Now here is a restaurant pumping during lunch on a busy Tuesday-downtown in Soho this French style bistrot was squeezed tight with diners-all 221 of them as the fire ordinance sign displayed. Then there was the iced-up oyster bar jam packed with oysters, clams and lobsters and the organised mayhem as waiters (some French-speaking) re-arranged the seating in a seconds notice.

The starter was frisee lettuce, lardons and very soft poached egg, good but light provencale stuff, vinaigrette (top olive oil); and Balthazar bakery (next door) eye bread. Next was some rare calves liver topped with red onion, delicious and tender, though a steak knife was provided. No frites requested, but there were many served around me, no doubt encouraging New Yorkers to dine here with a straddle menu including fancy burgers and French chips.

Wine was Chateau du Rouet Cuvee Reservee Tradition 2008 Cotes de Provence Rose (AUD 28.75 for 375 ml) which came with a lookalike plastic cork (Normacork) so there was no great serious pre-tasting just to make sure of no dodgy natural cork. USA did not figure in the wine list-very Francophile which is understandable, although there were a couple of local beers. French importers must be fairly happy to have establishments such as Balthazar as US imports of French wines have been copping a beating of late. The wine was fresh and aromatic for young wine; orange and salmon colour (much different from the accepted New World approach of violet-pretty pink); very white wine-like save the finishing bitter nectarine tang, important for rose made traditionally from red grapes. In this wine 60% grenache 40% shiraz.

The restaurant looks well-worn as a leather warehouse before 1997, has a dramatic presence with high ceilings and giant wall mirrors which exaggerate the grandeur of the dining room holding so many loud diners. Although located at 80 Spring Street, it also backs on to the corner of Crosby; and joins in a ritzy district undergoing a retail makeover. Stroll down this part of Broadway and notice the wall to wall fashion shops (spied our Aussie Billabong shop) jumping out all along this famous stretch. It’s work in progress. At 560 is a slick and shiny Dean & Deluca deli shop (their flagship) with lunchers in the front amid coffee stands, chilled fish and meat dispensing, piles of cheese and bakery, glistening fresh fruit, and at the rear, the kitchen wares.

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