BLT Market postcard, based on art work displayed in the restaurant
Note: Click here for more recent visits to BLT Market.
You would have every reason to be a little cynical about the opening of yet another “Bistro Laurent Tourondel” restaurant. In a matter of three years, Tourondel has launched almost a dozen of them, the majority being clones of the very first one, BLT Steak. To date, the best of the brood has been BLT Fish, which earned three stars from Frank Bruni, as well as a Michelin star, which it promptly lost.
Now comes BLT Market, which occupies the former Atelier space in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Central Park South. To Tourondel’s credit, this is his first restaurant in quite a while that isn’t a mindless clone of a previous endeavour. The idea of a restaurant focused on seasonal ingredients is hardly original, but Tourondel’s version of it could become one of the better ones.
I walked in on impulse at around 6:30 p.m. on a weeknight. The dining room was booked, but I got an outdoor table immediately with a nice view of Central Park. Typical of a BLT restaurant, the server presented me with several loose sheets of paper: a menu, a specials menu, and a wine list supplement. (I didn’t ask to see the full wine list, but they have one.)
I ordered a cocktail called the Apricot–Mint Caiproska ($14). Like other cocktails I’ve had at BLT restaurants, it was too small, and almost all ice. I felt like I had paid about $1 per sip. I wasn’t shown the full wine list, but the paper supplement showed ten selections by the glass and bottles from a variety of regions. It included eight choices from New York state, something you do not normally see. With bottles priced mostly above $60, there were few bargains to be had.
The menu is focused and not unduly long. There are seven appetizers ($12–25), one soup ($12), two pastas ($14–24 as appetizers; $23–38 as entrées), six entrées ($26–43), six desserts ($10–11), and a cheese course ($14). A sidebar lists all of the vegetables and fish that are in season. The specials menu added an additional appetizer, two entrées, and one dessert. While the prices are obviously expensive, they are all-inclusive, unlike the other BLT restaurants, where the side dishes cost extra, and drive up the bill considerably.
I wasn’t that hungry, so I ordered two appetizers. Grilled Octopus ($18) came with a fresh cranberry bean salad and bergamot dressing. The octopus was nicely charred, and thick enough to have the consistency of a steak, but it upstaged the accompanying salad, which was dull. Raw and Confit Big Eye Tuna ($18) came with a tonnato sauce, garnished with avocado and fresh heart of palm. This was a lovely dish, attractively plated. The raw tuna was especially good, but the confit version seemed not as flavorful.
The amuse-bouche was a riff on “pigs in a blanket”—a small slice of frankfurter wrapped in a pastry shell with a mustard and relish dressing. It was a cute idea, but a bit messy to eat, and the hot dog didn’t seem fresh. The bread service was spectacular: a long hot garlic bread, served in a paper bag. Say what you want about Tourondel, but the breads in his restaurants are great.
The space is a bit more elegant than the other BLT restaurants, but with many informal touches. Tables are bare wood, with cloth napkins but paper placemats. Servers wear striped aprons, but the captains wear suits. The artwork, which I understand Tourondel selected himself, consists of large pastel paintings showing fruits and vegetables, such as the tomato still life shown at the top of this post.
Service was friendly, but slow, with a rather long gap between my first and second appetizer. The amuse and bread courses left my placemat festooned with crumbs, but they didn’t replace it until after the meal was over. I wasn’t smitten with BLT Market, but the restaurant shows promise. With the menu still technically in previews, I assume there will be refinements, and some of the service glitches will be smoothed out.
BLT Market (1430 Sixth Avenue at Central Park South, West Midtown)