Many of us have our favorite restaurants that we frequent. Maybe it's by our jobs, a workout studio or just a place that feels like home. You know the staff, menus, other regulars and more - but how much of an insider are you? At Balthazar, by Reggie Nadelson, looks at one of NYC's iconic restaurants in every way possible by breaking down who has been a part of its success, the staff that keeps it running smoothly, the patrons that visit and more!
ATHLEISURE MAG: The book has a number of notables that have been at Balthazar: those in the literary, acting, publishing, and culinary communities. Although you are referencing them in terms of their visits to Balthazar, it's also a reflection of a who's who in your network! In reading this book, you're also sharing who you interact with, we'd welcome an invite to your dinner party anytime. Please tell us about your background as the diversity of characters shared in this book seem to represent people you have encountered during your day-to-day or through your work as a writer. What is your background as we know that you are a writer as well as someone who has eaten at a number of restaurants - tell us more.
REGGIE NADELSON: I think you’ll see in the book that many of the famous people are not necessarily my friends. I do have friends who are writers and actors, but most of my friends are lawyers, doctors, editors, house-painters, teachers, not necessarily famous; just fun. I grew up in Greenwich Village in a pretty free-wheeling world. It was the 1960s and 70s, and by the nature of the time and place, there was a lot of diversity.
I’ve been a journalist all my adult life, have worked in London and New York, for magazines such as Departures and Conde Nast Traveller UK, as well as newspapers like the Independent and the Financial Times. I’ve written a series of mysteries featuring Artie Cohen, a New York Cop, which have been published in New York, London and translated into a dozen other languages.
I’ve travelled a lot, including to Russia, Iran, across Europe and to South America., as well as across the USA.
AM: You have eaten at so many places, why did you decide to write a book about Balthazar as opposed to another restaurant in Keith McNally's portfolio or another restaurant group?
RN: The answer to this question is the book itself. I think you’ll find the first chapter really does it best. It has long been my neighborhood place, where friends and family hang out.
AM: There are a number of anthems/ themes that run throughout the book - resilience (what it means in the restaurant industry, a retail establishment in the tough NYC market, and what it means in a 9/11 - post/9/11 world), the importance and necessity of immigrants, change and adaptation, the importance of being a brand that moves into a culture and how those who are at the helm continue to manage this, honoring the past (old NY vs new), and the global perspective (how Balthazar embodies a french style while being in the bustling center of the world) - were these intentional elements that you planned to weave in the book as this is very relevant in today's world and really makes you think of the intricate fabric that we live in.
RN: Of course they were intentional elements. I’m glad it works for you.
AM: What do you think is next for Balthazar?
RN: Another twenty years, I hope.
AM: You share the many faces of Balth-
azar in terms of the interactions that you have had with the staff and identifying those relationships that are real versus those that exist during your meal - who has become a part of your personal network from the Balthazar world where you have a relationship with outside of the restaurant's world?
RN: James Weichert, who was the morning manager, has become one of my best friends, though he has moved on to real estate development.
AM: Your commitment to writing this book was so integral to making it a phenomenal read. When you went to the oysters farm (do you like them more now), meat processing plant, winery and received your potatoes - which of these trips were your favorite and those most insightful?
RN: Gosh, I can’t really say. I enjoyed them all so much in various ways.
AM: Soho is just as much of a character as the restaurant and we've seen the changes that have come over this area - what do you think is next for this neighborhood?
RN: If I knew, I’d buy real estate and get rich. Hard to say. More shopping. More tourists?
AM: Do you think with the unique characteristics that make Balthazar what it is - that there will be the "next Balthazar"?
RN: For me, if something is unique, it is unique. There will certainly be another special restaurant, a place that stands out. But not a Balthazar.
AM: What's next for you - what are you working on and/or what's the next book of yours we should be reading?
RN: I’m working on a documentary about ELLA FITZGERALD for her 100th birthday, which is this year.
But you can always ready my mysteries, all available on Amazon under my name.
AM: We enjoyed reading the shifts of how Balthazar evolves from day to night and the characters that move about - what is your favorite time of day there?
RN: I like the very early morning when almost no one is there, and if I’m up, very late at night at the bar.
AM: In a general week, how many times would we see you at Balthazar?
RN: In a normal week, a couple of times at breakfast, maybe once each at dinner and weekend brunch
AM: What are your top 5 restaurants in NYC?
RN: Augustine, Aquagrill, Pig Bleecker, Café Cluny, Blue Ribbon Sushi
AM: What is your perfect meal at Balthazar for breakfast vs lunch vs dinner?
RN: Lunch: cheeseburger with raw onions and frites.
Dinner: cevice to start, Steak frites or skate, then banana ricotta tart for desert.
