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Balthazar, New York, NY, Tasted on November 9, 2004 — It's impossible to talk about Balthazar without talking about how it makes you feel. And as desperately as I try to focus exclusively on the food (which is excellent at Balthazar) the atmosphere is so warm, textured, and friendly, that it can't be ignored. Is it wrong to love a restaurant not just because the food is excellent, but because the restaurant makes you so happy when you walk in? If so, I'm guilty.

But here's they key to this equation. If the atmosphere and environment made a promise that the food didn't keep I wouldn't be writing about Balthazar on this site. But the reality is quite the contrary. The promise of warmth, refinement, and good taste as not only delivered on by the cuisine, but it's emphasized and underscored by the food served at Balthazar. I hate categorizing restaurants because it's so incredibly limiting, but Balthazar really is perfectly executed French bistro fare with genuine warmth, great flavor, and fantastic attention to detail.

We showed up at 11pm on a Tuesday night. The first words out of the hostess' mouth were "do you have a reservation?". That should give you an idea of how popular Balthazar is. We started off with the Onion Soup Gratinée. While Alex felt he'd had better (note: French Onion soup is Alex' signature dish to eat), I thought the broth was silky with a beautiful balance of tangy cheese. Essentially, a delicious flavor bomb.

Next up was the Balthazar Salad with Haricot Verts, Asparagus, Fennel, Ricotta Salata, and Truffle Vinaigrette. The salad was fresh and interesting. In the words of the various actress judges on Iron Chef, DebDu opined that it was “like springtime”. The salad was followed by the Warm Goat Cheese and Caramelized Onion Tart. This dish was definitely good though the range on the flavors was somewhat narrow. It did have a lovely cheesecake-like consistency.

Two stars came up next. First was the Homemade Pumpkin Ravioli with Brown Butter, Sage, and Walnuts. The ravioli were soft perfect pillows of brown buttery goodness. The pumpkin filling bordered on a being a velouté it was so soft and smooth. As if that hadn't made us die and go to heaven the Balthazar bar Steak with Pommes Frites and Maitre D’Butter arrived soon after. I'm not sure what to say about this other than: imagine a hyper-flavorful steak slathered in delicious butter. That pretty much sums it up.

I think if I lived in Manhattan I'd eat at Balthazar once a week. I'd probably have to limit it to one dish per visit or I'd have to be inserted into the restaurant by crane. If you're only in New York for a few days, I'd still stop there as you're unlikely to find an experience as rich and yummy almost anywhere else in the world, even Paris.

Note: Sorry for the age on some of these New York visits. I promise if I felt the data was out-of-date I wouldn't post. I have my spies constantly verifying. :)

     

 

 

 

 

 

   

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  Garlic has long been credited with providing and prolonging physical strength and was fed to Egyptian slaves building the giant pyramids. Throughout the centuries, its medicinal claims have included cures for toothaches, consumption, open wounds and evil demons. A member of the lily family, garlic is a cousin to leeks, chives, onions and shallots. The edible bulb or "head" grows beneath the ground. This bulb is made up of sections called cloves, each encased in its own parchmentlike membrane. Today's major garlic suppliers include the United States (mainly California, Texas and Louisiana), France, Spain, Italy and Mexico. There are three major types of garlic available in the United States: the white-skinned, strongly flavored American garlic; the Mexican and Italian garlic, both of which have mauve-colored skins and a somewhat milder flavor; and the Paul Bunyanesque, white-skinned elephant garlic (which is not a true garlic, but a relative of the leek), the most mildly flavored of the three. Depending on the variety, cloves of American, Mexican and Italian garlic can range from 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches in length. Elephant garlic (grown mainly in California) has bulbs the size of a small grapefruit, with huge cloves averaging 1 ounce each. It can be purchased through mail order and in some gourmet markets. Green garlic, available occasionally in specialty produce markets, is young garlic before it begins to form cloves. It resembles a baby leek, with a long green top and white bulb, sometimes tinged with pink. The flavor of a baby plant is much softer than that of mature garlic. Fresh garlic is available year-round. Purchase firm, plump bulbs with dry skins. Avoid heads with soft or shriveled cloves, and those stored in the refrigerated section of the produce department. Store fresh garlic in an open container (away from other foods) in a cool, dark place. Properly stored, unbroken bulbs can be kept up to 8 weeks, though they will begin to dry out toward the end of that time. Once broken from the bulb, individual cloves will keep from 3 to 10 days. Garlic is usually peeled before use in recipes. Among the exceptions are roasted garlic bulbs and the famous dish, "chicken with 40 cloves of garlic," in which unpeeled garlic cloves are baked with chicken in a broth until they become sweet and butter-soft. Crushing, chopping, pressing or pureeing garlic releases more of its essential oils and provides a sharper, more assertive flavor than slicing or leaving it whole. Garlic is readily available in forms other than fresh. Dehydrated garlic flakes (sometimes referred to as instant garlic) are slices or bits of garlic that must be reconstituted before using (unless added to a liquid-based dish, such as soup or stew). When dehydrated garlic flakes are ground, the result is garlic powder. Garlic salt is garlic powder blended with salt and a moisture-absorbing agent. Garlic extract and garlic juice are derived from pressed garlic cloves. Though all of these products are convenient, they're a poor flavor substitute for the less expensive, readily available and easy-to-store fresh garlic. One unfortunate side effect of garlic is that, because its essential oils permeate the lung tissue, it remains with the body long after it's been consumed, affecting breath and even skin odor. Chewing chlorophyll tablets or fresh parsley is helpful but, unfortunately, modern-day science has yet to find the perfect antidote for residual garlic odor.  

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