Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Only Thing We Hate More Than a $16 Bread Basket Is a Bathroom Attendant

French Fries -- Balthazar
We will admit it up front: we have a personal vendetta against Balthazar.

Now, there are many things with which we could take umbrage concerning the place:

1. Their Soho location, causing us to trip constantly over mismatched cobblestones,
2. A seating arrangement that makes airplane configurations seem "spacious," and
3. Their rather pretentious air of "We think we're French, even more than the French do," which permeates the entire place. 
In Balthazar, These Would Be Called "French Flowers"
But none of these details alone would be enough to keep us from returning to Balthazar.  Instead, the main culprit in our grudgery is a little thing called the "Balthazar bread basket."

With All That Money, You'd Think They Could Afford Something Better Than Dishcloths for Napkins
Yes, that is correct -- $16 for a pile of goodness that any respectable establishment would provide for free.  Actually, we retract that statement -- said bread basket, all $16 of it, is not actually that "good."

It's "fair" at best.  Verging on "poor."

It also COSTS $16.

Obviously, few things make us more bitter than having to pay for our carbs.
Presumably We'll Be Shelling Out Money for the Tap Water Next
So we arrive at Balthazar, pent-up bitterness boiling in the backs of our throats, and we are escorted to our table.  By some miracle, the hostess does not insist on squeezing us in between two already full tables, and for five glorious minutes, we have a whole area all to ourselves.

And then, like clockwork, Balthazar begins jamming 12 people into an area where only 6 should ever be. 
FYI, Our Table Is About 1/16 the Size of That Booth
We huddle over the wine list for entirely too long, Ginger trying to decide whether to order red or white, and Vodka discerning whether it makes more sense to order carafes or half bottles.  
"I Might Have to Go With -- " "A Half Bottle?" "I Was Going to Say 'White'"
We soon settle on two carafes of... well, one of the reds.  The one that was deemed by our waiter to taste the most like pinot noir.  And then -- you won't even believe it -- we get a bread basket.

A FREE bread basket.
What Is This Wizardry of Which You Speak?
Now, said basket does not feature oodles of pastry variations like the $16 version, but we never even knew Balthazar gave away any free bread at all!  We are temporarily elated, and the bread (especially after sprinkles of salt are added to the dreaded unsalted butter) is rather scrumptious.

Nicely done, Balthazar.  Way to redeem yourself.
That Wasn't So Hard Now, Was It?
Moving onto our entrees, we are here to eat Bobby Flay's Best Thing I Ever Ate TOTALLY FRIED dish, the French fries, so our main concern is what meal we can order and be guaranteed a plethora of said fries.  Ginger chooses the hamburger, and Vodka the moules frites ("Those are mussels right?  Not oysters?"  We're such gourmands).  In a matter of minutes, our table, which could pretty much fit half of a person comfortably, is overflowing with plates and utensils -- the bread basket, the butter, the wine carafe, two wine glasses, two water glasses, the burger, the mussels, three bowls in which to discard the mussel shells, the French fries, the mayonnaise, and a plethora of flatware.

Needless to say, we start dropping things pronto.
No More Room at the Inn
First things first, the French fries (which, naturally, Vodka douses in two tons of salt) live up to Bobby's description, primarily because they "taste like McDonald's version" (our highest compliment).  
So Essentially, Balthazar Is an Upscale Mickey D's
Light and somehow without grease, they are just crispy enough on the outside without becoming crunchy, and the variations in size and shape make for a pleasant experience.
Truth Be Told, We Really Meet Few French Fries With Whom We Don't Get Along
If we came back to Balthazar again, we would certainly order the fries.  But the jury is out on whether or not that set of circumstances will ever occur.
Do You Have a To-Go Window for JUST Fries?
Ginger is pleased by her burger, which is topped by lettuce, tomato, and onion (but not cheese, which Ginger did not want.  Vodka is predictably appalled).  
All These Years, She Thought "Hamburgers" Were an Urban Legend
It also comes with about a gallon of French fries on the side, so if nothing else, we give Balthazar 5 stars on their portions.
Mount Everest of Fries in Background
Now, Vodka's mussels, while certainly not bad, are not great either.  Rather lukewarm in temperature, they are also piled so high in their caldron that Vodka is a third of the way through the meal before she finds any sauce at all.  
Oh, THERE You Are, Sauce. We've Missed You
If anything, these mussels are hovering on the wrong side of "dry," so Vodka makes a great show out of consuming her cornucopia of fries for 45 minutes instead ("No, no, still working on those, bread boy").
Does This Look Empty to You?
As our meal winds down, we are -- if not HAPPY with Balthazar -- certainly less hostile towards them than we were walking in.  That is, of course, until we enter the bathroom and find an attendant.

And there are few things in the world that get on our nerves more than a bathroom attendant.  
We Hate Them Even More Than We Do Dry Mussels
We consider ourselves more than capable of finding our own paper towels without having to suffer the indignation of someone sitting outside the stall, listening to us pee.  So we fly in and out of the bathroom even more quickly than we would have if left to fetch our own soap.

And we don't leave the attendant a $16 tip either.

Balthazar's French Fries: 4 stars

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