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Eater Founder’s Ode to Balthazar

Lockhart Steele reminisces about the most essential of the Eater 38 restaurants

Balthazar’s grand dining room with a mirror in the back and gold lighting. Nick Solares

Though the idea for Eater was hatched around the corner at Pravda, there’s no establishment that more completely epitomizes the soul of Eater than Balthazar. Early readers of Eater NY recall Eater’s original (non-)logo: a golden ~E~ set against a red fabric suggestive of a certain New York City brasserie. Those same readers may also recall that — just four months after Eater’s launch in 2005 — Balthazar became the first restaurant inducted onto a new feature, the Eater 38.

The original Eater logo
The original Eater logo

Back then, restaurants were added one at a time to the Eater 38; starting the list with Balthazar was a very specific and completely obvious decision by Eater co-founder Ben Leventhal and me. Leventhal’s three-paragraph description could as easily have been written yesterday as 13 years ago, as exhibited first by its lede:

Balthazar, at any hour of the day, is a restaurant nonchalantly but unmistakably satisfied with itself, this characteristic one of the many ways the venue is faithful to its French brasserie roots.

As with his kicker:

A reference to King Balthazar, the last of Babylon, the word ‘Balthazar’ is both the technical name for a huge bottle of Champagne equivalent to 16 regular-sized bottles and a magnificent feast. Your meals at The Balth will be so informed, whether they are impromptu or long on the books.

Eater’s fascination with The Balth — as it was referred to, sometimes with no further context, in the early years of Eater; you either knew The Balth or, praytell, why were you reading at all? — knew few bounds. Another classic from the Eater vault: The Secret of the Balthazar Playing Cards. If you didn’t know, now you know (hint: look up).

Somewhere in another universe, it’s always 8:30 a.m. on a Tuesday morning in 2006, with Ben and I placing our standard breakfast orders at Balthazar (him: egg-white omelet with fines herbes; me: latte bowl and a quiche) while plotting the future of Eater. And yet it’s literally the case in this universe, too (the quiche is still the move). When we say “Balthazar forever,” who’s to say that we’re not being literal?


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