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Balthazar: worth the price?

Ok, so I recognize that this is an inherently subjective question, but I was kinda shocked perusing the Balthazar menu at their prices: $44 for the bouillabaisse, for example; or $19 for the frisee aux lardons. Not the kinda pricing I think of when I think of a classic French bistro. Thoughts?

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  1. French bistro in NYC has a whole different meaning I suppose.

    1. It's Soho, it's famous, it has celebrity clientele, it's Keith McNally, it's been on TV...

      See also:

      2 Replies
        1. re: ttoommyy

          Ditto as well. We've had lunch there a few times and liked enough to keep going back.

      1. Maybe I've been in NYC too long but those prices don't even seem out of line to me for the type of place Balthazar is. I sorta think of its as a reasonably priced Soho spot.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Bkeats

          I agree, but if you knew nothing about the place and were expecting it to be a "classic French bistro" as the OP put it, the prices would seem outrageous.

          1. re: ttoommyy

            I know exactly what to expect.

            Ok, that's an overstatement; I didn't expect the prices to be that high!

        2. I've always thought Balthazar was much too expensive for what you get. No one seems to complain though, and it's always packed. Maybe because it's "French" they can charge more.

          1. I never realized how expensive it is until I had breakfast there recently and this time I had to pay for it.

            Eggs Benedict with homefries $21 - Would have been nice to get more than 6 little homefries.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Ziggy41

              I had breakfast there this morning and as always loved it. Yeah expensive, but everything was excellent and I go when they open, and it is quiet, a little classical music playing in the backround. I get a four top, spread out the paper with a bowl of coffee, then some eggs and home fries(a good size portion with sautéed onions) some bacon and wheat toast, plenty of butter. They leave me alone and after about an hour and the place is packed I leave. Many other excellentmenu choices. Nothing unique but for me it is in the right place and often enough, at the right time. Expensive but good quality ingredients, well executed in a perfect setting. Ya gotta pay for your pleasure.

            2. No one goes to balthazar looking for a bargain meal. Yeah, i think most items are a good $5 more than they should be, but you're definately paying more for the "experience" et al than other bistros.
              I would say if you have never been then yes, its "worth it" to go at least once and order something you wouldn't make at home like the cassoulet.

              1. I don't think OP has a problem of paying money for food in general...he/she seems to be shocked that a French bistro is charging so much for supposely a simple French fare.

                According to Wikipedia,
                A bistro /ˈbiːstroʊ/, sometimes spelled bistrot, is, in its original Parisian incarnation, a small restaurant serving moderately priced simple meals in a modest setting. Bistros are defined mostly by the foods they serve. French home-style cooking, and slow-cooked foods like cassoulet, a bean stew, are typical. [1]

                9 Replies
                1. re: Monica

                  I also am very familiar with Balthazar and with Keith McNally restaurants. I expected it to be expensive. Just not THAT expensive! I'm still going. I'm still going to get whatever I feel like getting. I'm just surprised, that's all.

                  1. re: Blumie

                    Let us know if you think it's worth it.

                    1. re: Blumie

                      You may also be surprised at the ladies room attendant....

                    2. re: Monica

                      Technically I'd categorize Balthazar as a brasserie. Look at the menus of the notable ones on Paris -- their not inexpensive.

                      1. re: Nancy S.

                        According to their website , it's a bistro.

                        1. re: Monica

                          Nevertheless, given the size, type of food, hours of service, etc., in terms of the traditional distinction, in French terms, between bistro and brasserie, I'd categorize it as the latter. But I may be mistaken.

                          1. re: Nancy S.

                            I agree with Nancy. While it may say bistro on the website, its not a bistro nor is it meant to be. Its a fantasy of what McNally concocted as a vision of a bistro for NYers.

                            Compare to my favorite bistro in Paris.


                            Prices are higher at Balthazar, especially after you factor in tax and tip, but Balthazar is probably 8 times the size of Cafe des Musee and 8 times the size of any neighborhood bistro. Interesting thing is that the price of my favorite dish at Cafe des Musee, the steak tartar, is very comparable.

                            I think you would be hard pressed to find comparable food and atmosphere in Soho for the price. In my mind, its a bargain.

                            1. re: Nancy S.

                              I'd agree with Nancy as well, that Balthazar is a brasserie. McNally may market it as a bistro, and given its success he was clearly correct to do so, but its cuisine, decor, and service are those of a brasserie. Raw bars, steak frites, and other grilled and roasted meats (i.e., prepared to order) are traditional brasserie items. Bistros tend to serve more rustic, slow-cooked foods, like cassoulet or coq au vin, neither of which are on the menu at Balthazar.

                              (To make an extremely tenuous and inexact analogy, bistros are to brasseries as Texas barbecue joints are to steakhouses.)

                              I'm not making any case for whether Balthazar is worth it or not, having never been for a meal (just some impressive pastries from the eponymous bakery); just agreeing that since Balthazar is a brasserie, if the food is up to par, its pricing is right in line with typical brasseries.

                              1. re: Nancy S.

                                The whole thing is semantic, of course: arguing over New Yorkers' facility with the nuances of the French language, much less French cuisine, is a fool's errand leading only to grief.
                                Hell, we're still struggling with how to contract "it is" or "they are" in English.

                        2. I've never thought the cooked food was particularly good, and it's often been mediocre...but i like going there at off hours for oysters and wine...the duck confit is decent...i'd never choose it for a dinner, but i wouldn't protest if someone really wanted to go there...

                          1. Chez l'Ami Louis in Paris is considered to be a bistro. Yet its prices are probably higher than half the three star restaurants in France. I would never define a bistro by its price.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: porkpa

                              Except barthazar is not chez L'Amour loius.

                            2. Nothing out of line about the pricing, imho.
                              Good bouillabaise in French bistro can cost upwards of $44.

                              2 Replies
                                1. re: mwhitmore

                                  The difference is, Aquagrill uses US caught seafood while Balthazar uses seafood caught from French seaside. he he..

                              1. From Pete Wells's recent (and favorable) review of Cherche Midi:

                                "There is a limit, though, and Balthazar is approaching it. The cooking, under Mr. McBride, has become utterly mundane, a pretty but flavorless imitation of French food of the kind found at any generic fake bistro. Cherche Midi’s salade niçoise is delicious from start to finish; Balthazar’s is a bowl of ingredients that can’t remember what they’re supposed to taste like. How can the same chef and the same restaurateur be responsible for both?"

                                This criticism if Balthazar is consistent with my experience when I ate there after starting this thread. In addition to being pretty expensive for what it is, it wasn't that good. I feel differently about Minetta Tavern, where I feel like I get my money's worth, even with its high prices. And I'm looking forward to my first visit to Cherche Midi in two weeks.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: Blumie

                                  I think Wells got it exactly right this time. Balthazar BTW is definitely a Brasserie and not a Bistro, not that it matters: it has become basically a tourist and celebrity trap. A shame, because when they opened, some of the food---the shellfish platters--reminded me of Brasseries in France.

                                  1. re: swannee

                                    When Balthazar first opened, it was a celebrity magnet. You had to know someone to get a table. It was a late night scene. Now it's a huge tourist trap, but still one of the best spots in SoHo for lunch or brunch.

                                  2. re: Blumie

                                    I haven't been back to Balthazar since I got this dreadful soup. Still gives me nightmares because I know how good it used to be.