After seven years in business, Balthazar has reached that stage in the life of a restaurant when diners' eyes soften as they call to mind memories of meals past, memories of Lillet and oysters and crisp, peaked croissants and the evenings of carefree youth. A married friend recently gave me a sentimental tour of the many tables at which she had had dates.
Balthazar is no longer hip, but it's still bustling. . .
The menu is much the same as always. Most of the best dishes are still there, and so are the less successful items. . .
But the Balthazar salad, romaine, frisée, asparagus, ricotta salata and truffle oil all mashed together, is as good as ever in its slick and wilted way. The escargots drew my companions' attention, large brown coils filled with juicy snails with plenty of the most important part — the butter, garlic and parsley at the bottom of the baking dish.
I adore the brandade, which is coarse and rustic, a mound of potatoes and salt cod marked with rivulets of olive oil, and topped with thin shards of toast. You spread a patch of brandade on the toast, and the delicate toast shatters in your mouth. And the crisp, salty French fries, which are served with the steak and a few other dishes, are still the best in the city.
The menu maintains a backbone of classics throughout the year, as well as an ample infusion of seasonal dishes. Right now, for instance, there is navarin d'agneau with baby turnips and carrots, and asparagus spears, which are warm and come blanketed with a tangy hollandaise and small fragrant morels.
One reason the food has held up so well is that Riad Nasr and Lee Hanson, the co-chefs who started when the restaurant opened, are still here.