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In praise of an old standard -- Balthazar

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Last night my husband took me out for my birthday dinner to Balthazar, which has become an annual tradition for us. As a chowhound who lacks snobbery and just searches for really good food, I sometimes feel a little sheepish about going to Balthazar again and again when there are so many terrific new places that I have yet to try (we don't get out as much as we used to). Not to mention the fact that it's a little touristy and I'd guess about the day before yesterday in terms of trendiness (not that trendy ever enters into the equation for me, but still.)

But God I love Blathazar. I love the ambience, the din of voices and clattering silverware, the lighting (I just celebrated my 40th, so good lighting becomes more and more significant with every birthday), I even love the annoying Eurotrash in the bar area or at least I love to find them annoying. But mostly I love the food. It is consistently good. From the bread to the Balthazar Salad (the salad that made me a truffle junkie), to the oysters, to the Steak Frites (I shouldn't, but dammit, it's my birthday!) to everything else I've tried on the menu. And the breakfasts are terrific, too. I've lived in NYC for almost 8 years and I've probably been to Balthazar at least 30 times and yet when I leave, I'm always thinking about when I can come back. The only thing that can occasionally be off is the service. I've had some really crappy servers with tremendous attitudes, but most of the time I've had terrific ones. If I could change one thing it would be to get rid of the bathroom attendant. I have a real chip on my shoulder about having to give someone a buck for handing me a paper towel, not to mention the fact that having someone stand there while you pee is worse than someone reading over your shoulder in the subway. But I digress. I can put up with the attendant for the food, for the ambiance and for reminding me everytime I go why I love being a New Yorker. How corny is that?

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  1. It is a special place, isn't it, I love it too. My usual is the frisee and then the steak frites.

    1. I feel the exact same way about it. Love the plateau and the steak tartare.

      1 Reply
      1. re: MMRuth

        Because we only get to New York once a year we try not to repeat restaurants.....with the exception of Balthazar! This year I had the roasted pumpkin and arugula salad and the lobster ravioli. Both were incredible and we will definitely go back yet again.

      2. Agree. I too just recently took my husband for his birthday. My whole family are foodies from age 11 to 65. Every one devoured the grand plateau. Steak au piovre was great. Magnum of great french wine. Our waitress was very nice and gave just the right amount of attentive service.

        1. I agree. I haven't been very often, but sometimes there's nothing better than going to a place that you know you're going to enjoy, with just the right balance of fancy and accessible. With new places, sometimes it's a shot in the dark. Balthazar is one of the many treasures that make NY worth it.

          1. I have a question. We went to a weekday brunch at Balthazar back in February, and we ordered the chocolat chaud towards the end of the meal. We both thought it tasted like a bad mix... thin, watery, and not chocolatey at all. We were so disappointed, especially after having lots of amazing hot chocolate in Europe. I felt like they could have at least used something like a Ghirardelli mix if they weren't going to make it from scratch. What happened? Was it a bad day, or is their hot chocolate just something to avoid?

            1. Agreed, it's one of my favs too...personally, i only go there on weekday mid-afternoons or late-late at night (though i've heard 10-11am-ish breakfast is good too but i don't wake up that early)...my favs are the B salad, the trout/spinach salad, and the oysters...

              re: bathroom attendant, i also agree completely...as a rule, i refuse to tip bathroom attendants in all restaurants: not out of cheapness, but because i don't want to support the institution: i want as few people as possible in the bathroom, so paying for an extra buck for one is not something i'll do...(i view it exactly the same way as not giving money to panhandlers hassling patrons outside the door -- if no one pays, perhaps they'll go elsewhere)...perhaps a letter to Balthazar is in order...

              re: service in general: i've never had bad service there: it's always been in the generally ok/professional/good range

              1. Agreed. I've only been a couple of times but it's always great. I had a fantastic skate wing last time. They also make great cocktails!

                1 Reply
                1. re: biondanonima

                  I also think that their wines by the carafe are well priced and decent.

                2. I like Balthazar, too. I never stopped liking it, and still recommend it to people who I thinkwill appreciate it for what it is. Balthazar often gets a bad rap on CH- whether for perceived attitude/pretentiousness or long waits- but rarely for the food. I actually enjoy the scene here, and the food, as well. There are very few places that do breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner and late night well.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: vvvindaloo

                    I might as well pile on here. This genre (The Bistrot) is famous for a reason and this restaurant nails it so well. We have never had bad service there - and the food always satisfies. MMRuth mentioned the wines, and I think that the list is beautifully chosen - although being all French helps -
                    A truly satisfying place.

                  2. I don't get it. I went to Balthazar for brunch with a family group of 8 and we were all very disappointed. It was my first time and I read all the posts on chowhound which are all rave reviews. The bread basket was nothing special. No one loved their dishes. Making it even worse was the service. The waiter was rude, and rarely available. We had empty glasses of unfilled drinks for a long time. It was crowded but no there is no excuse when you pay these prices.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: angelo1313

                      Agree that Balthazar is disappointing at brunch--it's just a zoo and I found the food mediocre. It's better for dinner.

                      1. re: Lucia

                        I've gone more often for lunch than dinner, but have always enjoyed my food - with the caveat that I don't order brunch food. I'm sorry about the service experience that angelo had - maybe we've been lucky, but we've always had pretty good service, even when the place has been packed.