Friday, March 18, 2011

An Evening at Balthazar

Paul and I celebrated Christmas two and a half months late.

For the third year in a row, we decided not to exchange Christmas gifts and instead treat ourselves to a nice restaurant we wouldn't otherwise visit.

Year 1: Aquavit
Year 2: Russian Tea Room
This Year: Balthazar

Paul happily took charge of choosing this year's spot, and he picked a classic French restaurant and bakery in Soho with the trifecta of diners: locals, tourists and celebrities. No celebrities when we were there -- at least none that I noticed -- but lots of good food.

We were seated just minutes after we arrived for our 6:30 p.m. reservation on a recent Saturday -- an early seating by New York standards, but it was either that or about 10 p.m. when Paul made the reservations two weeks in advance. Nevertheless, Balthazar was full, and we made sure to eat an early lunch so we would be hungry.

Paul ordered a glass of wine, and even I splurged and got a glass of cider -- it was Christmas, after all. We were curious to try the chicken liver and foie gras mousse as an appetizer, and placed an order. When our waitress went to check if it had nuts, however, another member of the staff returned and couldn't offer any guarantees. We went without hors d'oeuvres.

But nevermind -- our meals were more than filling. Paul chose the steak au poivre, which came with Balthazar's famous french fries. I got the duck shepherd's pie -- the rich gravy was laced with large chunks of moist duck, topped with a thin layer of mashed potatoes. Delicious.

Duck shepherds pie

But the star of the show was surely dessert. Paul let me choose, and it didn't take long to choose the most chocolatey dessert Balthazar offered: the chocolate pot de crème. Thicker than a standard pudding or custard, it was more like a melted candy bar that had been reformed in a small dish. It was so thick that a candle easily could have stood in the pot without the slightest fear of it falling -- a perfect birthday treat, for sure.

The atmosphere was lively, and our table was close enough to those on either side that we easily could have partaken in their discussions (I suspect the couple to my right were vacationing from Australia). But Balthazar's slight inconveniences were more than made up for by the delicious food and, of course, my good company. And so another Christmas season passes ... just before spring begins.

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