WHAT a glorious weekend! Philadelphia hosted its second annual Philadelphia SketchFest, we had our first snowfall of the season, and I was honored by brunch with both Win and Nan! Because I was busing up for just the day, and because Nan was heading out for a weekend in Baltimore, and because Win is ever hungry, we decided to do an early breakfast/brunch and nowhere would do except Balthazar.
We had a plan, sort of. Win had called earlier in the week to make a reservation for the 10AM brunch, but was rebuffed. Apparently, they only take so many reservations and they were all filled. (When distressed, Win talks in intense italics.) But, proposed Win, what if we showed up at 9AM, ostensibly for breakfast, and then lingered into the brunching hours?
So that is exactly what we did. We convened around 9AM outside the MOMA store; by 9:15 we were seated at a small table with a carafe of water and menus before us. Win and I started with coffee, Nan with a ginger-lemon iced tea. As we waited for the clock to tick on, we ordered a pain au chocolat (we couldn’t resist) and a donut. Win was inspired to ask the maitre d’ about a brunch table and, at 10AM on the dot, Ian — our effective and amazingly hospitable maitre d’ — walked over to inform us that a table had been prepared for us.
We relocated. We gasped over the expanded brunch menu. Our waiter brought Nan’s bag from the other table. We finished the donut. We debated Eggs Benedict versus Eggs Norwegian (the difference being in the meat: salmon instead of ham). We finally gave up and asked our new waiter for his input: as we intended to share the Scrambled Eggs in Puff Pastry (complete with mushrooms and asparagus) and the Sour Cream Hazelnut Waffles with fruit compote, which version of the eggs benedict would be best suited as the third dish? And per Winston’s advice, we happily (and very chattily) ordered the Eggs Norwegian.
I loved it. I loved the entire experience. From the boulangerie to the wall of wine bottles; the tiny-tiled floors to the wooden tables; the immense menus to the quaintly formal aesthetic; the bowed stairs to the restrooms and the glass bottles of tap water… It was all so perfect! I see why people make plans around going to Balthazar; I’m already planning my next trip up, specifically for a seat by the window and another round of that amazing Eggs Norwegian. La, but that was heavenly!
Win had brought her camera so we spent a good while snapping shots of each other and miming rapt conversation. Nan is a natural in front of the camera — she makes the best confused and slightly un-mollified looks of anyone I’ve ever encountered. One day, I’d love to get her hair blown out by a pro and then shoot her in front of a giant fan, white chicken feathers fluffing into the air around her. She’d make the best exasperated faces ever.
I think we amused the waitstaff at Balthazar. We were so clearly there for the laughter and the joy of meeting up after a long time away from each other, and we couldn’t do much of anything without shrieking for a camera to document the moment. Whether it was Win rhapsodizing about her life, Nan reminiscing about the mother-daughter brunch dates of her childhood, or me getting excited over the prospect of driving a truck in Tennessee at Christmas time, we all brought such grand, photogenic verve to the meal that I think Balthazar will forever be linked for us to a time of great joy exuberance.
Like the incomparable Gigi, Balthazar is a poser. It may claim to take itself seriously — it may seem top-lofty and oh! so staid — but inside those beautiful beveled glass doors is a world of laughter and delight and wonder and “youthful zeal.” Like any satisfying romance, the lead in this production comes off one way but soon grows in the eye of the beholder into something infinitely more precious: in the case of Gigi, she casts off her youth to become the one woman who won’t bore Gaston. In the case of Balthazar, the restaurant destroys its own aura of hoity-toitiness to transform into a place of exultant stories, ribald laughter, and fantastic imaginings.
Balthazar, by way of Colette, I salute you.