Love Letter

How Do I Love Thee, Balthazar? In So Many Ways

by Kate Donnelly
The author, outside the brasserie, and the bakery window. Photos by Kate Donnelly.

Dear Balthazar:

It's only been two months, yet I still dream about you. The bright red awnings, green wooden benches (a bit wobbly), the bustling world inside. A revolving door of entertainment, I've sat inside your brightly lit room so many times I've lost count. I won't listen to the naysayers; you have an energy that reminds me of the way New York used to be (suited men reading the paper; fashion and PR girls working the double kiss). Brunch is a spectacle, too many clinks and tourists. It's breakfast, say 9 a.m., where pure light bounces off your distressed mirrors and signature subway tiles. Balthazar, this is when you look your best. 

I've sat with every member of my family (a mess of tough critics, devoted foodies, and conversationalists) at the red leather banquettes. I've broken morning bread and refilled my coffee with many friends and out-of-towners. A decade ago, at a corner table, I introduced my mother to my future husband. Five years ago,when I lived on Spring Street, I bought my daily coffee and soft almond croissants at the patisserie. I snacked on bread samples and walked out the door armed with the morning papers and dark Dolce sunglasses for a bit of voyeurism on the outdoor benches (it's remains one of the best strips in Manhattan for this). I always left the Post behind for the next person who'd pretend to read it as they watched people zigzag the concrete cat walk, in and out your doors with a sense of purpose.  

On my way home from work, or on a Saturday afternoon, I might drop into the brasserie for a glass of champagne before the dinner rush. It's nice to sit at the bar and chat with other patrons, like that time my sister-in-law and I advised a couple from New Jersey on how to procure a dinner reservation. Or watched the Turkish gent attempt to pass off $100 to a hostess for a better table on New Year's Eve (he procured the table closest to the door). Or heard my San Francisco guests, after indulging in a round at the raw bar, admit the food in NY "isn't that bad." Sometimes I walk tourists through the traps — giving them my local lowdown (best times to visit, what to eat, what table to request). Usually, I just like to sit and listen to the conversations happening around me.

Oh, and your food. Feels just right every season. Timeless. Spring ushers in those perfect sunny days: downtown girls with freshly manicured nails and Tracy Feith sundresses. It calls for steak tartare, Blue Point oysters, and a half bottle of Tavel Roc-Epine rose.

Summer spoils me with a light breeze and a craving for your shrimp cocktail, salad ni├žoise, and a glass or two of Sancerre. Fall brings about crisp air and the signature salad: asparagus, fennel, ricotta salata, truffle vinaigrette — hold the haricots verts please (sadly I'm allergic), and trout for dinner. Winter is cold, and I sidle up to the cozy bar to stay warm. Put some meat on my bones: the brandade to start, Bordeaux, and Balthazar bar steak, medium rare, with extra crispy pommes frites. No matter the season, I am always ready for your fresh plucked oysters and crustaceans.

We are like old friends. Although I shutter at the phrase quintessential New York (it's overused out the yin-yang), it pretty much sums up a trip to your hallowed brasserie. You are first on my list every time I'm in town.

Never lose your cool,


80 Spring St.
New York, NY 10012

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