Sundays in New York City, even in winter, are always a breath of fresh air. Sundays in London consist of pub lunches, hang overs and really crap television; whenever I find myself in New York City I feel as though Sundays begin to take on new meaning, I end up eating out at beautiful restaurants that serve ridiculously good brunches, having interesting conversations with strangers in coffee shops, or wandering the streets just people watching and passing the time. New York has an energy about it, particularly on a Sunday, which makes everything seem brighter and a little more refined than it might do elsewhere. My favourite brunch spot, and I’m sure it’s a favourite of many, is Balthazar’s on Spring street; located between Crosby street and Broadway in Soho, a stones throw from Bloomingdales. Quite by chance, and very conveniently, located only a few hundred metres from my hotel. Perfect then, for a lazy Sunday afternoon brunch. Sundays are meant to be lazy and I take Sunday relaxation seriously; I find that I relax to the point where the week melts away and I can begin again with a clean slate and a clear head, better prepared and ready to tackle whatever Monday decides to throw my way. So, as part of proper Sunday relaxation one should always, without fail, indulge in fine food and a good movie or book of choice, take a long walk and sleep as much as possible.
Yesterday’s brunch was definitely a winner, and just in time to be the perfect warm up for a week of Christmas festivities and indulgence. I arrived without a reservation, a silly mistake on my part as Balthazar’s is famously busy on Sundays; to top it off I only managed to squeeze through the door around 1pm, slap-bang in the middle of the Sunday lunch rush. I spoke sweetly to the lovely young gentleman managing the bar area and ‘cafe’ and was seated at the bar within mere moments, he even made a point of ensuring I was properly looked after and came back to check on me after dealing with an impatient couple at the next table. The staff at Balthazar are, and always have been, exceptionally warm and welcoming. I’ve never been to a restaurant that makes me feel so at home; this is perhaps the reason I love it so much. The food is of course another game changing element. I decided quite quickly on the ‘Eggs Bella Donna’ – Poached eggs on Polenta served with pancetta, parmesan, grilled cherry tomato, mushrooms and spinach. It has to be said, as far as brunch menus go this one is yet to be beat in my books. While it looks simple at first glance, the descriptions printed on the menu do not even begin to describe the flavoursome and lovingly prepared meals which eventually end up on the plate. Be prepared to fall in love. The eggs were cooked to perfection, the polenta was soft without being runny, the vegetables were cooked ‘just-so’ and the parmezan cheese gave everything a nice salty but sweet finish. Its nothing fancy, it’s just a properly cooked and well thought out brunch plate that delivers.
Having settled in nicely with a stomach full of food, now mid way through a deep conversation with the barman about coffee, I decided it was time for my second ‘soup bowl’ of Cafe au Lait. Though latte’s are usually served in longer and taller glasses, the coffee at Balthazars is presented in an actual soup bowl – coffee novelty at it’s best! I wasn’t much in the mood for dessert and I certainly didn’t have the space for it but after careful consideration, coupled with a full-on attack of lethal persuasion tactics from all three bar staff, I finally settled on the highly recommended Banana Tart. I have NEVER seen fruit served in a more decadent dish; I’m talking layers here, all piled high in a perfect circle. The bottom layer was a crisp and crumbly, tightly packed circle of biscuit which gave the dish a firm base. The next layer was made up of sliced banana topped with a layer of thick banana and vanilla ice cream which was then sandwiched closed with a thick, dome shaped burnt-sugar crust – something akin to a thick creme brulee crust. Scattered around my perfect tart were thin slices of banana floating in a sea of what can only be described as one of the best caramel sauces I have ever tasted. This dessert, although probably far too big for one person and definitely too big considering the enormity of the brunch I had devoured only moments before, was one of the best damned desserts I’ve ever had in NYC. It was truly an American-French fusion of delicately prepared over indulgence; I finished the entire dish and I’m not even a little bit ashamed to admit it.