Dine Out: Onion Soup Gratinée at Balthazar

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I was in my happy place recently, visiting New York for three days. I know, I know…three days isn’t much in a city like this, but if you stay strategically and plan well, you can fit in a lot. You may just not fit into your jeans after your trip.

I had a long, leisurely lunch at Balthazar Restaurant. I love this place. Located in the heart of Soho, Balthazar is a French bistro that serves the ultimate in French comfort food. It was a late lunch, and I was meeting a friend for dinner, so I just ordered soup. “Just soup,” she says. What needs to be clarified is that this is the mother of all soups; well, maybe one of the mothers of many other soups. Whatevs.

It is on the menu as Onion Soup Gratinée, and what it is, is a very hot little crock filled with bread, caramelized onions and Gruyère cheese—plus some butter, just a little by Julia Child’s standards, maybe a stick…I jest. These simple ingredients magically meld together into a tongue-pleasing part liquid, part semi-solid, very hot soup that could make a grown woman cry. “Just soup,” she says. Who cares if it’s 82 degrees and like a sauna outside; inside there is the hum of happy lunchers, waiters in starched bistro aprons and the red, brassy decor that transports you to a little cozy world elsewhere.

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I had a basket of crusty, earthy bread with it, and a chilly glass of Viognier. I read my book, glancing up occasionally to inspect the crowd and feel pleased with myself for just being here, and enjoyed my soup. The waiter then gave me a complimentary glass of bubbly (and I wasn’t even wearing a low-cut shirt), so by the time my long lunch ended I was full, energized and slightly gleeful.

I can’t bring Balthazar with me, but I could try this at home. You should, too. Let me know what you think.

Balthazar’s Onion Soup Gratinée


1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
4 medium yellow onions, peeled, halved through the stem end, and sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 garlic clove, peeled and thinly sliced
4 sprigs of thyme
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
3/4 cup dry white wine
2 quarts chicken stock
1/2 cup port
6 slices of country bread, about 1 inch thick, toasted
2 cups Gruyere cheese, coarsely grated.

In a 5-quart Dutch oven or other large, heavy pot, heat the olive oil over a medium flame. Add the onions and, stirring frequently to prevent burning, sauté until they reach a golden color, approximately 30 minutes. Add the butter, garlic, thyme, bay leaf, salt, and pepper and cook for 10 minutes. Raise the heat to high, add the white wine, bring to a boil, and reduce the wine by half, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the chicken stock and simmer for 45 minutes.

Preheat the broiler.

Remove the thyme springs and bay leaf, and swirl the port into the finished soup. Ladle the soup into the 6 ovenproof bowls. Fit the toasted bread into the bowls on top of the liquid, and sprinkle 1/3 cup of Gruyere onto each slice. Place under the broiler for 3 minutes, or until the cheese melts to a crispy golden brown. Allow the soup to cool slightly, about 3 minutes, before serving.

I am waiting for the weather to turn cool and the leaves to turn colors, and then this soup will be on the stove.


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