Balthazar. The restaurant has been on my radar for over a year, but last Sunday was the first time I walked through the doors and into a state of bliss. Although it had come up as a dining choice in the past, it was an offer I’d never jumped on before–perhaps because I kept confusing it with Babbo, perhaps because my feelings towards French food were completely different prior to my trip to Paris last summer. In addition to providing me with snooty French standards when it comes to croissants (and no, I have not found one that comes close to those I munched on for petit dejeuner in Paris), the trip was the turning point in my relationship with French food. The cuisine that I once loathed has now become one of my favorites. From the moment I walked past Balthazar Bakery, reminiscent of a true French boulangerie, and through the double doors into the high-ceilinged bistro, I knew I was in love.
I could immediately see why Balthazar is on the list of The New York Times’ Dining editors 50 favorite restaurants. Frequented by everyone from tourists to famous faces, this place has charm aplenty. Large mirrors and wine bottles adorn the walls, and as your eyes take in the sights, the sounds of classical music fills your ears alongside the busy din of the Sunday brunch crowd. And then there’s the food.
There are few breakfasts I’ve had in my life that I would consider memorable. This was one of them. From brioche French toast to steak frites, the Sunday brunch menu offers a little bit of something for everyone. After perusing reviews on Yelp and Foursquare (which have yet to steer me wrong), I knew deciding on what to order would be a tough call. The cafe au lait was happening, no doubt about that. I mean seriously people, a BOWL of caffeine for breakfast?!? YES PLEASE! We then decided to order Le Panier, a basket of freshly baked breads and pastries from the Balthazar bakery, for the table, and I settled on the eggs benedict for myself. The eggs benedict was perfect. Although I usually request the eggs to be scrambled when I order eggs benedict, I decided to be daring and have it the way it was intended. The eggs were poached to perfection–not overdone, and oozing bright yellow yolks when disturbed. The potatoes were the perfect mix as well- not so undercooked that they still seemed like “potatoes”, but not crunchy or burnt either. And then there was the basket of freshly baked goods. I sampled a bit of everything in the bready-goodness basket, and there was not a single thing I disliked. The pecan sticky bun was superb, and worth the sticky bits that stuck to the teeth. But perhaps the most awe-inspiring item in the basket was the mysterious dark bread. At first I thought it was pumpernickel, but upon tasting it, I noticed a sweetness and perhaps thought it was honey pumpernickel. It wasn’t until about the third bite that a light went off in my head and I thought, “Is this…..chocolate?”
Yes, my foodie friends, it was chocolate bread. Can you think of anything more exciting in the land of bread? I think not. The fact that chocolate bread exists in this world was an actual revelation for me. Cocoa powder is mixed with the flour, and bits of chocolate are kneaded into the dough. It is surprising and delicious. Unsurprisingly, it is delicious with almost any bread accouterment you can think of. I brought a loaf home and sampled it with various pairings- butter, peanut butter, nutella, honey with cinnamon, and olive oil. All of them were pretty darn good, although I think a big thanks goes out to my personal trainer for the honey and cinnamon pairing. (Granted he had suggested it as a pre-workout breakfast on top of whole wheat toast, but oh well.)
The other thing of note on the Balthazar brunch menu is a section called “Hangover Drinks.” I debated ordering one, but went with the aforementioned cafe au lait. Mid-meal however, something bright and delicious walked by, was placed on a neighboring table, and immediately picked up and walked past me again. Good fortune, a wrong drink order–now was my chance to grab the waiter and ask what it was! The drink in question was the champagne pick-me-up, a mix of champagne, VS cognac, orange juice, and grenadine. When asked if I wanted it, I hesitated because of the cognac, but then said “Oh what the hell?” and took a chance. My concerns that the cognac would make it strong and overpowering were unjustified. The drink was light and refreshing, and what I can only imagine what the baby of a mimosa and a tequila sunrise would be.
If you find yourself in New York City on a Sunday morning, go ahead and make a reservation for the brunch at Balthazar. And should you not be able to get a reservation? Well, it was certainly worth the 40 minute wait I experienced. Trust me, your taste buds will thank you.