This popular institution is always packed and crowded and, no, they are not giving away free drinks. My husband and I try to avoid the crowds as much as possible, which means we have tried to avoid this restaurant altogether, numerous times. Nevertheless, we go back for the “Plateaux De Fruits De Mer,” which is definitely unavoidable.
For the past thirteen years, we sneak in around 4pm-5pm, a magic hour when the restaurant at its cusp—spacious and calm just after the mayhem of the lunch crowd. We’re usually seated in the corner round table, in the great room that resembles the French Bistros in Paris, or as close as it gets here. We order a bottle of rosé or an effervescently pleasing potion in pretty flutes, and indulge in “Le Grand.” This is a true raw bar lover’s heaven: oysters, clams, lobster, crabs, calamari salad, mussels, scallops and shrimp cocktail presented in three tall, majestic tiers; all the seafood gingerly awaits in a bed of shiny shaved ice studded with seaweeds. We demurely order a side of their excellent pommes frites and, hiding behind the splendid tower of seafood, we close our eyes and pretend that we are in the south of France, Eze in particular, when our first briny oyster slides smoothly and seductively down our throats. We sip our nectar of happiness and smile blissfully even if we’ve had a bad day—it’s all forgotten….
If you need a quick caffeine fix, want a simple soup, a sandwich or just a charmingly buttery Madeline, Balthazar has a bakery next door with long benches in front where all walks of life hang out, weather permitting, of course. Don’t forget to visit the MOMA store across the street, check out the MUJI store and stock up on the cool Japanese stationery, one block south of Broadway.