What- Traditional and modern Lebanese/Eastern Mediterranean/Mezze
Where- 208 1st Ave, between 12th & 13th Street
How much- Mezze & wine for two $100 incl service
Once upon a time a girl from Essex became mildly obsessed with fattoush- a simple zingy middle eastern salad she learned from a Gizzie Erskine book. This same girl got to thinking that it might be worth a bash at finding some good mezze on her upcoming trip to New York, though with some anxiety at how the Older Male Sibling would be coerced into this. He was fine with it, which ends any further great dramatic developments in the tale of how we came to have a Friday night dinner at Balade. As with many stops on our whistlestop NYC tour, Balade came up from a quick google of ‘best lebanese in NYC’, a further review in Time Out added foodie promise to the handy location close to the Grammercy Theater where we were spending the early half of the evening.
I’m going to take a moment here to confirm the rumours that yes, we queued up in the rain with a million teenage girls with long bangs to attend a snippet of The New Yorker Festival that involved an incredibly entertaining interview with Lady band Haim. They sang some songs too. It was really good. Yes, Haim. They are an actual band, being young and trendy doesn’t make them shit and I shall stand no more of your mockery about this!
So we booked a table online and turned up around 9- my first tip is to book directly with the restaurant, don’t rely on open table or similar third parties as they had absolutely no idea we were coming. Before you get to the food you see how Balade has won a couple of Diner’s choice and similar city based awards recently. On a Friday night it was standing room only (not even standing room for the four lads who arrived shortly after us and happily hung out in the hall to wait for a table). One thing that always bodes well for any restaurant is when it is jammed to the rafters with happy and diverse punters. You can take your kids, your wife or your work buddies to Balade, the menu will work for them.
It is a comfy but certainly not casual setting, with regional artworks and wooden pieces on the walls which gave half the impression of being in an ancient history temple set up in a log cabin. In a good way. I wont pretend to be thrilled about waiting around half an hour for a pre-booked table in an awkward space by the door but the general buzz, eye catching decor and complimentary glass of red for our troubles made it ok. I would no doubt tell a different story about the wait if the memory wasn’t now deeply ensconced with some exceptionally good food. I must apologise for lack of photographics due to some unknown damage to my SD card which left me with one fattoush shot and a load of corrupt files. We went for a mezze set up in the end, though nosing at the activity on other tables showed that the large plate options looked pretty special too.
So the fattoush, well, I wont go on. I love fattoush, and this was done exactly as it should be. Hooray for fattoush. The baba ghanouj was also excellent- incredibly smoky. The last of the pitta servings went on scooping up big dollops of Labne. Labne was a new one on me, with my initial vote for halloumi over ruled by the older male sibling. It is somewhere between a Greek yoghurt and a cream cheese in consistency, tart but creamy and in this case covered in minced garlic and black pepper with a swish of olive oil. Fabulously satisfying with that not quite sour tang that lets you kid yourself this is healthy dairy, rather than cheese that you are filling your face with. Top notch, you can frame this one Jon: You Were Right.
I will mention now an alarmingly drinkable bottle of Chateau Ksara- Lebanese red being another first for me. Also selected by him. Ye gods he was right again! Reds fall into three categories for me: Fruity smooth ones that go down like Ribena; hefty old french ones that my Dad buys; and ones I don’t like. The Ksara was of the first kind, the dangerous kind, and it goes really nicely with a tub of Labne. Kebbe Kras (buckwheat and beef fritters) got points also and the opportunity to have chicken wings two nights in a row had to be seized. It broke my heart slightly that the waiter did a double take on the chicken wings to explain that they might not be what we expected. They were fantastic: marinated and char grilled, served slightly blackened with a hot sauce and pant-kickingly pungent garlic dipping sauce- beautiful. I thoroughly chastise anyone who has gone there in the past and moaned about them enough to prompt our order warning. There is life beyond Southern Fried, people!
So yes, the food is very good and yes, we ordered far too much of it. Although somewhat harassed, the service was good also, mind blowingly so in the case of a fantastically rude young female at the table next to us who set new levels in Talking To Staff Like They Are Mildly Retard Criminals Who Owe You A Living. My second tip for eating at Balade- take claustrophobics elsewhere this is a very ‘social’ restaurant without much space between tables and if someone is being a snotty princess nearby you’re going to hear it.
Balade was a good call. Eating Labne was a good call. Lebanese wine was a really good call and I’m not sad for listening to Haim.