Bruni disses Balthazar today, and I'm (for once) in complete agreement.
I must be in the vast minority, but I NEVER liked Balthazar (the bakery, yes, the restaurant, no).
Even when it first opened it was style over substance, with attitudinous hostesses, uncomfortable seating, ridiculous noise levels, and a very mundane un-inspired take on bistro classics.
Oh, it's just like being in Paris, everyone used to gush. Well, no, actually -- or at least none of the comfortable, courteous, delicious and interesting Parisian restaurants that I like to go to. It always seemed to me like just like being in SoHo.
I went back last summer for the first time in probably 7 years for a friend's birthday, and I could hear all of the person sitting to my right's conversation, and none of what the people across the table from me were saying. Unfortunately, the person sitting to my right was not in my party, but I did learn all about his favorite restaurants in Minny/St. Paul (his home town(s)). Steak frites - neither the steak nor the frites left me breathless, and I don't even remember the rest of the meal. I do remember that we were out of wine for QUITE a long time before our server noticed. Booo!
At some point a brass band of strolling musicians wandered in and started playing loudly in the corner near the bar. It was a few minutes before security could muscle them out, and in the mean time, the folks from Minny/St. Paul clapped with glee. It was definitely the most interesting thing to happen on or off the plate that evening.
At the end of the night, working our way out through tourists and (still) attudinous hostesses, I had the feeling that I had just participated in a totally stale experience, a thoroughly commercial and mass-appeal tourist re-enactment of being in a hip NY restaurant re-enacting being in a Paris that thankfully isn't much like that anymore (and when it is, is mostly that way for Americans who have a very well-defined idea of what "just like being in Paris" is supposed to mean).
Just like being in SoHo indeed.