Balthazar isn’t the establishment where most people would take an afternoon tea break. It is one of the modern grand dames of NYC dining. Keith McNally completely recreated a Parisian brasserie, complete with mirrored walls, an in-house bakery, and possibly the best duck confit in the city. At one point it was the hottest reservation in the city, a d even now you had better plan far ahead in order to get a table for 2 on a Saturday night.
Though it is known for its sumptuous 3 course meals and legnthy wine list, Balthazar is also the home to many fabulous desserts. As such, it makes the perfect afternoon respite, and on a weekday around 3 PM, the restaurant is slow enough to accommodate a table that wants only coffee and dessert.
Even at this lazy time of day, you will be surrounded by beautiful people weighing 90 lbs and wearing as many pounds of jewelry, so be prepared.
All baked goods here are phenomenal – tangy sourdough bread, pliant and airy white bread, and fresh, creamy butter.
Even if you just order dessert, you will still be offered a bread basket – that’s just the kind of service you can expect at Balthazar. My party was there for 2.5 hours, ordered just 2 dishes between the 3 of us, and yet received the sort of service that at other restaurants is reserved for VIPs. We were never once rushed nor ignored, nor ever pushed to order more food. When our server’s shift was over, he came over and let us know who our new server was, should we need anything else. Good service makes a meal better, and great service makes a meal memorable. The service alone would make this restaurant a winner even if the food was merely good.
Luckily, this food was better than good.
Frangipane is a pastry filling that is made from almonds and sugar. Unlike marzipan, the frangipane is a little less sweet and can be incorporated into a custard filling. This tart, where the frangipane was in paste form, was a little light on the almond flavor, but delivered fully on the sweet roasted peaches, tart blackberries, and incredibly flaky pastry. The buttery pastry juxtaposed with those juicy blackberries and sugary peaches really made this tart complex and fulfilling. Be warned that this isn’t on the menu every day - it was the tarte du jour.
The best tart tatin ever. And yes, that does include ones I have had in Paris. The apples, sliced just thick enough so they don’t become a mushy mess, retained their natural bite next to the and sweet caramel. The caramel is more sweet than burnt, and thick enough so that it caramelized into sticky ribbons on the apples, above the flaky pastry. The ice cream, smooth and delicate,was tasty, but the creme anglaise was on a different level. Intensely creamy in texture, tasting of fresh milk. It was thick and coated the back of the spoon, tempering the sweetness of the tart, and was easily my favorite part of the dish.
Balthazar will always be an expensive, fancy restaurant. But, the fact that you can dine there in the middle of the day and receive wonderful service and delicious food? That makes it a classy restaurant, too.