visits if it were not for friends who wanted to come so badly (and often). But sometimes you gotta place friends before food…unless it’s really really good food :)

Balthazar
80 Spring Street
New York, NY 10012
(212)965-1785



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