Balthazar: A Socialite’s Brunch
Balthazar proves that brunch has become a blood sport in Manhattan. Getting a table there involves jostling baby strollers and 6-children families, holding on a reservation line for 20minutes, or just plain ole waiting for a good long while. If you’ve won out over the many others and nabbed yourself a table, you’re pushed into the Balthazar brunch machine, a well-oiled contraption that moves at an alarming speed, crams as many patrons as possible into a cavernous dining hall, and pushes out classic Parisian fare with impressive quality.
Despite the factory-like flavor of Balthazar’s manic brunch, the restaurant manages to maintain a certain urbane French charm revered and extolled by New York’s fashionable set. The sister restaurant to Pastis, Schiller’s Liquor Bar, Morandi, and the rest of Keith McNally’s rapidly expanding empire, Balthazar has the look, feel, and attitude typical of McNally. No expense is spared in painstakingly recreating the look of a classic Parisian bistro. Converted from a leather warehouse, the expansive and airy dining hall can seat up to 200 people at the long zinc bar, luxe red leather banquettes, and large circular tables, all arranged helter-skelter in the rollicking maze. Everything from the gigantic antique mirrors to the sunny distressed yellow ceilings to the polished dark wood finishes seems authentically Parisian. Slowly turning ceiling fans, bright golden light, and a beautifully tiled floor complete McNally’s masterpiece. It is clear that at Balthazar, as at his other thematic restaurants, restauranteur-extraordinaire Keith McNally is not selling food; he is selling an experience.
The food won’t blow your mind, but it’s certainly good enough to attract a rabid following. High points include the bakery’s baked goods, a best of compilation offered in the bread basket, and the wide range of beautifully-prepared egg dishes. The Eggs Norwiegan and Eggs Benedict offered perfectly poached eggs that when cut into oozed golden yellow yolk all over a crispy toasted English muffin and salty soft breakfast potatoes; the Eggs Florentine, served piping hot in a cast iron skillet, baked poached eggs in with fresh spinach and artichoke, seemingly healthy yet surely loaded with delicious butter and cream; the Eggs in a Puff Pastry was a spruced-up and fancy Egg McMuffin, impossible to eat like a sandwich yet composed decadently of flaky pastry, fluffy eggs, rich cream.
Other notable dishes include the Sour Cream and Hazelnut waffles, unusual yet also found on Schiller’s menu, and the Apple Cinnamon pancakes, made to the perfect consistency and somehow imbued with a savory rather than sweet quality. Fresh and generally well-prepared, the food at Balthazar is beyond decent yet seems to come second fiddle to the incredible bustling scene and distinct decor. Typical of McNally restaurants, atmosphere and experience reign supreme at this Soho brunch mecca.
Of course, the price of such a lovely spot in such a hoppin’ neighborhood is crowds, crazy, fashionable, pushy crowds. In order to eat in peace, you’ll first need to contend with the stressed-out hostess, bitchy Manhattan desperate housewives, too snobby for their own good gay mafia, baby strollers brigade, and bankers in tshirts used to getting what they want when they want. Once you get past such obstacles though and work up an appetite, the servers treat you like gold and the food will make you think, for at least the length of the meal, that it was all worth it.
Perfect For: feasting with the fashionable, family get-togethers, birthday celebrations, francophiles, a classic New York experience, boozy brunch, hosting out-of-towners