AM: Who are your favorite people you interviewed for this book?
RN: It would be like choosing your favorite child, but Chef Shane McBride, and Chef Eric Ripert were fun.
AM: Will you write another book of this nature - if so what and do you plan on writing another about Balthazar?
RN: I just don't know.
AM: You span the 20 years of Balthazar while being extremely current to as late as last year, how long did it take
for you to research and write this?
RN: In a sense, twenty years. In actual terms of writing, about two.
AM: When you're not eating at fabulous iconic places, what's a general NY day like for you?
RN: Up around 7, out to grab a coffee, back to do some writing, out to Fanelli’s, our local bar for a late breakfast/ early lunch/ back to writing or doing interviews. Maybe a pilates class. Always a long walk.
Out to the movies, occasionally the theater, or a jazz club or concert with boyfriend/friends. Or out to eat with friends, or friends over to eat here. I always read for a couple of hours before bed, usually a novel.
Favorites: Pride and Prejudice, Age of Innocence, Anna Karenina, Midnight’s Children, Portnoy’s Complaint, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union…too many to name.
Interior pictures courtesy of Peter Nelson and book cover by Simon & Schuster
A friend stopped by for dinner a week or two after having returned from an extended stay in Italy. I decided to serve pasta.
“Oh, sweetie, this looks great, but I just found out that I’m gluten intolerant,” she informed me.
Huh? How did this woman manage to live in Italy for six months and avoid pasta?
She didn’t. In fact, she had been enjoying it almost daily: the breads and pastas in Italy didn’t seem to affect her, which was not the case when she attempted to replicate that lifestyle upon returning to the States, for some strange reason.
Actually, the reasons aren’t that strange at all.
Ask most people what gluten is, which Jimmy Kimmel once famously did, and they’ll often answer, “a chemical that’s added to flour.” Which it isn’t, as you no doubt know. According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, ‘Gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat (wheatberries, durum, emmer, semolina, spelt, farina, farro, graham, KAMUT® khorasan wheat and einkorn), rye, barley and triticale – a cross between wheat and rye.”
While people with Celiac Disease, a genetically-inherited autoimmune disorder that can be confirmed through genetic testing, must avoid gluten in all of its many form – bread, pizza, cakes, and even certain sauces, such as soy sauce, where wheat is sometimes, but not always, added – gluten-free products have hit the market and have become big sellers in the last few years, and the number of people who feel that they’ve developed a ‘gluten intolerance’ has skyrocketed, whether they’re self-diagnosed or it has been suggested to them by a doctor, nutritionist, dietician or a friend. Or they simply avoid it because it sounds like something that's bad for them and should be avoided at all costs. With all due respect to the medical community, doctors study nutrition for three weeks in medical school, and we don’t know how many of them do the grocery shopping and read the ingredients list on the products they buy – or recommend to their patients - or the nutrition labels.
Celiac disease aside, why this matters is that in the majority of commercially available gluten-free baked goods, wheat flour is often replaced with a combination of rice flour and potato starch, or some other carbohydrate-laden gluten-free alternative. The question is: would you sit down to
a bowl of rice, potatoes and sugar, in the case of gluten-free cakes, or rice and potatoes, in the case of breads and pizza dough, for example? By eliminating the wheat, you’ve greatly increased your intake of carbohydrates which, over time, is potentially a Type 2 diabetes epidemic waiting to happen.
The reason why my friend could enjoy the breads and pastas of Italy but had a strong physical reaction to those products Stateside is that, unlike unbleached flour, the wheat in all-purpose white flour and enriched flour not only loses most of their nutritional content as a result of the bleaching process, essentially reducing it to a form of sugar: they also contain additives that have been banned in many countries around the world as they are known carcinogens, or have been known to lead to other health problems. As an added bonus, the chemicals used to bleach or ‘enriched’ flour do not need to be included in the ingredients list on the package, perhaps due to the fact that they are part of the bleaching process, rather than added to the flour during the packaging. This can include:
Azodicarbonamide, an industrial chemical that has been used for decades as a flour bleaching agent and dough condi-
tioner. It’s also found in yoga mats, synthetic leather, shoe rubber and plastics, in case you’re interested. In the United States, azodicarbonamide has generally recognized as safe status and is allowed to be added to flour, but has been outlawed in Australia, the UK and most of Europe, as it has been known to cause asthma. Azodicarbonamide also increases the irritability of gluten: when bread dough is treated with azodicarbonamide, it can break down the gluten and make glutenin and gliadin more immediately available, rather than allowing the body to naturally go through its digestive process: for every action, there is a reaction, which may be one reason why wheat products are affecting you negatively.
