Like bees to honey, New Yorkers swarm to Balthazar. It's one of my favourite NYC restaurants, and we were fortunate to have been there for lunch on Tuesday. It's never easy to get in, but once you're at your table, the charms of Balthazar take over. Opened by Keith McNally in 1997, it's reminiscent of a classic fin de siècle french brasserie, complete with red banquettes, aged world-weary mirrors and waiters sporting long white aprons. Magnifique!
Like the decor, the menu reflects the french classics. Gruyere topped onion soup, steak frites or Le Grand Plateaux de Fruits de Mer — 3 icy tiers of crab, shrimp, oysters, clams and lobster. Balthazar is animated from early in the morning to late at night. The food is simply prepared and delicious, prepared by chefs de cuisine Riad Nasr and Lee Hanson. Even the bread is wonderful, baked in the adjacent Balthazar Bakery. The ambiance is loud and bustling; the service polite and attentive. In a word, it has 'pazzazz'.
I ordered the Frisée Aux Lardons, which is also known as Salade Lyonnaise — a classic, almost archetypal French bistro salad, named after it's origin city Lyon. Basically bacon and eggs on salad! I'd always wanted to try it, so here was my opportunity. The dressing is easy to make with few ingredients, and with the runny egg, blends to create a lovely creamy sauce. The lardons, or strips of bacon, offer a crunchy texture and salty smoky flavour to the salad. The frisée has a slightly bitter taste but holds up well to the rich dressing. This Frisée Aux Lardons recipe, adapted from the beautiful Balthazar Cookbook, is easy to make and delicious. Of course, if you're ever in New York...
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Trim the crusts from the bread cut into 1/2-inch cubes. Place on a sheet tray and bake in the oven until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Shake the pan halfway through to toast evenly. Combine the croutons in a large bowl with the clean frisee.
Prepare the pan for poaching the eggs: Fill a wide-straight-sided saute pan with water (about two-third fulls) and add the tablespoon of vinegar. Over a medium high flame, bring to a gentle simmer, and adjust the heat to maintain it.
In a dry skillet or saute pan over medium heat, brown the lardons well on all sides, about 10 minutes. Add the minced shallots and continue to cook for 2 to 3 minutes, to soften and lightly brown them. Without pouring off the fat, add the 1/2 cup of vinegar to the pan. Bring to a boil, using a wooden spoon to scrape any delicious bits that have caramelized on the surface of the pan. When the vinegar has reduced by half, about 3 minutes, turn off the flame. Add the olive oil, salt and pepper, and stir well to combine. Pour this warm vinaigrette with bacon into the bowl of frisee, along with the croutons and fine herbes. Toss well to combine. Divide the salad almong 6 serving plates, piled into small heaps.
Crack the eggs, one at a time, into a small saucer and then slide them into the simmering water. Poach for 4 minutes, resulting in a set white and a cooked but runny yolk. With a slotted spoon, scoop out the poached eggs, one at a time, drain, and position on top of each pile of frisee. Sprinkle with crunchy sea salt and a few turns of a peppermill. Serve immediately.