Crisp Berkshire pork belly with creamy grits, oeuf meurette and roasted mushrooms $29
Two thick slices of tender pork belly in a rich red wine sauce. The pork was perfectly cooked: crunchy crackling covering soft, succulent, fatty flesh. Underneath, a generous serving of velvety, creamy grits. The intense gravy was a harmonious blend of red wine, stock and vegetables, simultaneously salty and sweet. Plated with a fresh poached egg, thinly sliced mushrooms and mache lettuce. Yum!
Saffron risotto with ruby red shrimp, charred leeks, mascarpone cheese and Espelette pepper $27
A big bowl of delicately seasoned, buttery risotto with light saffron accents and hints of sweet chili. Muddled with small portions of shrimp, charred leeks and tidy pieces of Espelette pepper, a mild chili cultivated in the southern western-most region of France (which is prime Basque territory). Garnished with a simple sprinkling of chopped chives.
Salade niçoise with fresh seared tuna $25
As with many of the dishes at Balthazar, this was a tasty take on a French classic. A hearty helping of spicy greens, mixed with substantial chunks of grilled, rare Tuna. One halved, hardboiled egg, along with salty slivers of anchovy, white onion and crunchy radish. A sprinkling of earthy black olives and tart red pepper added extra depth to the dish. One thing we noted, however, was the absence of any potatoes. Perhaps the thick (but slightly dry) slice of home made focaccia was a substitute. We also liked the fact that it was drizzled with savory pesto sauce. A good option but not particularly special.
Chocolate pot de crème $9
Inside this deceptively small bowl was a large portion of rich, intense chocolate crème. It was dense and delicious, like a mousse but better. We slowly gorged ourselves on this delectable dessert, spoon by spoon. Finally, we helped ourselves to the two toasted coconut cookies, which were an airy alternative to the luscious chocolate.
Overall, we were pleased with the food at Balthazar. Chefs Raid Nasr and Lee Hanson have put together a well-rounded bistro menu that offers a roster of French classics with Basque influences. There’s the requisite steak frites, oysters and even, if you’re ready to share, a Chateaubriand roti for $99.
Beware, however, as this place is now firmly fixed on the NYC tourist map (as are many of Keith McNally’s famous establishments), which means it’s both permanently packed, often occupied by pleasant but noisy families visiting from out of town. Accordingly, expect a wait whatever time you go. We showed up at 7.30pm on a Sunday, for instance, and were initially informed there was a two-hour wait. Though, if you’re sneaky, take a peak around the corner and grab a seat in the bar area.
80 Spring St.