Lauren’s Here, We Ate At Zoe

Remember my old roommate Lauren? Old readers will. She came in yesterday (her family lives on Long Island) and tonight she met me for dinner in between my graduate playwriting workshop and my graduate drama lab (as opposed to dinner between Civil Procedure and Torts; a custom from the not-so-very-distant past). We had to eat quick and near NYU, so we went down to SoHo and discovered a place called Zoe—it was across the street from the Apple store where Lauren finally decided to accept her fate and become (like her former roommate) a full-fledged Apple owner. She ordered her 12-inch Powerbook and I’ve never been prouder.

The calamari at Zoe was great. Totally tender, not a bit rubbery. How do they do it? Do they beat it with a large polo mallet? Not sure. But there was Vietnamese dipping sauce too:

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We shared a pizza of heirloom tomatoes and shaved Parmesan. Pretty tasty:

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Should you run to Zoe next time you come to New York? No. It’s one of those “only if you’re in the neighborhood” places. Eat there if you’re in the neighborhood.

Emperor Balthazar, Doth Thou Have No Clothes?

When Restaurant Magazine listed its Top 50 Restaurants in the World this year, Balthazar placed 40th. This came as a surprise because I had been to Balthazar once before and didn’t love it. Was I missing something?

After watching a play reading this morning at Juilliard, I hopped into a Death Cab (this guy was literally out to die) and met my parents in SoHo. Our reservation was at 1:30, so we killed some time shopping at the trendy stores.

Check out this trendy Prada store, for example. The manequins are arranged like school children in an Ayn Rand novel:

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Here’s dad with a skeleton:

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And here’s a really cool product at the MOMA store: stainless steel soap to get the garlic and onion smell off your fingers:

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At 1:15ish we made our way over to Balthazar, and here’s mom before going in to claim our table:

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Meanwhile, Lisa arrived eager to gorge with us:

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The place was a’buzzing. Balthazar is a happening lunch spot, and today–Saturday–I think the mix was equal parts tourists and equal parts regulars. The interior had the look and feel of a French bistro (I think that’s the point) and everyone looked accordingly continental. Our host even looked a little bi-coastal, if you know what I mean.

Here’s the scene:

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We sat down near the back and felt like worker bees on the outskirts of the hive. Our waiter had a proper French accent and a horrendous birthmark on his face. We won’t hold that against him.

We proceeded to order a $12 basket of bread:

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It turned out to be my favorite part of the meal. The croissant was wonderful, as was the chocolate bread with a real piece of bittersweet chocolate inside. And the sticky bun, which we saved til the end, was indeed lip-smacking.

It went downhill from there. But, to be fair, it may have been my ordering. Because we’re going to Per Se tonight (we leave in 30 minutes!) I wanted to eat light. So mom and I ordered soup and salad: shrimp bisque and the waiter-recommended Balthazar Salad.

Here’s the bisque:

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It was watery on the top and had zero flavor. As I worked my way down, though, it got more flavorful until at the bottom it actually tasted good. Maybe I should have stirred?

And the salad:

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This was the real disappointment. It tasted like nothing. There were some interesting elements: the asparagus, the hericot vers, the sliver of cheese. But it had no character, nothing memorable about it. In fact I’d like to extract the memory completely from my head. Dr. Bunsen, if you’ll please.

[ZAP!]

Whatever did I have for lunch today? I can hardly remember.

Lisa, on the other hand, chose a winner—-a brunch time waffle with berries:

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If only I hadn’t alread had a waffle at breakfast.

The scenery was pretty nice:

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Although my dad mocked the lighting. “This is one of the best restaurants in the world,” he said, ” and they have lights like that?” The lights looked like insect killers. It was a decent point.

I won’t be so daring as to call Balthazar a fraud or a charlatan of a restaurant. I’ll simply say that both times I’ve been I’ve been less than impressed. Maybe it’s a matter of ordering the right thing but that doesn’t make sense because if it’s on the menu at the world’s 40th best restaurant it should taste great no matter what it is. Those are my thoughts. And now for Per Se!