Balthazar, a NYC Classic for Brunch

80 Spring St
(between Crosby St & Broadway)
New York, NY 10012

The first time I came to NYC as an “adult,” I was a college sophomore rebelliously skipping Friday classes to make the 5-hour trek to the big city. The only meal I distinctly remember having was at Balthazar. We went for dinner and I remember it feeling super NYC… busy, trendy, with a hint of stuffiness. I hadn’t returned since…until Y.N. invited me to join her and L.N. for brunch. LAW and I decided to go for the bread (they have a bakery next door known for its baguettes) and for the company, of course.

Y.N. read my mind and asked if we could share the bread basket ($21.00). L.N. was on the same page and had apparently already asked for a bread basket… on the house. L.N. manages a number of restaurants in NYC, including Dos Caminos (which I need to check out), so he has the hook-ups. For a bakery that supplies so much bread to numerous restaurants and cafes in Manhattan, I expected more from Balthazar’s bread basket. It wasn’t bad. The croissant was buttery and light. The pecan sticky bun was fresh and properly glazed. The golden raisin walnut bread was dense and flavorful. But nothing stood out… the breads weren’t particularly moist, chewy, soft, or crusty. The bread wasn’t hot or cold. It was room temperature. Really nothing to write home about.

Our entrees came with another bread basket. These neutral breads were better. They had a nice crust that encased the soft interiors of the bread. LAW probably ate 3/4 of the basket!

Both L.N. and I ordered the Scrambled Eggs in Puff Pastry with wild mushrooms and asparagus ($23.00).  I hoped for a large fluffy puff pastry with creamy scrambled eggs and an overwhelming aroma of wild mushrooms trapped inside. Unfortunately, there was only a bit of scrambled eggs in the very dense and buttery pastry. The rest of it lay outside on the plate. The eggs were actually very good: soft, fluffy, and creamy. Mushrooms were not very strong. Asparagus was minimally present, as if just standing in for some color. Pastry was not nearly as good as the croissant I had early. Perhaps my expectations were too high… or even different.

LAW and Y.N. both ordered the Eggs Bella Donna ($19), which came with two poached eggs on top of baby cylinders of polenta, pancetta, parmesan, grilled cherry tomatoes, mushrooms, and spinach. I enjoyed this dish a lot more than my own because of the myriad of flavors that came together. The eggs were very technically well-poached (although I do like mine a little more congealed), the polenta was soft and springy, the tomatoes were deliciously fresh and sweet, and the parmesan was a delicious salty hard cheese that brought all the flavors together. Gotta love that sodium.

I probably wouldn’t come back because it’s too expensive for mediocre food. I know most people go for the ambience, which is definitely a quintessential NYC one. L.N. says Balthazar is actually busiest in the mornings, when rich bankers and famous actors often come and grab their bowls of oatmeal with coffee. There is a certain air of old New York that I do like. If you’re shopping in SoHo and want to make a reservation, just pop your head in and swing around the corner. There will be an oldschool landline telephone that you can just pick up and immediately be connected to reservations. Thanks L.N. for the tip!

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