Entries in BLT Fish (3)


BLT Fish revisited

The raw bar downstairs at BLT Fish

Note: BLT Fish “closed for renovations” in July 2014. We shall see if it ever re-opens.


My last visit to BLT Fish left me so utterly disgusted that I vowed to take a long break before I would visit another BLT restaurant. The fish was excellent — how could it not be? — but the service was risible.

In the meantime, Laurent Tourondel continued to expand his BLT empire, with the widely panned BLT Burger here in New York, the forthcoming BLT Market in the former Atelier space, and clones of BLT Steak in several cities. BLT Fish lost its Michelin star this year, confirming the generally held view that Tourondel was too over-extended to mind the store.

Despite all of that, I decided to revisit BLT Fish the other night with my mom, who is visiting from Detroit. This was, by far, the most pleasant of all my visits to the various BLT establishments. The food was superb, and we were blessed with a four-top table set apart from the noisiest part of the restaurant. Service was solid, though this must be taken in the context of the comparatively low grade of service in Tourondel’s restaurants.

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The bread amuses at BLT Fish

We began with a couple of bread courses. First came crackers with a delicious tuna spread. As usual, the number of crackers was about half as many as needed—a fairly consistent screw-up at the BLT establishments. On the other hand, they are so justifiably proud of their luscious warm bread rolls that they even provide the recipe (see the little “BLT” brochure in the photo).

Grilled Sardines / Caponata / Aged Xeres Vinegar / Basil

The waitstaff at the BLT restaurants are black-belt masters of plumping up the bill. Our server advised that the whole fish we had ordered would take about 25 minutes, so she strongly urged us to order an appetizer to tide us over. Grilled sardines ($12) came perched on crisp toasted bread, but for a dish so likely to be shared, why were there just three of them?

Sea Salt Crusted New Zealand Pink Snapper

The menu offers a number of whole fish, most of them suitable for sharing. They are priced by the pound, which means you really don’t know how much you’ve signed up for until the end. We chose the Pink Snapper grilled in sea salt. After dinner, we were put out of our suspense: it weighed 2.188 pounds, which at $35 per pound came to $76.58. Aren’t you glad you asked?

The fish was presented tableside, then whisked away to be filleted. I would have preferred to watch them do it, though given the tight spacing of the tables, perhaps this would have been impractical. Any of my numerous complaints about the restaurant were completely erased once we started eating: it was simply the most sweet, succulent, tender fish imaginable. Two wonderful sauces came with it, which I’m afraid I can’t recall, but they were pitch-perfect accompaniments.

A two-pound fish is a lot for two people to eat, but when it’s this good you find a way to finish it. Had we bulked up on appetizers and side dishes, as our server advised, the snapper might have sufficed for three. When we thought we were done, the server returned to serve the tender, delicate “cheeks” from the fish head. It was an impressive encore.

At BLT restaurants, vegetables and starches are always à la carte. Our sever advised ordering two or three of these, which at $8–9 apiece can quickly add up. I was prepared for this bad advice, based on past visits. Although the side dishes are uniformly terrific, you almost never finish them. One is normally enough. We had the Sautéed Garlic Spinach ($9), which was just right.

bltfish04.jpgAfter dinner, the server brought a small plate of petits-fours. But why only three of them, for a table of two people? A large clump of green cotton candy was too cloyingly sweet to be tolerated for more than a couple of bites.

Many other aspects of the service remain peculiar. The menu is a cheap, loose sheet of paper, which I’m sure doesn’t last much more than a day. So why must there be a separate sheet of paper listing the raw bar selections and daily specials? And why is only one copy of that sheet distributed, when there are two diners? We observed this at other tables, so I know it wasn’t just a mistake.

About the wine list there can be no complaint. Here, as at the other BLT restaurants, they take the wine program seriously. We were perfectly happy with a $45 bottle of Beaujolais, which was served (as it should be) slightly below room temperature.

With a critic installed at the Times who positively abhores traditional formality, I suppose Laurent Tourondel has perfectly captured the mood of the age. Even Frank Bruni couldn’t quite forgive the conceit of sacrificing a restroom for an open kitchen, one of the more boneheaded restaurant design decisions of recent years. But Bruni was smitten with the food, awarding three stars. For food alone, that is the correct verdict. You have to be willing to put up with some annoying conceits, but on this occasion it was well worth it.

BLT Fish (21 W. 17th Street between 5th & 6th Avenues, Flatiron District)

Ambiance: ½
Overall: ½


Return to BLT Fish

Note: Click here for a more recent review of BLT Fish.

I returned to BLT Fish last night with one of the two colleagues who joined me there last May.

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)

Food: ***
Service: *
Ambiance: Fair
Overall: **


BLT Fish

Note: Click here for a more recent visit to BLT Fish.

Back in May, two colleagues and I had dinner at BLT Fish. My sense was that Frank Bruni had awarded awarded one star too many. Mind you, a two-star restaurant is still very good. But this didn’t feel like it deserved three.

Our server got things off on the wrong foot. We said, “Can we order some appetizers?” He said, “The kitchen prefers to receive your entire order at once.” This is no doubt true, but it was an awfully clumsy way of telling us that the restaurant values its own convenience over that of its guests. Perhaps he should have just said, “Sorry guys, but we have tables to turn here.”

BLT Fish wheels out impressive-looking whole fish. Red Snapper “Cantonese” Style was a gorgeous presentation, filleted tableside, but both the fish and the cantonese vegetables seemed a bit bland in the end. The appetizers, spicy Tuna Tartare and Softshell Crab Tempura, were more successful.

There were two different amuses, both imaginative turns on “bread & butter.” But in one case there was too little bread and too much spread; in the other case, it was the opposite. No one came around to offer more bread.

Vegetables are separately priced side orders, steakhouse style. Sauteed spinach was fine. Our server talked us into ordering Salt Crusted Sunchokes, which were mushy and not at all interesting.

The sommelier helped us choose too excellent wines, both of which were a hit. All told, it was an uneven performance. I would certainly return, but the restaurant needs some fine tuning.

BLT Fish (21 W 17th Street between Fifth & Sixth Avenues, Flatiron District)

Food: **
Service: *
Ambiance: *½
Overall: **