This is a book of recipes adapted from recipes prepared at the lower Manhattan brasserie Balthazar. The most important element in determining whether you wish to buy this book is whether or not you really want another book of French brasserie recipes specifically as they are prepared at this restaurant. I give it only four stars to serve as a warning to think before you click on the order button.
These recipes are very good, divided into the chapters:
Appetizers, soups, and breakfast: 18 such as Salade Nicoise, Gravlax, steak tartare, onion soup gratinee
Fish and Shellfish: 23 such as Bouillabaisse, Sole en Papillote, Grilled swordfish, Koulibiac
Chicken and Game: 10 such as Coq au Vin, Duck a l'Orange, Cassoulet, rabbit Moutarde
Meat: 15 such as Steak Frites, steak au poivre, Pork Milanese, Glazed pork belly, Choucroute Garnie
Vegetables and Sides: 20 such as French Fries, Potato Gratin, Potato gnocchi, spaetzle, onion rings
Desserts: 9 such as Crème Brulee, Profiteroles, French Apple Tart, Pavlova, Lemon Mille-Feuille
You get the picture. If you have any three French cookbooks chosen at random, you will probably have recipes for over half of these dishes already. I am really surprised there is no recipe for an omlet.
Good reasons for buying this book are:
- Resource for an entertaining menu based on a French brasserie theme.
- Source of several very good general entertaining recipes, especially dishes like Pot au Feu, Choucroute Garnie, and Bouillabaisse which may have three or four different types of protein. This is very well suited to groups with varied tastes.
- Source for some brasserie recipes which one may not find in French cookbooks, such as the Italian and German influenced dishes of gnocchi, spaetzle, and choucroute garnie.
On the plus side, this is a very attractively prepared book and the recipes are adapted to being prepared at home. I wish, in fact, that the authors would have been truer to their restaurant methods. I have always believed that one of the many things a home cook can learn from restaurant practice is how to be economical with ingredients. In some preparations involving mushrooms, they say to discard the stems. I will bet good money that in the restaurant they put the stems into their vegetable stock pot.
There are several editorial gafes I have come to expect in Clarkson Potter books. This book introduces some new ones. First, the titles of the recipes begin the book all in French (with no English translation) and somewhere in the middle of fish and shellfish, they switch to English (with no French translation). From that point on, they switch back an forth between English and French almost randomly. Second, after carefully laying out pages so that everything relevant to a recipe is on two facing pages, they leave sidebars for one dish to slip over onto the next pair of pages. Third, the forward by Robert Hughes repeats material in Keith McNally's introduction. I guess he thought nobody reads Forewords. Fourth, the Foreward says most restaurants avoid swordfish, yet there on page 74 is a recipe for grilled swordfish. Sacre Bleu!
These are all minor gaffs, and I give Hughes special credit for the overall quality of his essay. It is clearly superior to similar material in a recent gloss on the life of his Manhatten restaurants by Daniel Boulud. This brings an interesting contrast to Balthazar's food to what you will find in Café Boulud, especially since the joint chefs at Balthazar cite Boulud as their mentor. While both are firmly based in French cuisine, they are clearly based on two different styles of French cooking. Brasserie cooking was designed to be a type of fast, inexpensive food while Boulud's haute cuisine is meant for serious sit down sessions of marathon eating and drinking. The result is that to my taste, having all the time in the world to cook, I find Boulud's dishes much more inviting from their descriptions on the printed page than do Balthazar's brasserie fare. But that's me.
The photography is comptetant with the usual fuzziness in the closeups and the usual absence of captions. Sigh. The overall design of the book is very clever and bright, easy to read, and, I suppose, based on the look of the Balthazar menu.
Overall, it is very well done and a worthy purchase. Just be careful to evaluate how you expect it will complement your needs and your cookbook collection.