I love Balthazar's...The schtick works, I'm sorry to say: it is not a French brasserie but it looks better than any French brasserie. Keith McNally is very good at what he does and I lap it up happily.
I waitressed there, the breakfast shift, early in my New York career. I wore the standard-issue little Agnes B black dress. I hated boiling the eggs. I waited on Meryl Streep and her little girls. They wanted Earl Grey and didn't want chocolate bread in their basket. The eldest little girl was fierce and protective and I could see she was just waiting for me to say Ooooooooooooooooh, but I didn't. I was fired, though: in one week I was late one day (start-time was at 7.30am) and didn't show up another day, thinking I had a day off. Bye-bye. I met a couple of nice people then, and two of them have made careers there. It's a place were people stick around. I like that.
I began having breakfast there regularly when I started to design gardens full-time a couple of years after that, as our office was and is nearby. That's when I really fell in love. With the deep bowls of strong coffee, the toasted baguette, the scattered, but regular breakfasters, with empty tables separating us into morning pools of introspection and newspapers. The exceptional flowers, changed by an irascible woman every Thursday. The quiet, morning-bright Vivaldi. One day the maitre d' slipped me a card explaining that it was the private number for reservations, meaning that one would be given preferential treatment if booking a table. I can't tell whether the whole of New York has one, but as long as I exercised it, it served me well, securing dinner in coveted booths and tables at short notice. I still have it, though it has not been aired for a long time.
The only Balthazar regret I have is the day, years ago, when my mom and I were having breakfast, and were in mid -toast and egg, when Ralph Fiennes and a friend walked in. Like school girls, we wrote a quick polite, illegible fan-letter on a house postcard and asked our friendly maitre d' to deliver it. Regrettably, he said, he could not. But that I was welcome to do so in person. To my eternal shame, I did. I interrupted a quiet breakfast, blushingly, and fled. That's all.
How. Un. Cool.
And now V and I are in love with each other and I again with this place whose lighting makes everyone beautiful. So we had lunch there, and ordered bubbly and Le Grand - a modest tower of shellfish. They did not have the bigorneaux, the little snails I love so much, not the bulots, the larger ones. Which makes me think of the Cafe du Centre in Geneva, but that's another story.
My man, my ring, our bubbly...