Note: Click here for a more recent review of BLT Fish.
Andrea Strong reported yesterday that Laurent Tourondel’s next venture is a branch of BLT Steak in Washington, D.C. Based on last night’s performance, Mr. Tourondel needs to spend more time minding the store back home. Two years into the experiment, the BLT schtick is starting to wear awfully thin.
I believe BLT restaurants aspire to serve three-star food, and there is at least a colorable argument that they do so. Why, then, are they so determined to dumb down the ambiance? Naturally, the noise level is almost deafening. The menu is printed on loose sheets of paper, plus a separate loose sheet itemizing the raw bar, plus a separate loose sheet with “highlights” of the wine list, plus the wine list itself in a leather-bound book.
All of those loose sheets are obviously printed cheaply, and not meant to last. So you’d at least like to think that they are up-to-date, but alas, they are not. The waiter recites a long list of specials. It is black truffle season, and several of the specials include that ingredient, but it’s more extra information than I can keep in my head, so I order off the printed menu. (I also presume, given the BLT franchise’s propensity for upselling, that those truffle specials are more expensive than the rest of the menu, but our server doesn’t mention prices.)
To start, we ordered a pound of Alaskan king crab legs to share. For the entrée, I ordered the Alaskan black cod with honey glazing, while my colleague ordered a Chatham cod special that the server had mentioned. We also ordered two side dishes (mashed potatoes and brussels sprouts).
A long wait ensued. My colleague saw a tray of crab legs on the kitchen counter. He thought, “Surely those must be ours.” Ten or fifteen minutes went by, but those crab legs remained on the counter, unclaimed. Finally, we asked our server what was going on. A team of BLT staff now descended on us with the crab legs, our entrées, and the side dishes—all at once.
But it gets worse than that. Instead of an order of the Alaskan black cod and the Chatham cod, the kitchen had prepared two orders of the Alaskan black cod. My colleague pointed out the slip. After a conference, the staff announced that they were all out of the Chatham cod—a daily special, I remind you—but would he like the halibut? Well, what could he say? I ate my Alaskan black cod, and he snacked on the crab legs, while they prepared the halibut. Later on, he ate the halibut while I watched.
You’d think they couldn’t mess up anything more, but they managed it. The server forgot to offer us a bread service. The crab legs came without the usual miniature forks for prizing the meat out of the shell. The side dishes arrived without serving spoons. The amuses-bouches came with disposable wooden forks—they can’t run the dishwasher?
Earlier on, they had taken my coat, and promised to return with a claim ticket. The claim ticket never arrived. When I left, we had to turn on the bright lights in the check room and rummage around for my coat. Luckily, the place wasn’t packed. And luckily, I had a distinctive scarf that set my gray wool coat apart from the many others like it.
To their credit, the staff was aware of the more egregious of their sins, and tried to make amends. We were served dessert wines for free, and my colleague’s entrée was taken off the bill. But of other sins the restaurant is apparently out-of-touch: the cheap outdated paper menus, missing/wrong utensils, and so forth.
For all that, the food was great. I would happily eat the honey-glazed Alaskan black cod every day. The side dishes were wonderful, as they always are at BLT restaurants. Dessert (bread pudding) was excellent. The sommelier was knowledgeable, and recommended a terrific pinot noir.
But service and ambiance count, and the lapses here were too many to forgive. Laurent Tourondel’s cuisine deserves a far better setting.
BLT Fish (21 W. 17th Street between Fifth & Sixth Avenues, Flatiron District)