Earlier this year, chef Laurent Tourondel and his namesake BLT Restaurant Group split up, with owner Jimmy Haber keeping most of the restaurants and Tourondel’s plans unclear. At first, the divorce was described as amicable, but that unlikely story exploded quickly enough. Last month, Haber sued Tourondel for opening a burger joint in Sag Harbor, LT Burger, that allegedly infringed the trademark of the extremely similar BLT Burger in Greenwich Village, which Tourondel opened but no longer controls.
Under the terms of their settlement, Haber is no longer permitted to open new BLT restaurants, but BLT Bar & Grill, which was already under construction in the W Hotel Downtown, was allowed to keep the coveted initials—presumably the last time we’ll see them in a new place. The hotel remains blanketed with scaffolding, but the restaurant has been open since late July.
Under Tourondel’s supervision, the BLT restaurants were crazily expensive and frustratingly uneven. The potential for a great meal was always there, but they didn’t deliver it consistently. Tourondel’s menus, however, were always clever. He seldom served a classic without tweaking it—usually for the better.
If BLT Bar & Grill is the best the group can do sans Tourondel, the future is not bright. This is a routine hotel restaurant, showing off about as much culinary imagination as a T.G.I. Friday’s. The food is much better than a Friday’s—not bad, in fact—but the menu is a real snoozer. Even in a neighborhood starved for good restaurants, there are surely more interesting options (even if I can’t name them).
At least it is not as expensive as the other BLT’s. Most of the entrées are in the 20s, most of the appetizers in the teens. If that’s a bargain, it is only in relation to the other restaurants in the group, where it is hard to get out for less than $100 a head. In the modern fashion, the menu is in eight categories: snacks, starters, sandwiches, pizza, pasta, meat, fish, sides: something for everybody, but with no clear vision.
The wine list is as unadventurous as the food, and too expensive, with very few reds below $50—and the first one I asked for was out of stock, despite being listed as a choice by the glass.
I had a snack of Parmesan & Olives ($7) at the bar, which came with many more olives than I could finish. At the table, the bread service was a pizza-like substance that tasted like it was yesterday’s left-over.
Tuna tartare ($16) was a much happier experience, one of the best renditions I’ve had in a while, with high-quality tuna overa bed of soy, wasabi, and avocado. Both of us had the burger ($16) with aged cheddar and double-smoked bacon—enjoyable, but not a destination product. An order of fries was soggy, and had to be sent back.
The two-story space is cavernous, with over 200 seats, including two bars and an outdoor patio. We have trouble imagining that it will ever be full, when there is so little of interest on the menu, none of Tourondel’s inspiration, and it’s run by the same management that made the other BLT restaurants so inconsistent.
BLT Bar & Grill (123 Washington Street at Albany Street, Financial District)