Another common additive in all-purpose flour is potassium bromate, a powerful oxidizing agent that chemically speeds up flour’s aging process and improves the dough’s elasticity, and who doesn’t want to buy perfect bread or bake a perfect cake?
For the record, while the National Institute of Health issued a report on the Toxicity and carcinogenicity of potassium bromate--a new renal carcinogen, the FDA has merely advised, rather than required or mandated “moderate use only and proper labeling of this substance,” which has been linked to cancer in laboratory animals and long banned in the UK, Canada, China and most of Europe. In their book, Rich Food Poor Food: The Ultimate Grocery Purchasing System (GPS), nutritionist Mira Calton and her husband, Jayson Calton, Ph.D., put together a list of the top 13 chemical additives that are being used in the US food industry, which have been banned by foreign governments, including potassium bromate, which has been associated with kidney and nervous system disorders, as well as gastrointestinal discomfort, and which is another possible reason why you’re ‘gluten intolerant.’
For the record, my newly-returned guest was able to enjoy the pasta dinner I had prepared. My husband is a Type 2 diabetic who happens to love pasta, but before we had gotten his glucose levels under control, dry, store bought pasta was literally off the table, as it would make his blood sugar levels spike. So I experimented, using his glucose monitor, taking before and after readings, to measure the effects, making home-made pasta first with all-purpose flour, which caused his blood sugar to spike, then, using the same recipe, made it with unbleached flour, whose resulting pasta did not cause any significant change in his blood sugar level, or his glucose monitor. I can’t say for sure precisely what was in the all-purpose flour that effected that change, but I can tell that using unbleached flour, which I also use to make him bread, pizza dough and pretzels, made a significant difference.
Far be it from me to demonize a gluten-free lifestyle, especially in the case of Celiac sufferers: merely pointing out possible reasons for your gluten-intolerance and in the case of Celiac Disease, sounding the alarm about the effects of an over-saturation of rice flour and potato starch, or other high-carbohydrate wheat substitutes, in your gluten-free diet, as a result of those ingredients being the primary go-to in many of the commercially-available gluten-free baked goods currently on the market. And note to self and caveat emptor: while living with Celiac Disease might be something of an inconvenience, Type 2 Diabetes, which does take time to develop, is a killer.
GLUTEN FREE TABOOLI SALAD Tabooli salad (no matter how you spell it) is traditionally made with bulgar wheat. Here are two alternatives to the classic, made with gluten-free alternatives. The differences? Kasha will produce a more earthy final product, while Quinoa will produce a milder result, and one with a very different texture than the traditional bulgar-based classic.
2 cups boiling water
1 cup kasha (or quinoa)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 tomatoes, diced
2 cucumbers that are peeled, seeded and chopped
5 green scallions, chopped, or one small red onion, diced
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
½ cup broad leaf parsley, chopped 1 teaspoon dark sesame oil, or to taste
In a small pot, combine the boiling water, kasha (or quinoa*), garlic and salt. Cover, reduce the heat and simmer for 12 minutes or until the water is absorbed. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for 15 minutes. Fluff with a fork and let the grain cool or spread out in a large bowl to speed the cooling processes.
Combine the tomatoes, cucumbers, scallions, olive oil, lemon juice, parsley and sesame oil and mix with the cooled grain.
Wrap in lettuce leaves, or enjoy it as a side dish.
*I’ve found that cooking quinoa can be tricky, so I put it in a pot, along with the water, and let it sit for 15 minutes before cooking it. Add additional water, if necessary.
CECINA (GF TUSCAN FLATBREAD)*
Ceci is the Italian name for what we call garbanzo beans or chick peas. Rumor has it that the bread was accidentally invented off the Tuscan coast, when a ship carrying ceci flour was caught in a storm, soaking the bags of flour. Not wanting to let it go to waste, some olive oil was added (it was Italy, after all), the concoction was baked, and the rest is culinary history…with maybe just a bit of lore and legend thrown in.
As an added bonus, chick pea flour is significantly lower in calories and carbohydrates, and has a much lower glycemic load than does rice flour or potato flour.
(from Kevin Lee Jacobs/A Garden for the House)
Makes about 35 two-inch squares
2 1/2 cups garbanzo bean flour**
3 1/2 cups cold water
1 generous teaspoon kosher salt, and grinds of black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
Optional flavorings: a generous teaspoon of dried herbs (triple the amount for fresh) — I used an “Italian Seasoning” blend;
Optional topping: 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Special Equipment – a baking sheet, approximately 17"-12" or a large pizza pan
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, water, salt and pepper. (Don’t worry about lumps — these will dissolve during the resting period.) Cover with plastic wrap, and let sit at room temperature for 3 hours, or overnight in the fridge.
Set the oven rack at the lower-third position; preheat oven to 350°F.