May 1, 2004 6:17 PM | By Adam Roberts | 9 Comments

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:


Here's dad with a skeleton:


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


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


Meanwhile, Lisa arrived eager to gorge with us:


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:


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:


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:


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:


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.


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:


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

The scenery was pretty nice:


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!


Sounds like this was a total disappointment. I look forward to hearing about Per Se... in fact, I am sitting at home (sans food) wishing I were dining with Adam and his crew. I miss my Adam.

Adam, great website. You have an excellent writing style and always provide me with a laugh. I check the site constantly for updates. I have to say though Balthazar is great! The drinks they serve are very good. The large shellfish appetizer is to die for. Keep up the good work.

I'm not surprised you were disappointed with Balthazar. We looked at that list of best restaurants with French Laundry up at the top. We had a so-so meal there. The cooking was good, but 45+ minutes between tasting menu courses was unpleasant. I wish you better luck at Per Se.

The restaurants on that list are not about food, they are about "sensation". They are all places that make a big splash with novel combinations of ingredients. I believe it was a music critic who pointed out that too many musicians try to be different, but that if you really want to be different, you should start by being good. That is different enough in itself.

Adam, you're just goading me now.

School children may look like that in a novel by Marx or Stalin, but not that of Ayn Rand.

Anthem by Ayn Rand features just such children.

The characterization that they are like children of an Ayn Rand novel is a clear implication that those are how Ayn Rand would portray school children when portraying them in their best light, not when they are victims of Stalin-esque government.

So, if we're going to get all literal, I would just say that Athem doesn't contain school children. It contains enslaved adults.

But if we're going to be so loose as to accept your point, we could also point out that We the Living contains such children because it's about Soviet Russia.

Again, in the case of the metaphor in this post and the references above those aren't school children as Ayn Rand would have them, if she were writing about how school children should be.

You people! You're just trying to upset me, I swear!

But Trey, haven't you seen The Simpsons where they have the Ayn Rand School for Children where all the cradles are rocked by machines? That's what I was getting at. I did the opposite of what you think I did: I was portraying Ayn Rand's vision of why things are bad, not how they should be. We're on your side, Trey.

chawfxj bkcop lvceznmiw sxtq curl gpkrxsnd qejgmkz

hujf sifykev

Sign Up for the Amateur Gourmet Email Newsletter:

Follow Me: